Pimm’s #1 Cup

pimmsJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This drink has intrigued me for a long time. I am not ashamed to admit that it was simply the name and pictures of the drink that did it too. The first part was curiosity about who, or what, Pimm was and whether there were other numbers of cups. Pull out or pull up any well illustrated cocktail guide and one will see what I mean about the pictures. The drink is usually an amber liquid packed with fruit, cucumber, mint and ice. It screams summer.

It ends up that James Pimm was a restaurateur in London who owned an oyster bar. The number 1 elixir he created in the 1840’s was a liqueur of gin, quinine and herbs meant as a curative (what else) and digestif. It was mixed in large batches, much like the punches of American bars of the 1800’s, and served by the tankard or cup full. The popularity increased to the point that it began to spread to other bars, eating establishments, and eventually by the bottle.

The popularity of the #1 continues today. It is a popular summer drink in Britain with various sources suggesting that 40-80 thousand pints are sold during the Wimbledon tennis tournament alone. Even New Orleans claims the drink (erroneously) as a summer cocktail of lower alcohol content for those who don’t want to drink less, but do want to pace themselves. There were other numbers, five others in fact, that were made with different spirit bases but only the #1 and a winter cup are sold widely now.

There doesn’t seem to be one definitive recipe, and I will be curious to see how David concocted it. The basics are one part of Pimm’s #1 to two to four parts mixer with a garnish of fruit, cucumber and mint. The mixer of choice is lemon-lime soda (called lemonade in England apparently), but alternatives include ginger ale or soda water for those who want to cut the sweet. I made three versions but each started with this basic mix of liqueur, cucumber and fruit:

2 ounces Pimm’s #1
1 slice cucumber (recipes said English cuke but I have no idea what that is)
1 wheel of lemon
A few pieces of quartered strawberries
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

In the basic version those were stirred together, ice added, and it was all topped with 4 ounces of lemon lime soda that was stirred in lightly. I forgot the mint, but that would have been a good time to add it.

Other versions simply added or substituted. The first was a strawberry version that started the day before. I blended up a bunch of strawberries, strained them through a sifter until I had a cup of liquid, and then warmed that in sauce pan with a cup of sugar to make a strawberry syrup (nothing simple about it). In case you were wondering, it is excellent drizzled over a piece of toast that had been smeared with peanut butter. That’s healthy, right? The final version was the basic recipe with ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda. The standard Blenheim worked well although someone who really wanted to elevate the drink could try the extra hot. The subtle Pimm’s might get lost in that though.

The end result of all this experimenting is a cocktail as healthy as any we have tried. I tasted the strawberry syrup version, but preferred the basic or the ginger ale mix. All of the tasters ended up digging out the fruit at the end and eating it as the dessert part of the cocktail meal. Tasty.

And Here’s David’s Review:

PimmyMy encounters with British literature, television, and cinema have taught me some important Britishisms like “in hospital” instead of “in THE hospital,” the pronunciation of “Frus-TRAIT-ed” and the spelling of “gaol” instead of “jail.”

This exposure to British culture has also created some lasting curiosities, like, “How do you pronounce ‘Pshaw’?” and “What the hell does Pimm’s taste like?”

Thanks to Jonathan, I can at least tentatively answer one of those questions. As is my practice, I tried a little Pimm’s before adding it to this week’s cocktail. I decided Pimm’s is red. It’s amber, as Jonathan said, but it tastes rather, well… red. It’s not that it’s strawberry or cherry or cinnamon or punch or anything that must be red. It possesses the unspecified flavor of foods with a convenient rather than essential color. It’s citrusy (sort of) and spicy (sort of), which I suppose makes it a good mixer with soft drinks, gin, and other spirits.

By itself, meh.

The proper sort of additives, however, must really make this drink. I made my version with lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and mint. I see how the combination works. Lemon is more sour than sweet, and, when a strawberry is perfect, it’s sweet but also acidic. Cucumber has a surprisingly distinctive settling strength when it’s used indulgently. Mint is aromatic, and, though it’s not as important here as in a julep, it renders the cocktail a more complete sensory experience.

But I also made strawberry syrup. And that syrup… and that Seven-Up. I suspect that, with better strawberries or less sugar, I might like the syrup more, but it was dense and sickly sweet and, for me, sunk any chance of the drink being refreshing or light. The Seven-Up only added to that effect. We tried other versions—my wife had a second made with lemon-lime seltzer and I used tonic for the second version—but both still seemed heavy. If I was going to create a drink like this from scratch, I’d just muddle the cucumber, strawberry, and mint and have done with it.

Of course, I’d like to try this drink at Wimbledon. What drink wouldn’t taste better amid such pageantry? And whenever one of our concoctions doesn’t wow me, I wonder what I must have done wrong, what secret I missed in preparing it. How can such a popular drink not wow me? Perhaps the problem was how I cooked the syrup or the proportions of soft drink to alcohol or the gray (or should that be “grey”) stormy weather outside that seemed to call for a tarp and a rain delay. I don’t know. I just wasn’t blown away.

I’m happy, however, to have a bottle of Pimm’s #1 to experiment with, and some interesting possibilities for its use occurred to me right away. Maybe Pimm’s means to be a supporting player, the understated actor who draws no attention to him or herself but assembles the assemble. I’ll find out.

Jonathan’s take: Some days, like this Mother’s Day spent with Pimm’s, I wish we could stop at favorite drink for a while. Science and experimentation beckons us though.

David’s Take: I wanted to really love it and only liked it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’re moving soon, and I keep staring at my liquor shelf, thinking which bottles are closest to being empty, which contents can be consumed and bottles jettisoned before we load everything else on a truck. Thus, selfishly, I’m proposing a drink called “Moving Sale” invented in his own way by Jonathan and my own way by me. The rules are that it consist of three ingredients we might exhaust. My respect for the spare and simple life grows as we gather our stuff in boxes. Let’s raise a drink to casting off.

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Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

The La Marque

Proposed by: JonathanLa Marque

Reviewed by: David

The first cocktail in this endeavor was the Tallulah. It was a nostalgic nod to combining cola and salted peanuts. You can go back through the weeks to find our reviews, but in general it was someone else’s nostalgia and made me start thinking about some food or beverage that David and I shared in our past that could inspire a cocktail.

The other piece of background that many of you probably already know that David wrote a book, The Lost Work of Wasps, that is a series of essays about memory and memories. It is a fantastic exploration of what we remember, how we recall things and some of the thoughts about memory that others have shared. The first thought that stood out to me in reading it are that memories are as unique as those who hold them. Just as a single event can be perceived differently by two people observing it at the same time, our memories are shaded by our perception immediately and shaped by that perception over time. The second thing I thought about is how it is not always the earth-shattering that we recall most vividly, but instead those things that resonate with us no matter how seemingly trivial. It is that last thought that brought me back to Big Red Soda.

Big Red Soda dates back to 1927, or so the label tells me. It was a regional soft drink only distributed in Texas and Kentucky and was unique for both its flavor and nuclear red color. Described as an American cream soda, it does not have a flavor associated with red (think cherry or strawberry) as much as it does the vanilla presence of cream soda. Other flavor descriptors include lemon and orange, although from my own perspective there is something “red” to it. The rights are now owned by a national company and it is available all over, which is something I did not realize when I sought it out during a visit to Texas recently.

The memory part is that it stands out as the drink of our childhood. There were always the ubiquitous colas and variations, but Big Red was unique to where we lived. It was a special treat to go the 7-11 or gas station within walking distance or when our Mother bought a six pack. It was also a great disappointment when our other brother, the oldest of five children, explained in logical detail why the extra bottle of every six pack was rightfully his. Just as David explored in his book, I am sure there are flaws to this memory, but before trying it again I could always recall its presence and the odd color without any recollection of the exact taste.

My cocktail version was never intended to be a perfect mimic. The most important parts were vanilla, the red color and carbonation. It is a very sweet soft drink and losing some of that was a good trade off for the adult alcoholic version. The drink starts with vanilla vodka, one of the astounding number of flavored vodkas available, and includes Grenadine, a cocktail staple, in a made-at-home version. The red is achieved with pomegranate in part because of taste but mostly because, where we grew up in south Texas, pomegranate bushes grew well enough that they could be encountered in many yards. The following is the recipe I came up with through the help of a taste-testing spouse and friends, and yes, I made them try the original Big Red first:

1.5 ounce vanilla vodka (I didn’t skimp here and went with Stoli’s)

1 ounce triple sec for the orange

1 ounce grenadine (recipe for home made follows)

3 ounces club soda

lemon wedge to garnish

Mix all the ingredients, add ice and stir.

This version of Grenadine is less sweet and, though I may be color blind, got me mighty close to the right color:

1/4 cup sugar (I used demerara sugar because I had it for another drink)

1 cup pure pomegranate juice

seeds from 1/2 fresh pomegranate

1 small lemon

x

Bring sugar, pomegranate juice and the slightly smashed seeds of half a pomegranate to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least five minutes to concentrate it to a more syrupy consistency. Once that is done, halve the lemon, squeeze the juice into the syrup and drop the halves into the syrup. Let it steep and cool then remove the lemons, strain it through cheese cloth and add a little regular vodka as a preservative if you think it will stay in your refrigerator more than a couple of weeks. Seems like a lot of trouble, but worth it for a less sweet grenadine.

Here’s to memories and a drink I call the La Marque in remembrance of a the small town in Texas where we grew up.

And here’s David’s review:

My brother has me at a disadvantage here. I remember my older brother’s elaborate argument for the special privilege of the sixth soda but don’t remember Big Red nearly as well as Jonathan does. I might have more luck recreating a cocktail based on Yoo-hoo than this one… as horrible as the thought of a Yoo-hoo cocktail seems to me. With no clear memory to match it against, the La Marque seemed appropriately sweet, appropriately complex, and appropriately flavorful. I wish I could compare it to Big Red, but smells and flavors seem hardest for me to recall. They say it is the most evocative sense, and that’s certainly true. But you either have those sense memories or don’t. And I don’t. That said, I could approach this drink without a clear context, and I’d loved it.

I especially liked the grenadine, which I do remember as I bring back the days we wandered through our neighborhood, pillaging gardens for pomegranates our neighbors must have hoped to keep to themselves.

Rather than Triple Sec, I chose a cordial I might drink later, Mandarine Napoleon, which presented more tangerine flavor than orange, a sweet and astringent flavor to balance and complement the lemony (but mellow) pomegranate. I think it added a different undertone, something more bitter and spicy than pure orange might have. Sorry Jonathan, I just couldn’t face a neglected bottle of triple sec in my bar.

I have to say again what a difference homemade grenadine makes! My recipe wasn’t quite as complex as Jonathan’s—I used pomegranate juice exclusively without any real pomegranate seed—but the effect was just as dramatic, introducing a distinctive and rich element, fruity and lush.

This cocktail may be the adult version of Big Red, less sweet and more complicated than the original, but it also stands on its own, without the connection. Hats off to my brother for creating such an interesting and innovative cocktail. I’d like to come up with something so evocative myself. …I’m thinking.

Jonathan’s Take: La Marque sweep the cocktail scene? No. Was it good? Yup

David’s Take: I’d order this cocktail—it was interesting and refreshing, true to our Texas roots, so what’s not to like?

Next Week (proposed by David):

My wife and I will be visiting in San Antonio, where my sister and mom live. I’d like to introduce them to a new spirit, something outside their ken, so I’ve decided to use Cachaca and recreate the national drink of Brazil, Caipirinha de Uva. I know my brother-in-law is fond of martinis, so I hope he’ll be okay with this wine, fruit, and rum cocktail.