There was a time when a bottle of Pimm's No. 1 Cup would gather dust on a bartender's shelf. But those days are long gone. Pimm's Cups – fizzy, sweet, long drinks, usually made with Pimm's, lemon-lime soda and garnished with a cucumber – are appearing on a stunning number of menus.
Once the stuff of garden parties or served as an annual Wimbledon-watching treat, they're light in alcohol when dressed up with a little mixer, making them the ultimate summer refresher. They've also got a long history, dating back to the middle of the nineteenth-century when the gin tonic was first bottled by oyster bar owner James Pimm.
But the new generation of Pimm's cocktails is anything but the same old. Instead, creative bartenders are mixing a wide range of Pimm's variants, made with everything from elderflower to watermelon and from peppermint tea to beer. Here are three to try.
"Pimm's is like England's answer to sweet vermouth," says Moses McIntee, head mixologist at Toronto's Paese in the Theatre District. "It's really versatile and has a nice herbal flavour that, if it weren't summer, I would actually use in a hot drink. For summer, though, I used an iced peppermint tea to give it a little cooler flavour profile."
To make it, muddle 1 strawberry and an inch of cucumber. Add 2 ounces chilled peppermint tea, 1 ounce of Pimm's No. 1 Cup and a 1/2 ounce each of Beefeater 24, lemon juice and orange juice. Add two dashes orange bitters (regular bitters also work) and shake with ice. Strain into wine glass over new ice. Garnish with cucumber ribbon and mint.
At Donnelly Group bars all across Vancouver (including the notable Killjoy Barbers), executive bartender Jay Jones recently launched the Wimbledon, which he calls a "close cousin" of the traditional Pimm's Cup. "It's like a Caesar for summer: When one goes out, everybody in the room wants one," Jones said. "It takes the contemporary Pimm's Cup concept and replaces ginger ale with ginger beer for effervescent spice and adds a little elderflower cordial to layer in some delicate floral complexity."
Combine 1 ounce of Bombay Sapphire gin, and a 1/2 ounce each of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Pimm's No. 1 Cup and fresh lemon juice into a beer glass. Fill with ice and top with Fentiman's ginger beer. Stir gently and garnish with green apple, cucumber and mint.
Shaun Layton, the head barman at Vancouver's L'Abattoir, says that the Pimm's cocktail is perfect for summer "session" drinking because it's a light, low-proof highball that won't knock you off your seat. "This cocktail appeals to all types of drinkers, including die-hard beer fans, because of the addition of the white IPA to the traditional Pimm's Cup," Layton said.
Take 1 ounce of Pimm's No.1 Cup, 1/3 ounce of elderflower syrup and a 1/2 ounce each of white vermouth (Cocchi Americano) and grapefruit juice. Add to ice-filled glass, stir and top with Deschutes Chainbreaker (though any white IPA will give similar results). Garnish with cucumber, apple and a mint sprig.