Tired of cocktail recipes that call for expensive, obscure bottles and fancy-pants techniques? We got you. Welcome to Happy Hour with Al, a monthly column where Al Culliton, Basically’s resident bartender, sets you up to get the most bang for your booze with the fewest possible bottles.
You know what sounds like my ideal summer afternoon? Eating a ton of oysters and downing a few low-ABV, refreshing gin drinks that are a little bubbly, ever-so-slightly herbaceous, and adorned with lots of fruit and a shock of mint. Well that’s just the idea James Pimm had back in the 1820s (or the ’30s, you know how these historical things go…). The son of a farmer, he had gotten into the restaurant business and was running a popular London tavern serving mostly shellfish to his patrons. And the cocktail he created—the Pimm’s Cup—has remained a warm-weather classic for nearly 200 years.
Pimm used myriad elements to flavor his tavern’s house “tonic” and to make it “healthful” (at least by 19th century standards), including quinine, which was used as an anti-malarial, citrus peels, herbs, spices and fruits. It was called Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. The “Cup” part stands for fruit cup or summer cup, a category that essentially originated with Pimm’s. Fruit cups, like other liqueurs, tend not to be as high in alcohol as other spirits, and they’re meant to be combined with ice and a carbonated beverage, i.e. lemonade (in the UK, that means lemon-lime soda) or ginger beer. The drink is then garnished with abandon, as described above.
SO. It’s hot. You’re probably pretty thirsty by now. We’re going to whip up a great big batch of refreshing Pimm’s Cups—enough for around 12 servings—that would make ol’ James proud, exactly the thing you want for your next sweaty backyard hang. Here’s the list. Go forth! Meet you back here when you’ve gathered your ingredients.
1-1L bottle Pimm’s No. 1
1 cup London dry gin (optional, see below)
12 sprigs mint
1 pint strawberries
1 English cucumber
Ginger beer or ginger ale (fancy and spicy is best!)
First, make a syrup! Combine the peels of 2 oranges, 8 strawberries, quartered, and 2 cups sugar in a bowl. Muddle and mix around, about 3 minutes. Add 4 or 5 hearty sprigs of mint, stir, and gently muddle for another 30 seconds. Let mixture sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, boil some water. Add 2 cups boiling water to your fruity sugar mixture and stir well until sugar is completely dissolved. Strain out solids and reserve syrup in a jar. Let cool completely.
Juice enough lemons to produce 1 cup of lemon juice. Fill a large glass pitcher with ice (or you can use a punch bowl, half-full of ice). Add 3 cups Pimm’s No. 1, 1 cup London dry gin, 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1 cup of your reserved syrup. (If you want it to be really low ABV, you can add 4 cups Pimm’s and omit the gin, but I always fortify mine with extra gin. I like the juniper flavor.) Stir well to combine. Throw in a few orange slices, quartered strawberries, and slices of cucumber. Give it another stir.
What makes this both easy and fun is a sweet little garnish bar with more strawberries, orange slices and strips of cucumber. (Use a Y-peeler to get long, thin strips of cucumber that will wrap nicely around the inside of a glass). Also, MINT. Lots of beautiful mint.