Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Pining for Pimm's

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

Last weekend, while tending bar at a private party near Seattle, I placed a drink on the menu that ultimately brought me much dismay. Not because of the quality of the drink; no, this is a venerable and world-class summer refresher. Rather, my dismay was prompted by the ho-hum approach many guests had toward the drink. "This stuff," the host said sympathetically at one point, holding the bottle of Pimm's No. 1 Cup in his hand and shaking his head, "this stuff is so unappreciated."

By many people, perhaps, including the guests at that party; but as Jonathan Miles noted in Sunday's New York Times, the fan base for Pimm's may be narrow but it is deep.

A gin-based spirit flavored with herbs and fruit, Pimm's is akin to a bottled punch. First introduced nearly 200 years ago, Pimm's was at one point produced in six varieties, each with a different base spirit. Today only Pimm's No. 1 remains in wide production; Pimm's Winter Cup, based on brandy, is seasonably available in the UK.

Lightened with a little sparkling lemonade or ginger beer, and dressed up with a slice of cucumber or a strawberry and maybe some other summer-appropriate garnish, Pimm's is inordinately refreshing. This eponymous Pimm's Cup is a staple drink at Wimbledon and enjoys certain popularity in the UK; but while Pimm's couldn't be described as rare in the U.S., it also isn't quite common.

That Pimm's is usually enjoyed only in a Pimm's Cup could be a big reason for its limited appeal. Fortunately, as Miles writes, bartenders are exploring different ways of mixing this underappreciated spirit. At Nios in Times Square, Pimm's is mixed with red zinfandel and ginger beer in a Zin Cup, and other bartenders are mixing it with everything from apple cider to the rum-based Creole Shrubb to blanco tequila and Irish whiskey.

Miles had good luck finding a decent Pimm's Cup on a hot day in Charleston, and in New Orleans—where I'll be in two weeks for the annual Tales of the Cocktail event—I make it a habit to fight the heat outside by sipping icy Pimm's Cups in the Napoleon House. Are you a fan of Pimm's, and if so, who serves your favorite cup of satisfaction? Let us know.