Pimm's: Think Outside the Cup

By Justine Sterling Posted August 16, 2012
War of the Roses cocktail

War of the Roses. © David C. Sampson

In 1823, English restaurateur James Pimm developed a tea-toned, spicy and lightly fruity gin-based apéritif called the Pimm's House Cup. Now bottled and known as Pimm’s No. 1 (or simply Pimm's), the formula remains a guarded secret and is still primarily used in an iconic British long drink topped off with sparkling lemonade and garnished with cucumber, fruit and mint. Leave it to Americans to rebel against tradition. Mixologists on this side of the Atlantic are mixing the delicious spirit into a variety of creative and refreshing summer cocktails.

At Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, bartender Mike Ryan’s Pimm's-based War of the Roses is the most popular drink on the menu. “We sell such a ridiculous amount of it, it’s become our own little joke: 'Hey, welcome to Sable, home of the War of the Roses, how can I help you?' ” Sable divides its cocktail menu into drinking ideologies: Cocktails for Drinking and Cocktails for Thinking. The War of the Roses is for easy drinking—a light cooler made with Pimm’s, French Citadelle gin aged in Cognac casks, elderflower liqueur, muddled mint and fresh lime juice. “It’s celebrating what Pimm’s is,” Ryan says. “It has a fruity character, but it’s not overly sweet. It’s very approachable.”

Ryan likens Pimm’s to Cachaça and Pisco, two spirits that have been, for the most part, unable to break free of the cocktails they are most associated with—Caipirinhas and Pisco Sours. But he thinks there is potential for the spirit to develop a larger following. “Pimm's has a lot of subtlety," he says. When chosen as a base for a cocktail, it only needs one or two accents to highlight its herbal, citrus or spice notes.


Ada St, Chicago
Named for the Beatles song, the Day Tripper combines Pimm’s with cassis, honey, lemon juice, bitters for light and sweet cocktail topped off with soda, served over ice. “The Pimm’s brings in a smooth balance to the cassis,” explains bartender Sonja Lilljeberg. “It has been likened to a fruity and spicy iced tea.”

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston
Recommended as an oyster accompaniment, the 1638 blends herbaceous yellow chartreuse with spicy, nutty Kopke white port, orange bitters and bright, fruity Pimm’s.

Bar | Kitchen, Los Angeles
The bar’s Pardon cocktail gives Pimm’s a kick from oaky 100-proof bourbon, and intensifies its citrus flavors with Orange Curaçao and orange oil. Cucumber tones down the sweetness.

Grand Café, San Francisco
Inspired by a modern Parisian brasserie, this restaurant serves the Pimball Wizard, a tropical cocktail made with a base of Pimm’s, a touch of smoky mezcal, pineapple gum syrup, lemon juice and quality grenadine.

Related: 50 Best Bars in America
Britsh (and British-Inspired) Drinks
Refreshing Coolers

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