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The Pimm's Cup Should Be L.A.'s Drink

Photo courtesy of Karen Grill
Photo courtesy of Karen Grill

A gold- and red-tinted drink served in an ice-cold glass filled with strawberries, orange slices, cucumber, and fresh mint evokes summertime and imbibing outdoors. It's not iced tea that I'm talking about, but a Pimm's cup: one of the most popular summer cocktails in England that has in recent years made its way onto almost every Los Angeles bar with a serious cocktail program. It has posh associations -- think Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta, Ascot, and Oxbridge garden parties -- but this drink lends itself to casual outdoor sipping in sunny Southern California all year round. L.A. may as well claim England's quintessential summer drink as its own.

Pimm's is a gin-based liqueur that has been an English summer staple since the 19th century. Before James Pimm introduced his version at his London oyster bar in 1823, pubs made their own house versions and simply called it a summer cup or fruit cup. When Pimm bottled and sold his Pimm's No.1 formulation commercially in the mid-1800s, the drink became known as the Pimm's Cup or Pimm's. Like its original name, the cocktail reflects summer's bounty: cucumbers, strawberries, mint, and sometimes blue borage blossoms are used as garnish. This was very much an English drink for summers on the lawn.

These days, Angelenos are starting to drink Pimm's in the winter (though there is a winter cup version in England, it's not nearly as ubiquitous or beloved). Pimm's Cup has been on the menu of Sassafras in Hollywood since November, and general manager Karen Grill says it's one of their most popular drinks. "It's perpetual summer here and something light and refreshing will always work."

 

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The bar, styled in the manner of a Savannah townhouse, uses Pimm's No.1, muddled mint, a house-made strawberry cucumber shrub, lemon juice, an aloe liqueur called Chareau (Grill considers it her secret ingredient), and a cucumber garnish. It's great. It's everything you would expect from a Pimm's Cup, but better: it's not the treacly bog standard that you expect to get with a Pimm's mixed with commercial ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, but it's brighter, more fragrant, with just a slight bitter tinge to counter the fruit and herbal notes. It would be ideal to have this in a pitcher to share with friends on a picnic.

With our great weather, thrown in with amazing farmers' markets at every L.A. mixologist's disposal, it's not a surprise that people have fun playing with this drink. And that the recipe for the spirit is a closely guarded secret (it's said that only six people in the world know the precise ingredients) makes it all the more enticing to recreate.

Bartender Matthew Biancaniello, one who forages his own ingredients and creates bar programs for buzzy restaurants such as Plan Check and Commissary, says the commercial product just didn't impress him very much.

"I just didn't like the regular Pimm's. I thought it wasn't fresh enough, it didn't really stand out for me, and that there was something missing," he says. "I needed to add some interesting flavors. I thought if I could make a Pimm's that an English person would love, then I'm in."

It presented him with a fun challenge, and his own version is a mix of gin, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, and Cherry Heering infused with seasonal fruit. Using that as his Pimm's base, he muddles cucumber and shiso leaves with lime and ginger juice. For a final touch, he tops off his cup with champagne for an extra bit of fizz and instead of borage, garnishes it with a flowering purple opal basil leaf.

This summer Biancaniello is infusing his Pimm's with stone fruits like plums and cherries. He suggests at-home bartenders to go to their local juicer to get freshly juiced ginger for the Pimm's base if they don't have a juicer of their own.

Now if that's not a very Los Angeles kind of drink, then I don't know what is.

Roberto Cortez

Pimm's Cup
Courtesy of Matthew Biancaniello

Pimm's Base
2 part gin
2 part sweet vermouth
1 part of Grand Marnier
1 part of Cherry Heering liqueur
Seasonal fruits (For summer, plums and cherries or rhubarb)

Pimm's Cup
2-3 cucumber slices
2-3 shiso leaves
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce agave syrup
1 ounce fresh ginger juice
2 ounce Pimm's base
champagne (optional)
flowering purple opal basil leaf (for garnish)

For base: Mix liquid ingredients and infuse fruit in glass container for at least one week.

For cup: Muddle cucumber and shiso with lime juice, agave syrup and ginger juice. Stir in Pimm's base. Top off with champagne and garnish with flowering purple opal basil leaf.

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