This is a story about a great drink: the Pimm’s Cup at the Craftsman. It is currently my favorite summer drink. And yet, I’m tempted to start this thing out on a plaintive note.
Something along the lines of: Oh why, oh why must everything change?!?
Here I am, trying to settle into the idea that Mike Phillips has packed up his lardo and toast and left the Craftsman. Now, in the course of inquiring about said favorite drink, I find out that Steve Filla, who designed the restaurant’s drink menus — a compelling combination of classic and oddball, seasonal creativity — has also left.
The Craftsman is my neighborhood restaurant, so it feels a little like the proverbial rug has been pulled, but the truth is a little change is always good. In this case, we gain Green Ox Foods, Phillips’ new venture, which surely will keep us in charcuterie. At the Craftsman, we can look forward to seeing what Ben Jacoby does with the menu when he steps up as executive chef — and, it seems, to a pleasant kind of status quo when server and bartender Michelle Derer takes over the drink program.
DJ Kukielka (above), the Craftsman’s front house manager, assures me the restaurant will maintain the seasonal approach established during Filla’s tenure. “We work closely with kitchen,” he says. “They tell us what’s new and fresh, and we create a menu that’s about 75 percent a refresh of the classics and 25 percent completely new cocktails.”
Recently, that has included a full page of drinks, among them a beet-infused Bloody Mary ($8), an odd sounding yet delicious cucumber-basil martini ($9), and, of course, the Pimm’s Cup ($8).
Falling into the classics category, the last drink is named for its main ingredient, an English liqueur called Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, which seems to be experiencing a small resurgence in Minneapolis this summer — a recent trip to Zipp’s Liquor Store yielded nary a bottle; they had sold out of the stuff.
In 1923, James Pimm, a London oyster bar proprietor, invented the digestive concoction as a kind of “gin sling,” a sweetened cocktail to help his customers swallow their bitter gin. Although the recipe is allegedly a secret known only to six people at any given time (rumor has it the “Pimm’s Six” are not allowed to fly together, lest the recipe be lost all at once), it is said to contain herbs, fruit extracts, gin, and quinine. “Back then, quinine was used for medicinal purposes,” explains Kukielka. “That’s why you have your gin and tonic; it prevented malaria to some extent. I’m not a history scholar, but I think the English colonization of Africa and India may explain how quinine found its way into the alcohol. You could prevent malaria and catch a buzz at the same time.”
This jibes with one blogger’s theory, positing that the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup recipe may well have been based on Angostura Bitters, which were invented around the same time to help soldiers weather sea sickness, belly aches, injury, and fever. It also fits the liqueur’s flavor profile, which without mixers tastes medicinal in the way many aperitifs do, like a slightly bitter Ricola cough drop — and I mean that in a good way.
Pimm’s Cup: It beats a shot in the arm every time.
According to a Wiki, Pimm based the “No. 1 Cup” portion of the liqueur’s name on the small, pewter tankard in which the drink was originally served. Another source attributes the name to the “fruit cup,” a kind of 19th century wine cooler that mixed fruit and alcohol.
I’d go with fruit cups, if only because it lends itself well to later iterations of Pimm’s Cups. By 1859, the entrepreneurial Pimm was selling his liquor to gentlemen’s clubs — indeed, cycling salesmen were peddling bottles of the stuff all over London — and had added Pimm’s Cups Nos. 2 and 3 (made with scotch and brandy, respectively).
Eventually, Pimm’s Oyster Bar was franchised and the digestive recipe was sold to Sir Horatio Davies, one time MP and Lord Mayor of London, who is credited with making the digestive an international success, placing it — to Kukielka’s point — in mess tents and hotels from Sri Lanka to the Sudan.
In the 1900s, three more cups were added: rum, vodka, and rye. (One wonders if Pimm’s No. 6 Cup was served in a pewter tankard of epic proportions — huzzah!)
Today, only Pimm’s Cup Nos. 1, 3, and 6 are still in circulation: No. 1 is the most widely available and can be found easily in liquor stores around town; No. 3 is sold in the UK as Pimm’s Winter Cup, a kind of mulled concoction of brandy, spices, and orange peel; No. 6 is a rarity in stores but easy enough to source online.
Early Pimm’s No. 1 Cup labels suggested serving the liqueur with lemonade, borage or cucumber, and a sliver of lemon peel. Today, an Internet search will turn up a million recipes, most variations on the theme of seasonal fruit and cucumber mixed with 7 Up, ginger ale, or lemonade.
The official version of Pimm’s Cup, the one presumably quaffed at Wimbledon and American polo matches, is one part Pimm’s and three parts lemonade, mixed with cucumber, strawberries, oranges, and mint.
[Note: Since this story published, we have learned via a reader comment (see below) that when the British say lemonade they mean a “strongly flavored,” carbonated beverage — not the sugar, lemon, and water combo we drink here.]
I prefer the Craftsman’s version of the drink, which is simple, not so sweet and fruity, and pairs well with balmy afternoons, hammocks, and pocket novels. “On that one, we kind of took a classic, Pimm’s and ginger ale, and made it a bit more aggressive,” says Kukielka. “We muddle the cucumber into the cocktail and, instead of ginger ale, we use Reed’s Ginger Beer because that stuff is just so good.”
The result is a drink the color of Darjeeling tea, the flavor of bitter citrus, herbs, and sweet, spicy ginger beer — rich yet redolent with the light, melony essence of cucumber. It’s lovely.
In order to help us weather all this change, Kukielka offers up the recipe. For those wishing to further explore the world of cocktails, Kukielka and Filla’s summer reading suggestions include The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan and The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz.
The Craftsman’s Pimm’s Cup
1 part Pimms Cup No. 1
2 parts Reed’s Ginger Beer
Peeled, chopped cucumber to taste
1. Muddle cucumber in a cocktail shaker.
2. Add ice and Pimm’s Cup No. 1 and shake.
3. Pour into a highball glass with ice, add ginger beer, and garnish with fresh cucumber.