Saturday, May 16, 2009

It’s Pimm’s Time

Something the British Isles and Wisconsin have in common is that the arrival of summer can be more a state of mind than the actual weather outside. In England the season officially begins with the first utterance of “Make mine a Pimm’s.” For many in the UK, Pimm’s is the drink of choice at summer events such as Wimbledon (15,000 served each day during the tournament), the Henley Regatta and Glyndebourne. For me, that first idyllic day when I conclude that warm weather is really here to stay (or at least am so flushed with spring fever that I can overlook that it really might snow again) has to be toasted with Pimm’s.

Whenever the subject of Pimm’s comes up inevitably someone asks “What is it?” Even many Pimm’s fans have no idea. Like Chartreuse, Galliano and other proprietary brands its exact formula is a well-guarded secret. Most often, “Pimm’s” specifically refers to Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based beverage with a 25% alcohol content and flavored with citrus, bitters and quinine.

Its inventor, James Pimm, ran an oyster house in London in the 1840s and started selling his libation there as a tonic. By 1851 he had come up with two more varieties. In addition to the original—now dubbed Pimm’s No. 1, he added Scotch whiskey-based Pimm’s No. 2 and brandy-based Pimm’s No. 3. With the commercial bottling, of Pimm’s, its popularity spread across the British Empire. Like gin and tonic—no doubt because of its quinine content—it was especially fashionable in warm climates such as India. In the 1960s two more varieties were added to the line—rye whiskey-based Pimm’s No. 5 and vodka-based Pimm’s No. 6. Today, only the original and most popular No. 1 and vodka-based No. 6 remain in production. Recently, however, a new Winter Pimm’s based on the old brandy-based No. 3 was introduced.
The best known use for Pimm’s is in a Pimm’s Cup which in England is always made with Pimm’s No. 1, lemonade and most often garnished with an orange slice, cucumber and mint. The lemonade referred to here is not the American kind made from juiced fresh lemons, sugar and water. In England and most of Europe, “lemonade” refers to a sparkling lemon-flavored soda similar to 7up but without the lime flavoring. Whites is the big brand in the UK and I’ve never found it here but you can purchase sparkling lemonade imported from France which is virtually identical— Lorina is a popular brand and available a Jenifer Street Market and other places around town. Otherwise, you can substitute 7up. A British barman will often add a measure of gin to beef up the drink’s modest alcohol content.

Rarely are the ingredients for a Pimm’s Cup actually measured out. The ratio of Pimm’s No. 1 to mixer is a matter of personal taste. The finished drink ought to resemble the color of iced tea, weak or strong.

There is some contention about the proper garnish of a Pimm’s Cup. Cucumber—either a slice or spear—is a must, however. Supposedly, the drink was originally garnished with borage, a green herb that has a cucumber-like flavor. In addition to the standard orange and mint, some espouse the more fruit the better, adding strawberries, lemons, limes and apples to the mix.

In this country, Pimm’s Cups are often concocted using ginger ale but the English would call this drink a Pimm’s Ginger (and garnished with lemon and mint). The Pimm’s Cup is a specialty of the Napoleon House, an old and historic bar in New Orleans. Their version is made with Pimm’s No. 1, American-style lemonade, 7up and garnished with a cucumber slice. In Madison, stop by the Capitol Chophouse to enjoy a Pimm’s Cup in the bar or on the terrace.

3 comments:

Arleen said...

You are absolutely right, I had the honor of assisting to the Wimbledon last year, and I drank Pimm's, as almost the majority of people there, it is a refreshing and delicious beverage.


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chope said...

This is not only the best drink at summer events in England but also its flavor is incomparable actually I've heard that one of its ingredients is generic viagra that's the reason of its success.m10m

Nicole Smith said...

Any idea where to purchase Pimm's No. 1 in Madison, WI? I just returned from London and wanted to bring a little of it back to my house!