Pimm's No. 1 is a classic drink, one of those (like chartreuse) based upon a secret formula. It seems to endure (in Britain, at any rate) partly because under certain circumstances we are almost expected to drink it. It was first served in London in the 1840s by James Pimm in his oyster bar. Based upon gin (the "base spirit"), quinine and a secret mix of herbs, it found instant appeal as an aid to digestion. The "No 1 cup" reference is apparently down to its being served in a No. 1 sized tankard.
Pimm's was joined after the Second World War by a range of different "cups", using different base spirits as follows:
- Pimm's No. 2 Cup - Scotch
- Pimm's No. 3 Cup - Brandy
- Pimm's No. 4 Cup - Rum
- Pimm's No. 5 Cup - Rye
- Pimm's No. 6 Cup - Vodka
It is a testament to its enduring popularity that Pimm's No. 1 Cup so outsold the other variations that over time they were all withdrawn. The sole exception is Pimm's No. 6 Cup, and that is now only made in relatively small quantities.
Pimm's is usually associated with Summer. Any good British (I suppose I should say English) cricket, tennis, horseracing or croquet tournament will serve Pimm's during the Summer. The longest sporting association is with the Wimbledon tournament. It is estimated that some 80,000 half-pints of Pimm's and lemonade are sold at each tournament to be enjoyed with the ubiquitous strawberries and cream, followed closely by the Henley Regatta and Royal Ascot. You might gather from the list of sports that Pimm's is a high-class drink (I have heard it referred to as the caviar of liquers). This was the case in the early 1900s, when it was aimed at the middle-to-high classes. In fact, it now appeals across the board and you are as likely to see someone drinking it outside a pub on a hot day as anywhere else.
The taste is quite unique - a very delicate, pleasant, mildly fruity taste, faintly reminiscent of strawberry. The most classic way to drink it is with lemonade, mixing it 2:1 lemonade to Pimm's. Then add a slice each of cucumber, orange, lemon and apple, a large, halved strawberry if desired, and a sprig of mint, all in a chilled glass. Other ways to enjoy it include:
- 5:2:1 lemonade to Pimm's to gin - a slightly "edgier," more warming version. Favoured by some of the drink's more fervent admirers, apparently.
- Ginger beer can be used to replace the lemonade in the same proportions, or a 50:50 ginger beer to Pimm's. My favourite Pimm's cocktail is 50:50 Schweppe's Dry Ginger Ale to Pimm's.
- I also like adding Martini Rosso. 3:1:1 lemonade (or ginger beer) to Pimm's to Martini Rosso makes for a very great taste.
- For a "Maximum Voltage", add the following to a shaker 2/3 filled with ice - 1 large shot of Pimm's No. 6 Cup, 1 small shot of vodka and 1 small shot of Cointreau. Shake well, and strain into an ice-filled highball. Add a couple of lime wedges and top up with soda water. I tried this once in London, it is incredibly refreshing.
- Pimm's sorbet, which I tasted once at the Queen's Hotel, Cheltenham, is excellent (but unfortunately hard to come by, it seems).
And where to enjoy it? For me, Summer last year was spent sitting outisde the Officers' Mess, RAF Boulmer, with jugs of Pimm's and lemonade, playing croquet in the hot Summer evenings, or playing beach volleyball and finishing with a few glasses of the stuff on the beach as the sun went down. It is commonly associated (as I have said) with Summer sports such as tennis, and is often drunk to complement strawberries and cream.
I finally found the ingredients for Maximum Voltage at http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/drink_feat_pimms_mixing.asp.
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