History of the Pimm’s Cup
With the first days of April upon us, the temperatures are quickly rising, threatening the upcoming summer heat that New Orleans is famous for. While we can’t offer a solution for the humidity of a Southern summer, we can promise that one of the quickest ways to cool down in the Big Easy is with a perfectly poured Pimm’s Cup. This cocktail is a local favorite, enjoyed across the city, and touted as one of the Napoleon House’s original cocktails. But don’t believe everything you hear, because this cocktail actually has a home an ocean away.
A Pimm’s Cup’s recipe can vary greatly depending on where you purchase it. If you’re a local to New Orleans, or at least drinking here, you are likely to have a Pimm’s Cup comprised of Pimm’s No. 1, lemonade, lemon/lime soda, and muddled cucumber served in a tall glass on the rocks. But if you were to order a Pimm’s Cup in its home country of England, you’re more likely to have it prepared in a pitcher, made with sparkling lemonade instead of lemonade and soda, and served sangria style with berries, lemon and orange slices, cucumber, and mint tossed into the pitcher. But even the New Orleans recipe can have different twists; sometimes the lemon/lime soda is traded out for ginger ale, sometimes the cucumber is muddled with mint, and if you’re drinking at the Carousel Bar your Pimm’s Cup will follow the lead of its English cousin and have a couple strawberries thrown in the mix.
You may be wondering what the Pimm’s Cup’s main component is; Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin based liqueur that takes on an amber color from an infusion of blended spices, botanicals, and caramelized oranges. While the exact recipe is kept tightly under-wraps, you can expect a mild and herbaceous taste and about 25% alcohol by volume. While Pimm’s No. 1 is the standard, the Pimm’s Company also currently sells Pimm’s Blackberry and Elderflower (a Pimm’s creation with a vodka base) and Pimm’s Winter Cup (a Pimm’s creation with a brandy base).
But why “No. 1” you may ask? Well in 1935 the Pimm’s Company began experimenting with other liquor bases, creating a line of Pimm’s liqueurs. Pimm’s No. 2 offered a scotch base, Pimm’s No. 3 a brandy base, Pimm’s No. 4 rum, Pimm’s No. 5 rye whiskey, and Pimm’s No. 6 a vodka base. These Pimm’s faded out over time with the exception of Pimm’s No. 3 and No. 6 which were transitioned in 2005 to the flavors mentioned above (Blackberry and Elderflower, and Winter Cup).
Posh Beginnings for Pimm
Created from the imagination of a fishmonger, Pimm’s began as a “health tonic” offered by James “Jim” Pimm. Pimm owned an oyster bar in London’s fanciest financial district in the early 1840s. Not unlike the Sazerac’s beginnings, Pimm’s was offered to the clientele of the oyster house as a health remedy, to aid in digestion. But the liqueur had a taste that could not be contained, people fell in love quickly and as the concoction’s popularity grew Pimm realized he needed to commercialize.
In 1859 Pimm’s No. 1 was officially bottled and sold commercially by Pimm and became a household name in England. Only a decade later, in 1870, the Pimm’s Company was sold to a man named Horatio Davies (who later became Lord Mayor of London) and he began to grow the company internationally, creating a market for Pimm’s that reached from Sri Lanka to Sudan.
The Pimm’s Cup was quickly adopted in England as a sporting drink, paired most notably with Wimbledon. And when it wasn’t tennis time, the cocktail could be found served alongside the racetracks of the Grand National and the river of the Henley Regatta. Even today Pimm’s Cups are still adored as the perfect summer sporting cocktail; in 2014 the audience of Wimbledon consumed over 40,000 pints of the drink.
A Mississippi River Make-Over
It’s unclear exactly how the Pimm’s Cup made its way to our sparkling city here on the Mississippi. But records show its appearance in the early 1940s. Most locals believed it to be invented by the Napoleon House in the French Quarter, a thought that has continued until this day. Although it may have been popularized here in New Orleans by the Napoleon House, we now know that its true origins reach further back than 1940 and farther away than downtown.
New Orleanians believe the Pimm’s Cup to be the perfect cocktail for the summer heat because of its cool cucumber flavor profile and refreshing, light gin base. More so than this, Pimm’s low alcohol content makes the cocktail good for slow, summer day drinking without the extensive dehydration of higher alcohol liquors. Regardless of the reasons, one sip of a Pimm’s Cup is all you need to realize that nothing can quell the Big Easy heat better.