Every year, within certain social circles, seasonal consumption patterns invariably emerge, lending a discrete, however intangible, identity to a fleeting moment in time. This is never truer than in the ever-idyllic summertime, when spirits (both human and liquid) run free with the annual tacit promise of carefree living and fond memories. Our potables, alongside our foods, songs and dress, will always help to define when we are. And in the tradition of the inebriants that have shaped our summers past, the Mojito, the Capirinhia, and last yearâs ubiquitous Manhattan, cultural confluence looks to be ordaining a new popular favorite: the Pimm's Cup.
Refreshing yet adequately potent, the Pimm's Cup is traversing the rigid borders of gentility, moving beyond garden parties and tennis matches and into the bar-hopping vocabulary of in-the-know youth. During my recent stay in England, the birthplace of Pimm's, my local cohorts were abuzz with talk of the drink. And, upon my return to New York, I was very pleased to discover a handful of Lower East Side bars readily stocked with the fresh garnishes and careful patience that go into its making. How did this upper-crust English favorite find its way from classist to cool? Whether its resurgence is further evidence of the conservative chic attitudes witnessed this spring on the runway or just the fabricated result of an aggressive marketing campaign, the Pimm's Cup is worthy of every bit of fizzy and fruity fuss.
Explaining this decidedly summertime drink can be quite a challenge, considering its recipe remains a sore point of contention. The elaborate beverage, with its many varied garnishes and mixers, may have no absolute formula. But, in every glass poured from Wimbledon to Washington, its one indispensable ingredient and namesake remains the same: Pimm's No. 1. This gin-based liqueur, created in 1840s England as a tonic digestif, has always boasted a secret blend of bitters, quinine and herbal mash. These days, any well-stocked liquor store is sure to carry the light elixir, which weighs in at just 50 proof.
Beyond the basic alcohol, fans of the Pimm's cup have become embroiled over its exact composition. Purists maintain that only ginger ale should be used as a mixer. But more contemporary interpretations, probably borne of Americans' propensity for both convenience and sweetness, use 7-Up in its place. Many drinkers include lemonade in the mix, often the sparkling variety, while others even choose to add beer for a cup with more kick.
When it comes to garnishes, cucumber and mint are the only necessities, but other fruits may be added to taste. Apples, oranges and lemons are common inclusions, as well as strawberries, which are in high season this time of year. However, it's best to avoid using all of these at once, or else one risks turning an otherwise nuanced drink into a jumbled mess. We confidently suggest the following recipe, which yields four servings:
1 ½ cups Pimm's No. 1
1 cup cold ginger ale
½ cup lemonade, sparkling or flat
¾ cup mint leaves, packed firmly
1 cucumber, sliced
1 pint strawberries, halved
1 apple, sliced into squares
3 cups ice