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.