A signature drink in New Orleans, the Pimm’s Cup is usually a warm weather cocktail. This simple take on the classic drink uses homemade lemon syrup and muddled cucumbers for a refreshing finish.
Earlier this month I chatted at length about my love of all things New Orleans. One thing I didn’t mention is probably one of my most vivid cocktail memories to date – my introduction to the Pimm’s Cup.
There are many reasons this memory stands so vividly in my recollection. Aside from the taste, the setting was particularly special as well. We visited May Bailey’s Place due to its history: Located in the Dauphine Hotel, May Bailey’s was once one of the more famous brothels of the New Orleans red-light district (known as Storyville) in the early years of the 20th century. The bar and hotel embrace this colorful past as part of their aesthetic. Antiques, vintage photographs, and other memorabilia sit on display around the room, commemorating the madams of the bordello and their history. These were must-see items for a group of graduate students working on research related to religion and gender across various time periods and cultures.
The bar was dimly lit, its long ornate bar and well-appointed Victorian furniture mostly empty and calmly quiet as we wandered in from the street. The bartenders were reserved and well-dressed; a contrast with many bars throughout the French Quarter. Not knowing what to drink, but wanting something particularly “New Orleans” for the occasion, I asked either my friend or the bartender for a suggestion. I can still see the Pimm’s Cup I received, filled with thinly sliced cucumbers. It was sweet with notes of spice, and completely refreshing after a long day of walking.
This was a cocktail I could fall in love with.
Making the Pimm’s Cup
While there many variations on this classic cocktail, you can’t make a Pimm’s Cup without its main ingredient: Pimm’s No. 1. Developed by James Pimm in 1823 in London, this gin-based tonic full of secret spices and herbs was originally invented as a digestive aid, but quickly became a popular cocktail ingredient in England.
The most well-known drink using Pimm’s No. 1 is the Pimm’s Cup. In England, the summer cocktail is traditionally mixed with sparkling lemonade with an assortment of chopped fruit garnishes overflowing from the glass. While common in New Orleans, its a rare bar that serves this cocktail in the rest of the United States. If you manage to find one, it’s common for ginger ale to be used instead of lemonade (likely because it’s more readily available). After leaving New Orleans, I quickly discovered the only way I was going to get another Pimm’s Cup anytime soon was to make it myself, but none of the recipes I tried seemed to live up to the one I remembered – until now.
My version of the Pimm’s Cup foregoes chopping up a million garnishes for your drink and swaps the more commonly used ginger ale for ginger beer. This, plus the muddled cucumber and some homemade lemon simple syrup come together to create a lovely combination of flavors. The final cocktail is bright, refreshing, and incredibly easy to pull together. I know this recipe is not a replica of what I drank so many years ago – the internet tells me May Bailey’s uses fresh squeezed lemon juice and ginger ale – but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.
If you don’t have some already, go grab yourself a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1, and start your spring off with a quintessential taste of summer. This cocktail captures the spirit of what I remember, and I hope you love it too.
Pimm’s Cup with Lemon Simple Syrup & Muddled Cucumber
- 1.5 oz Lemon Simple Syrup (see recipe below)
- 2 oz Pimm's No. 1
- 3 oz ginger beer
- 1 cucumber, partially cut into at least 3 coins for muddling, and 1 long slice for garnish
- Candied lemon peel, for garnish (optional)
Lemon Simple Syrup (makes approximately 1.5 cups syrup)
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 lemon
Pimm's Cup with Lemon Simple Syrup & Muddled Cucumber
In the base of a cocktail shaker, muddle three cucumber coins with the Lemon Simple Syrup. Add the Pimm’s No. 1 and two ice cubes, and shake for at least 30 seconds, until the shaker is frosty. Line the inside of a tall glass with the length of cucumber garnish, pile high with ice, and pour in the contents of the shaker. Top the glass with the ginger beer and serve with a candied lemon peel left over from making your simple syrup if you like.
Lemon Simple Syrup
Remove the zest from the lemon with a vegetable peeler in long strips, leaving the white pith behind. Juice the lemon into a small bowl.
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture starts to simmer, add the lemons peels and lemon juice to the pan, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, until the syrup has reduced and thickened slightly.
Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool. Transfer the syrup to an airtight jar or bottle, reserving the now-candied lemon peels with the syrup for later use as a garnish.
To Prepare the Cucumber: Cut the ends off of your cucumber and discard. From one end, slice off three coins about ¼ inch thick per drink. These slices will be muddled into the drink. To make the garnish, use a mandolin or y-shaped vegetable peeler to slice the cucumber along its length, creating a long and very thin cucumber slice to line the inside of the glass. Reserve remaining cucumber for future drinks or another use.