Picking Your Way Through The Pimms Controversies

May is the month for polo and that automatically brings me in mind of Pimms. It’s an exciting and elegant sport to watch but there tends to be a lot of fiddling around between chukkas and after a while it’s the Pimms No 1 Cup which gives the spectators the contented befuddlement necessary to wait for the tournament to end. It’s not just the alcohol content which contributes to the happy state of stupor, it’s also the sugar, both in the Pimms and in the lemonade which dilutes it, and in the fruit which adorns it.

Pimms drinking continues through the summer, enjoyed by those watching all kinds of other sports, rowing, racing, tennis…. Alternatively, it is a very good way of starting a summer evening with a bit of light fresh sparkle.

Pimm’s was invented in the early part of the nineteenth century by James Pimms, who had it served in his oyster bar in the City of London.

Although the directions on the bottle may seem clear enough there is a lot of contention surrounding the ‘correct’ way to drink Pimms. The way through is to cut through the snobbery and and think objectively.


Alternative fruit cups

Bear in mind that Pimms is just one type of fruit cup – there are now many others. A lot of the supermarkets produce their own versions, but the best of the bunch in my view is Sloemotion’s Fruit Cup No 7, which is based on hedgerow fruit, herbs and blossoms, and has been described by Kate Humble as ‘sunshine in a bottle’.


Sloemotion Fruit Cup No 7, 'sunshine in a bottle'
Sloemotion Fruit Cup No 7, ‘sunshine in a bottle’


Best way to make Pimms

1 part Pimms; 2 parts Seven Up; borage flowers, mint, lemon and cucumber




Schism one – what to mix your Pimms with – lemonade or ginger beer

As indicated above Pimms can be a bit overloaded with sugar so you’d think that you might rebalance the sweetness and cut through it a bit by substituting ginger beer for the more normal lemonade. I’ve tried it, and in my opinion it isn’t as good.

So the question then is homemade or bought? Well, of course the bought lemonade has the advantage of being instant. The site Summer Fruit Cup has conducted a survey and declared 7 Up the best bought lemonade, followed by Fevertree, and then R Whites but the comment is that Fevertree is the least sugary so it may be a bit of close run thing.

However, it doesn’t take too much longer to mix your own lemonade using soda or fizzy mineral water, lemon juice and sugar. This mix inevitably has a less artificial taste.

And The Guardian’s Victoria Moore drinks hers with tonic… something to try…


Schism two – how strong to drink your Pimm’s

This is purely a matter of where you are and how long for.

If you’re in for a bit of a marathon – eg an afternoon’s polo watching; or if you are drinking on a very hot day – it’s not a bad idea to dilute it more than you might otherwise – one part Pimm’s to four parts mixer

The norm is one part Pimm’s to three parts mixer

If, as I used to do, you are meeting a friend at the bar of the Churchill Hotel after a hard day’s work, and treating yourselves to a Pimm’s served in a silver mug, bejewelled with sparkling condensation, then it’s not bad if it’s one part Pimm’s to two parts mixer.

Feeling particularly decadent? Mix half a part gin and half a part Pimm’s and add two parts mixer.


Schism three – what fruit to put in your Pimm’s

Considering how obvious it is that the minimalist approach is the best, it’s amazing how often Pimm’s is served overloaded with fruit – a fruit salad instead of an extraordinarily excellent drink. Peaches? Bananas? Pineapple? Strawberries? What a travesty! At the risk of sounding didactic, this is what’s permissible, not much of it, and nothing else:

  • Borage – the odd flower for colour if you have it. If you can’t get borage (which is dead easy to grow) add a slice of cucumber which taste a bit similar
  • Apple
  • Mint
  • Lemon and/or orange


What are the ingredients in Pimm’s?

What’s in Pimms? Well, like Campari and Coca-Cola it’s a secret which apparently only six people know. 25% is alcohol (gin based in the case of Pimm’s No 1). The original included quinine. And many aficionados swear they detect fenugreek… aside from that…


What do the different Pimm’s numbers mean?

If Pimm’s No 1 is gin based, what of all the other numbers?

Pimm’s No 2 is Scotch whisky-based

Pimm’s No 3  is brandy-based

Pimm’s No 4 is rum-based

Pimm’s No 5 is rye-based

Pimm’s No 6 is vodka-based


Only the No 3 (renamed ‘Winter’) and the No 6 (not nearly as good as the gin-based No 1 as vodka doesn’t have the full flavour of gin) are still in production.


Why is it sometimes called a ‘Pimm’s cup’?

A ‘cup’ is a drink which includes a spirit, a liqueur, a wine (vermouth is considered a wine for these purposes) and a mixer. In Pimm’s you have the spirit, liqueur and wine elements already mixed together…..which is why it’s so good for a picnic…. in a big silver punch bowl.


all about Pimms
Pimms, in a silver punch bowl, is great for a picnic.


What do you do if you can’t get Pimm’s?

Is there a Pimm’s substitute? Outside the UK particularly Pimm’s is not always easy to get hold of. The original drink in any case was the Victorian Gin Cup. You can achieve a version of it with a mix of four parts gin, two parts red Martini and one part Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Add a pinch of dry-fried, ground fenugreek. Mix with tonic. Add the fruit as specified above.

Whatever you do avoid the cheap, own brand versions, they’re not a patch on the real thing!

This post is dedicated to Michael Latham.

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