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Cocktail in a Bottle

September 25, 2009

I remember in college, there was an annual celebratory event called Hey Day.  This commemorated the day the juniors turned into seniors, and was generally a wild ruckus of a bacchanal.  Normally I wouldn’t be into such things, but this ritual had the momentum of history and tradition.  There was no choice but to go with the flow.

To assist me in my efforts I procured a 1.75 liter bottle of premixed margaritas, a giant cup, and a ton of ice.  This premixed cocktail suited my needs for that day, since the mega bottle could be easily thrown in a backpack, and to the casual observer, it looked like I was sipping a soft drink.

But it wasn’t exactly the noble cocktail that was christened Margarita.

There are lots of premixed cocktails available on the market today.  Some come in giant plastic bottles, some in classier glass bottles, and some in cans.  I even spied a few girl drink drunk premixed cocktails that come in something that looks a lot like a purse.

Sure, you may be able to drink these.  But they are all awful.
That is, except for one.  And it’s been around a wee bit longer than the rest.

If you are British, you can just skip right to the comments section, because you likely know all of this.

The cocktail of which I speak is Pimm’s No. 1.

Normally I would wait until spring to tell you about this, but recently Ellen Whitby made the request after a post on Tanqueray Rangpur, “I don’t like gin. Sorry. I wonder if you’d care to say a few words about Pimm’s No. 1.”

So being the obliging host I will.

But first I get the wonderful pleasure of letting Ellen know that she does indeed like gin, she just doesn’t know it, because Pimm’s No. 1 – wait for it – is gin.  [Stunned silence.]

Seriously.  Here is the story as written by the great departed Michael Jackson.  No, the other great departed Michael Jackson who is better known as the Beer Hunter, expert on Scotch, and author of the Simon & Schuster Pocket Bartender’s Guide (1987).

“The invention o f James Pimm who ran a restaurant in London in the 1880s.  Pimm devised a gin sling which was so peculiar that he put it into commercial production.  His celebrated product, gin flavored with herbs and liqueurs, anticipated the packaged cocktail by nearly a hundred years.  Pimm’s No 2 (whiskey based), No 3 (brandy), No 4 (rum) and No 5 (rye) are no longer produced, but No 6 (vodka) is still available.  Although it features in a variety of confections Pimm’s is a mixed drink in itself, and merely needs serving properly.”  (Pgs. 131-2)

According to cocktail and spirits writer Camper English, you can approximate the taste of Pimms No 1 at home.  All you need to do is combine equal parts gin, orange Curacao and sweet vermouth.  I do not know which gin would be best in this formula, but Cointreau and Martini and Rossi are highly recommended brands for the remaining ingredients.

Still, this will be a rough approximation, and seems to be missing an underlying bitterness to bring the sweetness into balance.  According to English, other bartenders who attempt this use, “several kinds of sweet and dry vermouth, Campari and Dubonnet Rouge.”

I am not suggesting that you try and recreate this cocktail in a bottle at home.  Rather, the above provides a good context for what the mysterious Pimms No. 1 actually tastes like.  Most compelling case for the cocktail however may be Ellen’s love for the drink despite her preconceived dislike of gin.

If you want to get a jump on next summer, start looking now for borage seeds.  I understand you can start the plants indoors in the fall and winter.  And then by spring and summer you’ll have enough to make a proper Pimm’s Cup for yourself and all your friends.

But first, let’s get through winter.  K?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2009 9:51 am

    Pimms is in fact a very, very different animal than any other bottled cocktail. Close friends of mine that are living in Belgium introduced it to me over the summer and we sipped its wonderful herbiness while relaxing in the Belgian country side. She describes its flavor simply as “summer”, however I will venture that if you normally dislike gin and it herbal (pine to some) notes, it may not be for you. I thought it was wonderful.

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 26, 2009 10:17 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts. It’s always a pleasure.

    I guess I like gin after all. Especially with 7up and orange slices. Who’da thought?

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