Deconstructed Drink: Pimm's Cup at Westport Cafe & Bar
This classic summer cocktail drinks like a very special ice tea, if you know what we mean.
You don’t have to be a tennis buff to adore the Pimm’s Cup. As one of the quintessential summer drinks, you’ve likely encountered this herbaceous concoction without even considering its popularity at Wimbledon, where it is the official cocktail and its consumption is measured by tens of thousands of gallons. Today, this classic British export is experiencing a booming resurgence in the United States — including right here in Kansas City.
Westport Café & Bar cottoned onto the Pimm’s Cup trend early. WCB has had one on its menu since it opened seven years ago, though it’s not quite the recipe you’re likely to encounter across the pond.
“The traditional recipe uses lemonade, but in England, their lemonade is closer to a lemon soda — almost like Sprite,” says Bronson Kisstler, WCB’s bar manager.
The drink got its start in the 1840s. James Pimm, a fishmonger turned restaurateur, owned several oyster bars in London, and in an effort to diversify his offerings, he created a formula known today as Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. Pimm infused gin with fruit, herbal extracts and quinine, mixed the concoction with lemonade, and served it as a low-ABV digestif meant to aid guests in the slurping of oysters.
“As it got more and more popular, he’d make it in one location and started selling it at his other bars,” Kisstler says. “Pimm’s itself is kind of a bottled cocktail that’s ready to go — it just needs a little boost of carbonation.”
That was how the thirsty New Orleans bon viveur crowds latched onto Pimm’s No. 1 Cup in the 1940s, when the landmark bar the Napoleon House began serving it with American lemonade, 7 Up and cucumber slices.
“Gradually, people started using ginger ale as a substitute for lemonade and soda, and that’s where our recipe comes in,” Kisstler says.
At WCB, the Pimm’s Cup gets a craft spin. Pimm’s No. 1 is mixed with a house-made ginger syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice and sparkling water — a scratch version of ginger ale, Kisstler says — and topped with a lime wheel, the traditional sprig of mint and a piece of candied ginger from the WCB kitchen. Looking at this drink, you can’t help but relax: the tawny liquid glittering between ice cubes, the frothy surface like a sandy beach beneath a mint leaf-palm tree and lime-citrus sun.
It’s not just good looks that have kept the Pimm’s Cup on WCB’s menu. This cocktail sips as smoothly as iced tea, and we have a feeling that if Kisstler wanted to take his cues from Wimbledon and offer it to guests by, say, the pitcher, he’d have no trouble selling it.
And since Pimm’s liqueur is only 25 percent ABV — compared to the average 40 percent for most hard spirits such as vodka, gin and whiskey — the Pimm’s Cup can also be considered a session drink, which means you can throw back several of them without the least bit of worry. That sounds like summer calling, doesn’t it?
“It’s been super popular since we opened,” Kisstler says. “It’s a very easy-drinking cocktail, and from the bar side, it’s really a no-fuss drink. When I took over the program in 2011, I didn’t have the heart to take it off the menu; it’s something people are always going to ask for.”
Besides, Kisstler adds, the classic appeal of the Pimm’s Cup goes hand-in-hand with WCB’s mission.
“We’re not doing molecular gastronomy or advanced cocktail techniques,” he says, “but all our cocktails are balanced and creative and sometimes really exciting. For me, it’s about elegance over extravagance.”
Looking to mix up your own elegant summer sipper? Westport Café and Bar’s Bronson Kisstler has you covered.
The most important ingredient in this cocktail is its namesake, the Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur. Two ounces of this gin-based digestif packs a powerful set of herbaceous, garden-party flavors into this recipe.
The craft quirk in the WCB Pimm’s Cup is the ounce of ginger syrup. The recipe is easy enough; all you need is a sugar, water and freshly peeled and thinly sliced ginger, simmered over a stovetop for about 30 minutes. Strain out the ginger and go wild. (Kisstler recommends 1 cup each sugar and water and 3/4 cup of ginger.)
It’s rare that a cocktail doesn’t benefit from a boost of citrus, and the Pimm’s Cup gets an ounce of lime juice. For best results, make sure it’s fresh-squeezed!
Shake the Pimm’s, syrup and lime juice together in a shaker with ice, then strain it into a tall Collins glass, also filled with ice. Top it with sparkling water for some effervescence.
Don’t forget the garnish! Cucumber is traditional, but you can do whatever you want — add sliced strawberries or other fruit — as long as there’s a sprig of mint. WCB candies its own ginger.
I’m not sure if this is saying the Pimm’s cup is a rare cocktail, so it doesn’t really benefit from citrus or if it’s saying it’s rare that any cocktail doesn’t benefit from citrust, so the Pimm’s cup is following along in that tradition.
419 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo., (816) 931-4740, westportcafeandbar.com