Anyone for Pimm’s? The gin-based fruit cup is synonymous with British Summer, but how much do you know about this classic aperitif?
The History of the Fruit Cup (also known as a Summer Cup) starts with punch. Yes, the potentially dodgy big bowl of spirits, mixers and fruit that you’ll find at a party. The name comes from a Sanskrit word “panch” meaning 5 and refers to the 5 key ingredients in any traditional punch; spirits, water, citrus, spices and sugar.
For for the better part of 2 centuries, punch was one of the most popular British drinks. Every pub had their own recipe, a closely guarded secret, that marked them out from their neighbours. In the winter a Winter Cup would be a warming concoction filled with brandy and spices whereas in the summer a Summer Cup would have more cooling bitter herbs and make use of the fresh fruit available. The spirit could vary but in England gin was the natural choice.
Fruit Cups were particularly fashionable in the early 1800s, where landlords would tout the supposed health benefits of their creations more so than their flavour. It’s at this time that James Pimm of the Oyster Bar on Lombard Street, London enters the picture.
James Pimm’s fruit health tonic was immensely popular and, in 1840, he became the first person in the world to mass produce a fruit cup recipe, creating the same Pimm’s No. 1 Cup that’s such a feature of the British Summer to this day.
Over the years Pimm’s would expand their range, creating new aperitifs with different spirit bases. No. 2 Cup (whisky) and No. 3 Cup (brandy) both followed in the 1850’s with No. 4 (rum) arriving in the 1930’s. After WW2, efforts to move into the American market produced No.5 (Rye Whiskey) and No.6 (Vodka). Today only the gin and vodka recipes remain (with a new winter cup based on No.3 seasonably available) and the vodka variant only exists because it was such a favourite of the chairman’s wife. The No.6 was cancelled in the 70’s and brought back a few months later at her specific request.
Other gin brands have followed Pimm’s over the years with their own fruit cup creations, most notably Plymouth whose own fruit cup lasted until 2008. So far none have had the staying power to match this British icon, but that might be changing.
As we’re in the middle of a gin renaissance smaller craft distilleries are racing to bring back all the old variants and spin-offs of gin. It’s not just gin, but Old Tom’s sloe gins, jenevers and now Fruit Cups that crafty distillers are turning their attention to. One of the first, and best, of this new breed of Summer Cup is Sipsmith’s London Cup.
Sipsmith London Cup (formerly Sipsmith Summer cup) is a delightful punch made by infusing Sipsmith London Dry Gin with a range of botanicals, including Earl Grey tea, borage and lemon verbena. It has that classic bittersweet profile that one expects from a Summer Cup with citrus and caramel bursting through but backed up with strong juniper notes and a well-rounded spice. The gin base is much more obvious than in similar drinks so it’s an ideal switch for the gin lover.
Sipsmith London Cup is perfect for relaxing with while watching the tennis, making up a big batch for a barbeque or just chilling in the garden as the sun goes down.
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