Why you should care
Because this traditional summer cocktail deserves to be appreciated year-round.
It’s not just any Saturday when I show up to Penrose, Charlie Hallowell’s trendy wood-fired kitchen in Oakland, Calif. — it’s Saturday, Feb. 14. As bearded men in flannel sip red wine and Champagne with their sweethearts, I head to the bar solo. And after I tell the bartender that nobody else will be joining me, I throw him off again and order a Pimm’s Cup from the menu.
His reply, “Great choice. I drink those every year I go to Wimbledon.”
The joke is about as original as the thick-rimmed glasses on the face of every other person around me. The native British cocktail — it’s often considered the No. 2 English drink, after tea — is known for being sipped in copious amounts every year at the prestigious (and oldest) tennis tournament. The gin-based elixir is to hot summer afternoons what warm cider is to the blustery winter months. But the seasons may be changing.
The boozy drink became famous when a Pimm’s bar opened at Wimbledon in the 1970s.
In fact, industry consulting firm Baum and Whiteman named Pimm’s Cup a 2015 buzzword, and just as the amber-colored drink tops the cocktail menu at this hot spot, other bars are adding it as a staple to their increasingly creative mixology offerings.
Traditionally, a Pimm’s Cup is made by mixing Pimm’s #1 — a premade mixture of gin, liqueur, citrus and spices — with lemon-lime soda or ginger ale, and then garnishing it with mint, cucumber and various fruits. James Pimm, the owner of an English oyster bay, created it in the mid-1800s, and the boozy drink became famous when a Pimm’s bar opened at Wimbledon in the 1970s.
On this side of the pond, though, today’s Pimm’s Cups tend to veer from tradition. My aperitif, which goes for $11, is made from scratch and includes house-made vermouth, Campari, ginger, lime and tonic, among other ingredients. At first it’s sweet to the tongue, but the bitterness lingers long after each sip. While I get how some would see it as refreshing, the spices and tonic — and, sure, the gin probably has something to do with it — actually seem to warm my throat. “It’s a Pimm’s Americana-style,” says bar manager John Slater.
Bartending master Scott Young, who founded MixedDrinkRecipes.net, says you won’t see casual dining chains carrying Pimm’s. Here in the States, he says, it’s still relegated to the craft-cocktail niche, which means it’s a lot more common in places like Oakland and Brooklyn, N.Y. And, of course, it’s also a favorite in New Orleans oyster bars. Young says there seems to be an overall revived interest in classic drinks, so it may not be long before the rest of the country catches on.
And while for some Pimm’s Cup is reminiscent of warmer months, for me this spicy-sweet libation will forever be associated with candlelight and Al Green.