Questionable Tastes

Pimm’s & Proper

Variations on summer's classiest daytime cocktail


Pimm's, cucumber, and a Sorta Fussy Pimm's CupHot-weather drinks are always a mixed bag. Simplicity is both their virtue and their curse. Although these types of cocktails will never be considered “sophisticated,” they can, at the very least, approach the more aspirational “classy.”

It all boils down to choices. A rum and Coke can be, literally, bottom-shelf rum and Diet Coke poured into a Solo cup. Or it can aspire to be a true Cuba Libre, with a squeeze of lime, a dash of bitters, maybe a little gin and perhaps even Mexican-recipe Coca-Cola (with cane sugar instead of corn syrup). A gin and tonic can be Crystal Palace from a plastic jug and Canada Dry, or a Spanish-style G&T with higher-end (or homemade) tonic and muddled fruit. A mint julep can be a gross, pre-mixed disaster, redolent of mouthwash. Or it can be lovingly crafted to order, with gently bruised mint leaves and a good bourbon.

Perhaps no drink illustrates this dichotomy better than the Pimm’s Cup. On one hand, it’s the snooty summer tipple of Wimbledon, garnished with borage leaves, cucumber, strawberries or mint. On the other hand, it’s one of the staples of New Orleans’ French Quarter, made with lemonade and 7-Up. Over a long weekend in the Big Easy, some friends and I once tried to collectively drink 100 of the latter. As I said: classy.

The base of the Pimm’s Cup is, of course, Pimm’s No. 1, the rust-colored liqueur that’s a blend of gin, fruit and spices, dating to 19th-century London. There also used to be the Scotch-based Pimm’s Cup No. 2, the brandy-based No. 3, the rum-based No. 4, the rye-based No. 5 and the vodka-based No. 6. Now, you can only occasionally find the No. 3, sold as Pimm’s Winter Cup, and even more rarely the No. 6.

Because Pimm’s No. 1 has only 25 percent alcohol, its signature cocktail is perhaps the perfect afternoon drink (with less proof than a glass of wine). It goes down almost too easily. The Pimm’s Cup is subtle and doesn’t bowl you over with flavor, which means that if you’re a big whiskey or even gin-and-tonic aficionado, this might not be your favorite.

A Pimm’s Cup can be made dozens of ways. The original borage-leaf garnish has long since given way to the cucumber. Traditionally, drinks in the category known as “cups” were always garnished with a mix of seasonal fruit, and that mix is one way bartenders put their individual twist on the drink. In England, strawberry and mint often find their way into the glass. The New Orleans-style version most of us are familiar with, made famous by the Napoleon House, calls for a couple ounces of Pimm’s and three ounces of lemonade, topped with 7-Up and garnished simply with cucumber. The choice of soda in a Pimm’s Cup is also a matter of debate. In England, it’s generally ginger ale or club soda, while in the United States, good old 7-Up has taken over.

Since I’m a transatlantic sort of chap, my ideal Pimm’s Cup cobbles together several approaches. I like to use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than lemonade. I like to add strawberries and other fruit. And I insist, with all apologies to the All-England Club, that the best Pimm’s Cups are made with 7-Up. And I mean specifically 7-Up. Not Sprite or any other lemon-lime soda. Also, always remember the cucumber slice as a garnish; its aromatics are very important to this drink.

The Pimm’s Cup provides a wonderful palette for further experimentation, and I’ve seen a number of versions that toss out the Pimm’s No. 1 altogether. In the wonderful Black Cup, created by Jim Meehan at PDT in New York’s East Village, Pimm’s is replaced with port.

For my Pimm’s Cup, I like to muddle the produce and then shake everything together before straining the mixture into an ice-filled Collins glass. I find that when the fruit is just plopped into the drink as a garnish, it doesn’t really add much. My way is a little fussier, but not a lot. It adds about three minutes to the preparation time, maybe four if you can’t immediately locate your knife. If muddling complicates your life, by all means make your Pimm’s Cup however you like it.

That’s one of the best things about hot-weather drinks. Sure, they’re all about choices. But those choices are very forgiving.

Sorta Fussy Pimm’s Cup

The contemporary Pimm’s Cup is a straightforward mix of Pimm’s, lemon juice and 7-Up, with a cucumber garnish. Earlier, traditional versions had more fruits in the mix, such as this version. The twist here is that the fruit is muddled and the drink is shaken and strained.


Ripe strawberry, hulled
Lime wheel
2 cucumber slices (one for garnish)
2 ounces Pimm’s
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice


Muddle the strawberry, lime wheel and one of the cucumber slices in a cocktail shaker. Add the ice, then pour in the Pimm’s and lemon juice. Shake well; strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass. Top with about 2 ounces 7-Up, and gently stir.

Garnish with the remaining cucumber slice.

Serves 1

Black Cup

This Pimm’s Cup variation uses port instead of Pimm’s. Its name comes from Noval Black, the excellent young port that inspired bartender Jim Meehan to make this cocktail.

The drink works with any good ruby or younger, light tawny port; we used Warre’s Ottima 10-year-old, for instance. Meehan calls for club soda or 7-Up, but we prefer the latter.


1 ripe strawberry, hulled
½ ounce simple syrup (see NOTE)
2 ounces port (see headnote)
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cucumber slice, for garnish


Muddle the strawberry and the simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add the port and lemon juice, then fill with ice. Shake well; strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass. Top with about 2 ounces of 7-Up.

Garnish with the cucumber slice.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature.

Serves 1

Adapted from Jim Meehan, bartender at PDT in New York.

Cajun Lemonade

This punch draws its name from both the hot sauce used as an ingredient and the famed Pimm’s Cup cocktail (Pimm’s, lemonade and 7-Up) served at the Napoleon House Bar and Cafe in New Orleans.

The original called for white rum, but we suggest using cachaça for a richer, more interesting drink.


12 ounces cachaça
4 ounces Pimm’s No 1
8 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 3½ lemons)
4 ounces simple syrup (see NOTE)
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
8 ounces chilled lemon-lime soda, such as 7-Up
Lemon wheels, for garnish


Combine the cachaça, Pimm’s, lemon juice, simple syrup and hot pepper sauce in a large resealable container. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until chilled.

Fill a pitcher and 8 old-fashioned or rocks glasses with ice.

Remove the cachaca mixture from the refrigerator. Make sure the container is tightly sealed, then shake the container until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour them into the ice-filled pitcher. Stir, then strain into the ice-filled old-fashioned or rocks glasses. Top off each glass with the soda and garnish with the lemon wheels.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature.

Serves 8

Adapted from a recipe by Duggan McDonnell of Cantina in San Francisco

Photos by Rachel Wisniewski

Jason Wilson is the author of Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and the wine series Planet of the Grapes. He previously wrote the drinks column for the Washington Post, which has won awards for Best Newspaper Food Column three times from the Association of Food Journalists. Wilson is director of the Center for Cultural Outreach at Drexel University, which also publishes The Smart Set. He is series editor of The Best American Travel Writing, was previously the food columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @boozecolumnist


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