It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!

June 8th, 2008

As an English blogger, writing about a subject that is dominated by American spirits, American drinks and American bloggers, it’s easy to loose sight of what the British brought to the world of mixed drinks. We may not have invented cocktails, and we may have a terrible cocktail scene in all but a handful of large cities, but we did bring London Dry gin to the world, and we did come up with the fruit cup.

Back in the early nineteenth century, Londoners were mad for fruit cups. An aromatic mixture of wines, spirits, spices and fruit, they were often sold as tonics with supposed health benefits, and it was common for pubs to have their own unique “house cup”. One such pub was the Oyster Bar of Lombard Street, a City-based tavern ran by a certain James Pimm. Pimm invented his house cup sometime between 1823 and 1840 and it soon became so popular that it was being mass-produced and sold by the bottle, first to other bars and gentlemen’s clubs and eventually to the public.

Today Pimm’s is most famous for its use in the Pimm’s Cup cocktail, a relatively simple mixture that is a popular summer drink here in Britain, if with something of a mocking reputation for being popular with the upper classes. Whatever your social status though, on a hot summer day like today the Pimm’s Cup makes for the perfect afternoon drink – cool, refreshing and light enough that you don’t get too tipsy.

We’ll get to the Pimm’s Cup cocktail shortly, but first… a comparison! You didn’t think I could write two posts in a row that didn’t compare something did you? Alongside the original Pimm’s, there are several other similar products available to fill your fruit cup needs. Each has that familiar deep burgundy colour, but which is best for your Pimm’s Cup cocktail?

Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

25% ABV

Pimm's No. 1 Cup bottle

Pimm’s is made from a gin base to which a secret list of ingredients, probably including fruits, spices and fortified wines, is added. It has a deep, aromatic nose with hints of citrus and a certain bitter-sweet undercurrent. The aromatics continue in the actual taste, along with some spice and sweetness, though the finish has a decided bitter edge and a slight heat.

Unlike, say, a sweet vermouth, the aromatics are not overwhelming and there is a lightness to it which no doubt is helped by the fact that, like many older spirits, Pimm’s has had it’s strength cut in recent years from 34.6% to 25%.

Austin’s

21.9% ABV

Austin's bottle

Austin’s is sold by budget supermarket Aldi, and with its similar name and labelling is a clear attempt at a Pimm’s copy. It is made from a base of aromatised wine which is fortified with grain spirits and flavoured with fruit. It costs just a fraction of what a bottle of Pimm’s does, though as you might expect it is less alcoholic than it’s older rival.

The nose is a little milder than Pimm’s, and noticeably sweeter. It is however impressively nuanced, with just as much complexity. Unfortunately though when it comes to taste Austin’s falls a little flat. It tastes very watery, and while there are some aromatics and spice they are short-lived and dominated by the sweetness. It lacks any of the bitterness Pimm’s has and the finish is fleeting and unmemorable.

In fairness to Austin’s, in a Pimm’s Cup cocktail it does fare a lot better, and while you will want to increase the amount you use it makes an okay substitute for Pimm’s, especially if you’re making a large bowl of drink and can’t afford the real deal. Last time I made a batch of each, most of my friends couldn’t tell the difference between the two, so in a party situation it’s a no brainer.

Plymouth Fruit Cup

30% ABV

Plymouth Fruit Cup bottle

Plymouth’s answer to Pimm’s was launched in 2003, though sadly was discontinued a few years later after apparently failing to penetrate Pimm’s dominance in the market. Luckily it’s still available online and in the occasional off-license if you look hard enough. Plymouth Fruit Cup has a base of Plymouth gin which is mixed with fruit liqueurs, vermouths, aromatic bitters and citrus extracts. It is bottled at a stronger 30% ABV, which Plymouth claims is the perfect strength for a fuller flavour.

It certainly has the strongest nose of the three, with a strong aromatic fragrance reminding me of sweet vermouth. There is also a slight suggestion of gin, and a bit of citrus. In the mouth it is a real assault of flavours, musky with plenty of aromatics, citrus, and spice, and an initial sweetness that quickly dissolves in to a complex bitter flavour. It has none of the lightness the other two spirits had, and certainly validates the claim of having a “fuller flavour”. My personal favourite, though sadly I have to use it sparingly.

Home-made Fruit Cup

If you can’t get hold of Pimm’s where you are, you can make an improvised version by combining 2 parts gin, 2 parts sweet vermouth and 1 part orange curaçao. I have read that Bols Dry Orange works well, so I gave the home-made version a try with that along with Plymouth gin and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth.

The result is an interesting mixture, not quite resembling Pimm’s but with some similar characteristics. It’s actually closer to Plymouth Fruit Cup, with plenty of bitterness and a decent strength to it. I wouldn’t really recommend using it over Pimm’s or Plymouth, but if you don’t have any choice then it’s not a terrible substitute.

Pimm's Cup cocktail

Pimm’s Cup

There are as many recipes for the Pimm’s Cup as there are people who drink it, with various garnishes and mixers used. Some like to add strawberries, others like to use ginger beer. For me though the only garnishes used should be cucumber, orange, lemon and lime, and the only mixer lemonade (or Sprite for you Americans). I also like to let the fruit and Pimm’s sit for several hours in the fridge before serving, which lets the fruit and cucumber impart their flavours in to the Pimm’s more fully.

I’ve also recently started adding a few dashes of bitters to the mixture. You don’t want to go overboard as the drink already has bitter components, but a little really add something to the drink. The Bitter Truth’s celery bitters, now available to purchase, work great as do Angostura Orange bitters.

Ultimately though the Pimm’s Cup is a drink you’ll want to experiment with to find what works for your palate. Just don’t ever skip on the cucumber… it may seem an odd addition, but it’s essential for a good Pimm’s Cup…

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Posted in Pimm's, Recipes, Reviews

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24 responses to “It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!”

  1. Marleigh Marleigh says:

    Yay! Pimm’s! Great post Jay—Pimm’s is surprisingly easy to find out here, but I’ve never seen any of the others. I didn’t realize that there were so many alternatives.

  2. ant ant says:

    I had never heard of Pimms til I was 18 and went to a posh uni, since then, 10 years on, no summer is complete without it.

    You gotta have strawberries, just for the appearance, and because the girls in summer dresses like to eat them.

    I once made a pitcher with tequila – an smooth, aged one, and was it surprisingly good, added a smoky woody kick to it.

    Lime I don’t know about, I think it might make the whole thing taste a bit like 5-Alive. Thinly sliced apple is good for me.

    Totally agree the cucumber is the only MANDATORY!! loving your work, this post has made me unbearably thirsty.
    best
    ant

  3. Jay Jay says:

    Tequila eh? Was that in addition, or instead of, Pimm’s? Yeah I’ve had it with apple in before, it worked nicely actually but I had pretty much forgotten about it. May try adding some in next time I knock some up. Thanks for reminding me!

  4. Ouroboros Ouroboros says:

    Indeed, the cucumber IS mandatory.

    I like to drop a borage flower on top of the finished drink for a little more color.

  5. ant ant says:

    Tequila in addition, not instead.

    Are you going to the bar show? we are heading down Tuesday afternoon I think, I will shout if I see you, if that’s ok.
    Ant

  6. Jay Jay says:

    Ant, I will be going though most likely on the Wednesday. I probably would have gone both days, but after last week in Paris I don’t think I can swing getting tomorrow off work as well. If you are around on Wed and see me, do feel free to shout!

  7. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    I’m late to this post (pretty much took June off from the online world) but nice post! I wasn’t aware of the alternate products and it’s good to know Pimm’s is still the way to go.

    Nice trick with the ‘American’ link. Well done, that.

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Believe it or not there are several others too, like Stone’s Summer Cup and Players Original Punch. They are very rare though – I couldn’t find a supplier anywhere.

    Plymouth Fruit Cup definitely beats out Pimm’s, but Pimm’s is still very good and given the status of Plymouth Fruit Cup is the way to go in all but special circumstances.

  9. Axion Axion says:

    Oh, those English, and their cucumbers.

  10. Jessica Jessica says:

    Another great mixer for Pimms is ginger ale. very similar to lemonades but with a bit more depth of flavour. I’m a fan of adding a shot of gin to strengthen it up, and i also believe that a mint sprig is another integral part of a good pimms cup.

    can’t wait for it to be summer again so i can start pumping these out. :(

  11. Jay Jay says:

    I’ve never been a fan of ginger ale in a Pimm’s Cup… for me it’s all about the lemonade. That’s probably more because that’s how I always had it though, it is a very popular alternative to lemonade.

  12. nick s nick s says:

    Ginger ale is a good standby in the US because of the scarcity of lemonade, as opposed to lemon/lime soda. I’m also with Jessica w/r/t adding a splash more gin, to approach the original a.b.v. before Pimm’s watered down the recipe.

  13. Krista Krista says:

    If I ever move back to the States, I’ll be taking a lot of Pimms back with me! Truly, the perfect summer drink.

  14. Copywriters’ Kitchen Cocktail Hour: Cucumber Strawberry Pimm’s Cup No. 1 Cocktail - Copywriters' Kitchen says:

    [...] you’re as fascinated with the history of Pimm’s Cup as I am, read more about it here and [...]

  15. Alice Pink Alice Pink says:

    For me fresh mint as well as cucumber is also a must, while I prefer to use old fashioned or cloudy lemonade which is widely availale in UK & I would always drink through a straw.

  16. Dominik MJ… is the opinionated alchemist Dominik MJ... is the opinionated alchemist says:

    Well, this is called very late…

    Though anyway – weather is just perfect for a Pimm’s cup [at least now in Dubai] – Temperatures just went down from “on_the_surface_of_the_sun” to “summer_in_Europe”…

    I heard, that originally it was served with a borage flowers and not cucumber…

    And one more question: I always assumed that English lemonade is more or less the same as American lime/lemon sodas. Is there any facts, which distinguished them from another?

    Great post though…

  17. Jay Jay says:

    Dominik – Our lemonade is indeed fairly similar to 7up/Sprite style American sodas, though obviously concentrate on lemon. Some more traditional versions can be cloudy and have a more natural, zesty flavour.

  18. Dennise Dennise says:

    I am in the U.S. (Baton Rouge, LA) and don’t have any problem finding Pimm’s even thought I am the only person I know that drinks is regularly. Last night I was out of Sprite and use Fresca and was pleasantly surprised.

  19. karen dyer karen dyer says:

    Late in posting but… Jay – I bought Players original punch today from Asda as it was a 3rd of the price of Pimms.

  20. The Pimm’s Cup in America : Liquor Locusts says:

    [...] Plymouth Fruit Cup? Category: Cocktails, Gin, Historical [...]

  21. Barton Barton says:

    Late in posting (just found the site! love it!). As an American, I must say I’ve always found the cucumber OPTIONAL, mainly because that veg and I do not get on. I wanted to post, however, because while I can find Pimm’s #1 in the stores, I cannot get it at the pubs around me – including the ex-pat English and ex-pat Irish pubs. So I have made it my mission to ask for it to drink everytime I go to my local favorite. It’s gotten the point that my favorite waiter came up to me last weekend and the first thing he said was, “no, we still do not have Pimm’s; what do you want instead?”

    The mission continues.

    And, please do not gasp as I share with you that my grandmother heats up her Pimm’s in the winter with some spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg) and serves it in lieu of mulled wine. It’s very very yummy!

  22. EnglishDave EnglishDave says:

    Hey Jay, great post. I’ve done a little review of some other Fruit Cups that may be of interest. Hope you don’t mind me pasting a link in.
    http://cocktailsfortwo.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/summer-fruits-cups-pimms-and-friends/

  23. Peter Allen Peter Allen says:

    My local Aldi has stopped stocking Austin’s as they say it was a summer promotion. Are you aware of anyboby else who sells it?

  24. The Craftsman’s Pimm’s Cup Recipe: Drink to {more} Change | The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog says:

    [...] the liqueur’s name on the small, pewter tankard in which the drink was originally served. Another source attributes the name to the “fruit cup,” a kind of 19th century wine cooler  that mixed fruit [...]

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