The Pimm’s Cup is the drink of choice (along with Champagne) at the iconic English sporting events of the Grand National steeplechase, Wimbledon tennis tournament and Henley Royal Regatta, where barrels-full of the stuff are consumed each spring and summer.
Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based aperitif, is the herbal, tawny-colored foundation of the eponymous cocktail. Invented in London in 1840 – just a year after the Henley Regatta and Grand National events made their first appearances – Pimm’s’ closely guarded recipe is thought to contain quinine, which might account for its reputation as an aid to digestion. The Pimm’s Cup cocktail is usually made with clear, bubbly “lemonade,” as it’s known in England (Sprite or Seven-Up on my side of the pond), though tonic water or club soda are options if a drier drink is desired.
The Pimm’s Royal Cup, an upscale version using champagne or sparkling wine is a variant I’ve enjoyed very much, too. Just be sure to garnish the cocktails generously with cucumber, citrus and strawberry slices or, for a special treat, an Amerena or Luxardo cherry and perhaps a sprig of mint or borage, to get the full effect of its fragrant, fruity charms. Wearing a fascinator or boater hat while sipping is optional.
In the 1960s, fast-food franchises were in their infancy and were rare where I grew up in New England. Instead, teens headed to the drugstore soda fountain after school or sports for drinks mixed by “soda jerks” manning the fountain bar. It was there one hot summer afternoon, after building up a mighty thirst at the local high school rec field, under the watch of my older brother (I thought him very sophisticated) I was treated to my first Lime Rickey, another soda fountain standard. The fusion of soda water, simple syrup and freshly-squeezed lime juice served over lots of ice in a tall paper cup, fragrant from the squeezed lime halves (always included), was a thirst-quenching blast of sweet and tart that I forevermore linked with small town summer bliss – and probably responsible for my later appreciation of a tall Gin Rickey cocktail.
First published June 2016