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Pimm's is the epitome of an English summer. Accompanying crumpled Panamanian Titfers1, bacon-and-egg ties2 and languid afternoon rounds of croquet, this cloying mahogany-coloured liqueur is regularly the man of the match in cricket matches and single-handedly props up the beer tent at Wimbledon. Without Pimm's, Henley would be no more than an old-timers' amateur boat-show.
But What Is It?
Asking for a Pimm's implies a request for, to give it its correct title, a Pimm's No 1 Cup - a cocktail of sorts, based on a tawny nectar called Pimm's No 1, which itself is a trade secret concoction (supposedly known to only six people) containing an infusion of inter alia, Gin, bitters, quinine and a mash of herbs.
It has a moderate 25% alcohol content before mixing. Its popularity at sporting events and garden parties alike is partly based on the fact that it is sufficiently lightweight to be drunk all afternoon, while being strong enough to provide its intended good-time kick.
Typically, at home, a Pimm's consists of a healthy lick of Pimm's No 1, ice and a slice, a veritable salad of clippings garnered from the kitchen garden (quintessentially including mint), and then whatever slug of own-brand lemonade will still fit in the glass. Pimm's is a health food that tastes just fine and dandy.
Things will be slightly different in a licensed establishment, where the liquid volumes will be more precisely measured and the amount of harvest festival farmed for each drink will probably be limited to a borage garnish.
Origin and History
In the early 1840s, James Pimm, landlord of an oyster bar in London's financial district began selling a health tonic called Pimm's No 1 Cup, the 'cup' being a contemporary reference to the tankard in which a drink was served.
In 1859, backed by some of his well-heeled clientele, Mr Pimm began marketing Pimm's No 1 commercially, and during the late 19th Century it took off among the bon viveurs of English fashionable society, and was soon being distributed to wherever the sun didn't set3, reportedly making it as far as the officer's mess in Khartoum, Sudan, the city where General Gordon was famously killed in 1885.
By my gaff and ghillie, I could do with a Pimms No 1.
- Pre-World War One Marketing Slogan.
With the advent of the Great War (1914-1918), Pimm's No 1 Cup's popularity was further enhanced by the influx to England of the American service men with their predilection for iced cocktails.
We had to let the west wing go, but thank heavens we can still afford our Pimm's.
- 1930s Marketing Slogan.
It's persistently tenacious grip on the summer drinks market is probably due to the fact that it really is good stuff. The upper crust keeps on buying it, and as they don't usually subscribe to the whims of the hobbledehoy, Pimm's must be good.
During a Wimbledon fortnight4, some 80,000 half-pints of Pimm's No 1 Cup are sold to punters who should be watching tennis.
So What is No 1?
After World War II, the Pimm's manufacturers expanded to include in their product range Pimm's Nos 2 through 6. Each version used a spirit other than gin as the Cup base-spirit, via:
Now, apart from the original Pimm's No 1, only vodka-based No 6 is still manufactured.
A Variation On A Theme
Pimm's No 1 Royal Cup
- Pimm's No 1
- Champagne (or fizzy wine, but not Lambrusco)
Mix with ice in a long glass, and garnish with citrus fruit and borage.