Summer in New Orleans is a season of al fresco live music, street festivals, heaping platters of fresh Gulf seafood, and sticky, sweltering, borderline-oppressive heat. These steamy summers make NOLA bartenders absolute experts on refreshing cocktails, and New Orleans is home to countless iced and frozen creations specifically designed to cool things down and allow locals and visitors alike to keep the good times rolling. One prime example of a summer-in-the-Big-Easy classic is the Pimm's Cup, a crisp and thirst-quenching drink brought to New Orleans by way of London.
What is a New Orleans Pimm's Cup?
The first New Orleans bar to feature the Pimm's Cup on its menu was Napoleon House, which has been serving up drinks in the French Quarter since 1914. Napoleon House started offering Pimm's Cups in the late 1940s, and this crisp libation, which includes Pimm's No. 1 (a gin-based British liqueur infused with spices, herbs, and orange peel), lemonade, soda (either seltzer, ginger ale, or 7Up), and cucumber, has since become a staple cocktail in New Orleans. Beverage manager Jonathan Payne of Hot Tin & Bayou Bar at the Ponchartrain Hotel in New Orleans tells us that, "The New Orleans Pimm's Cup is special because of its amazing ability to quench your thirst." He also calls out the drink's low ABV as a reason for its popularity: "You can enjoy it all day long with friends. Perfect for our hot summers, and even better when sitting on a porch."
New Orleans vs. English Pimm's Cup
The New Orleans Pimm's Cup is a variation on the English Pimm's Cup (also known as the London Pimm's Cup). The cocktails bear many similarities: they both use Pimm's No. 1 as their liquor source, they both feature lemonade as a key ingredient, and they both use cucumber as a refreshing garnish. However, the two recipes involve a few distinct differences. First of all, the London Pimm's Cup includes sparkling lemonade. Most lemonade sold in the UK is carbonated, resembling citrusy sodas like Sprite and 7Up more than the still lemonades sold in the US (which English shops call "cloudy lemonade"). The New Orleans Pimm's Cup, on the other hand, includes both still lemonade and the cocktail maker's soda of choice.
Also, the London Pimm's Cup is traditionally loaded with fresh fruit, which lends an extra level of sweetness and tang to the finished cocktail. Berries like blackberries and blueberries are a popular choice, and in spite of his love for the New Orleans Pimm's Cup, Payne does think that the British are onto something with their fruit-packed Pimm's Cups, saying that, "In a nod to the London style, I like to muddle a fresh Ponchatoula strawberry in a tin" before making his Pimm's Cup. "Living in London for three years taught me to appreciate both styles, and it would be a shame not to use our amazing local strawberries."
The following recipe is by Jonathan Payne (beverage manager, Hot Tin & Bayou Bar at the Ponchartrain Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana)
New Orleans Pimm?s Cup
- 2 oz Pimm?s No. 1
- 4 oz lemonade
- 2 oz soda (Payne recommends premium club soda, but 7Up, ginger ale, or tonic water are viable alternatives)
- slices Cucumberor ribbons for garnish
- 1 fresh strawberry optional
- If you choose to include the strawberry in your Pimm?s Cup, start by muddling the fruit in a cocktail shaker tin. If not, proceed to Step 2.
- Add Pimm?s and lemonade to the cocktail shaker and shake thoroughly. Use a fine strainer to strain the drink into a Collins glass (also known as a highball glass) over ice. Top with soda until the glass is full. Garnish with a cucumber slice or cucumber ribbon.