Build-A-Bar: Pimm's No. 1

Pimm's is another spirit in the grand tradition of booze as medicine. Its creator, James Pimm, developed the liqueur as a digestive aid for the patrons of his London oyster bar. The flavor caught the fancy of the British people. Say Pimm's out loud. I bet you even feel a bit British, subconsciously adding a little accent to the proceedings. Pip pip, cheerio.

Over the years, Pimm's has come in six different varieties, all denoted by number, and differentiated by their individual alcohol bases, ranging from Vodka to Rye Whiskey. Pimm's No. 1 Cup is the most widely recognized and consumed of the cups, and is produced from a gin base, further infused with fruit juices and herbs. Despite its relatively low 25 percent alcohol, Pimm's No. 1 shows its booziness readily. Both in the nose and on the palate, a clean alcohol character comes through, amid subtle notes of spice and citrus.

Overall light in character, Pimm's is most commonly mixed into long drinks, cocktails containing a relatively small amount of alcohol mixed with a relatively large amount of other ingredients (carbonated, soda-like beverages like lemonade and ginger-ale being common) and served over ice, further diluting the liqueur into a refreshing beverage. This is a perfectly lovely way to appreciate Pimm's, and I've been known to make an ultra-minimalist backyard cocktail consisting of nothing more than a jigger of Pimm's mixed with club soda over ice, served in a tall glass with plenty of lime. It's about as restorative a drink as can be had on a hot Houston summer day.

If you're feeling a bit fancier, you can always go with the Pimm's Cup, which takes that same basic notion and gussies it up a bit. Depending on whose recipe you follow, a Pimm's Cup can be more or less complicated, adding in a wide array of chopped fruits and herbs, both as flavoring and as garnish. Many recipes, including the official Pimm's version, call for British-style lemonade, which is like a less sweet version of lemon lime soda. I like to keep things simple with Pimm's, as it is a rather simple concoction, itself. If you throw too many ingredients in with it, the Pimm's tends to get lost.

Pimm's Cup

  • 1.5 oz. Pimm's No.1
  • 1 oz. Gin
  • .25 oz. Lemon Juice
  • Cucumber
  • Muddle several large chunks of cucumber in the bottom of a mixing glass. Combine remaining ingredients, shake, and strain into a Highball, Collins or other tall glass filled with ice. Top up with club soda, and garnish with a wedge of cucumber and a lemon slice.

    To me, the fruity and spicy notes in Pimm's practically cry out for a kick of heat, so I decided to oblige with a sweet, tart, and spicy Pimm's cocktail. The grassy notes of fresh jalapeño seemed like a good match, balanced out with the luscious fruit flavors of St. Germaine and a dose of tart lemon. Celery Bitters amp up the spice notes, and provide contrast, while Batavia Arrack serves to highlight the citrus notes in the Pimm's.

    Stiff Upper Lip

  • 2 oz. Pimm's No.1
  • .25 oz. Batavia Arrack
  • .25 oz. Lemon Juice
  • Scant .25 oz. St. Germaine
  • Dash Celery Bitters
  • Jalapeño
  • Muddle a few slices of seeded, de-veined jalapeño in the bottom of a mixing glass. Taste the chile first, to make sure you're including the proper amount of heat. This is a cocktail, not a dare. Combine the rest of the ingredients, shake, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a long slice of jalapeño.

    I'm still working on this one, but I think my results so far are good enough to warrant sharing. The drink comes across a bit sweet, owing to the St. Germaine, but I like the luscious fruit balance it brings. I'm thinking about playing down the Batavia, as well, and trading the jalapeño out for serrano, which will bring a fresher note to the mix.

    For something just a little more polished, I reverted to the tried-and true cocktailing method of substitution. I rarely go wrong when simply swapping ingredients in the construction of classic cocktail forms, and this is no different with Pimm's. For starters, it's an easy replacement for gin, as gin is the foundation for the liqueur. Don't stop there, though. Given its light character, Pimm's will work well in a very wide range of classic forms.

    Take the Sour. Essentially spirit, sweetener, citrus, and (depending on the particulars) egg white, the Sour is an endlessly variable starting point for delicious and interesting drinks. One of the best classic cocktail riffs I've had recently was a Campari sour. With the memory of that in my brain, I mixed up a Pimm's Sour, augmented with Aperol, a sweeter Amaro cousin to Campari. Standing in for the traditional simple syrup, the Aperol played well with all of the citrus elements, and added a bracing edge of bitterness.

    Pimperol Sour

    • 2oz. Pimm's No.1
    • 1oz. Aperol
    • .75oz. Lemon Juice
    • Egg White

    Combine all ingredients in a cocktail glass and dry shake (without adding ice) to combine. Add ice and shake again to chill, and to create a thick pillow of foam. Strain into a rocks glass, no garnish.

    This drink takes Pimm's in a slightly different direction, with the addition of egg white foam creating a luxurious texture. It's still a very light and refreshing drink, though, with the bitter edge of Aperol creating an interplay of sweet, sour, and bitter flavors that makes this a joy to drink.

    Whether you're going to enjoy No.1 in the most traditional of ways, sipping your long drink with the utmost decorousness, or choose to experiment wildly, I think you'll enjoy Pimm's. Like the stoic British character from which it stems, it's an upstanding and dependable liqueur.

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    Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
    Contact: Nicholas L. Hall