Did You Know That Pimm's Was Created In London As A Legal Loophole?

Did You Know That Pimm's Was Created In London As A Legal Loophole?

Steve Manktelow, drink expert from Goat Chelsea, explains how the Pimm's we all know and love was first created as a legal loophole.

For a large part of human history alcoholic drinks have been seen as something that improves health, not hinders it. You see it in the names we first gave distilled spirits: the Latin aqua vitae, Irish uisce beatha and the French eau de vie all mean 'water of life'.

Probably the most famous example of this phrase came with the creation of gin. For at least a couple of thousand years, we’ve known that juniper has been good for our insides, and in the 1500s some clever chaps in Italy came up with the idea of steeping this bitter berry in that 'water of life' stuff, extracting all its health properties. A cheeky nip of gin, they found, was far preferable to chewing on a bunch of juniper berries.

Redcoats: found that gin steadied the nerves. Image: Shutterstock

It was another couple of hundred years before gin found its feet in the UK. The drink was snuck back across the Channel with His Majesty’s redcoats; after fighting alongside the Dutch. The English had developed a taste for 'Dutch Courage'. This was also a time when British East India merchantmen were returning from the four corners of the globe loaded with exotic spices; they discovered these tasted great alongside juniper in their favourite dram.

In a country firmly free from the shackles imposed by a previously puritanical government, London Dry Gin arose.

From the Illustrated London News. 16 September 1961. Image © Illustrated London News Group

Skip to 1798: James Pimm was born to a farming family in Kent, and, after an education in Edinburgh, returned to London and opened an oyster bar just across from Buckingham Palace. Within 10 years Pimm oversaw a fine dining restaurant empire. It wasn't all smooth sailing however; his first application to serve alcohol was firmly turned down. It took 12 months, 120 signatories and a fresh application before he was finally granted the right to sell alcohol, and this was with the proviso that the premises "were not to be converted into a gin shop or public house". Ah.

Like any good businessman Pimm worked out a solution to the problem, and in 1851, instead of selling gin per se, he wrapped it up in a 'medicinal' post meal digestive aid. This was a combination of juniper (gin) and a secret blend of liqueurs and herbs served in a small tankard known at the time as a 'No. 1 Cup'.

Pimm's had arrived.

England went gaga for it, and Pimm's became a quintessentially British drink. That is, until the mid 1900s, when the cyclical nature of trends worked against it. But Pimm's wasn't done yet. The brand was purchased by a big conglomerate, and savvily re-invented as the drink of summer. It's stayed firmly so ever since; in 2017, tennis fans consumed 303,277 glasses of the stuff at Wimbledon alone.

How to make the perfect Pimm's

When making Pimm's, the trick is to get creative and shove as much pre-cut exotic fruit in there as possible. Through the years I've been given so many different recipes, that I've become relaxed about what works best inside.

Still, I'd recommend citrus of some kind, berries, cucumber, slices of apple and fresh mint. The trick is to decant Pimm's into a jar with all the cut fruit the night before, then strain it back into the bottle the next day, and mix this 1 part Pimm's to 3 parts lemonade. Decorate with some of the fruit, and you have a drink that James Pimm would be proud of.

Last Updated 10 October 2018