If you have been to Wimbledon, as I have, you know there are many choices of adult beverages. Pimm’s Cup, beer, ale, and wine, along with my favorite, champagne. It is one of the grandest sporting events I have attended. But did you know?
Twenty-eight thousand bottles of Champagne consumed during Wimbledon are served at the world’s oldest tennis tournament. The celebrated annual fortnight would have featured its Singles Championships this weekend, but was canceled due to COVID. Despite strict rules of etiquette for observing the tournament, several matches each year are disrupted by popping corks. Other quintessential Wimbledon comestibles consumed with abandon are an average of 235,000 glasses of Pimm’s and 142,000 portions of strawberries.
How many of us know about the Wimbledon Pimm’s Cup? Per the Wine Enthusiast: The Pimm’s Cup’s origins date back to 1832, when London oyster bar owner James Pimm started offering guests a gin-based beverage containing quinine and a secret blend of spices. The elixir was dubbed as a digestion aid, and served to patrons in small tankards known as “No. 1 Cups”. The drink’s popularity quickly grew, and by the end of the 19th century it was ubiquitous all over the United Kingdom. The first Pimm’s bar opened at the 1971 Wimbledon tournament, and today over 80,000 pints of Pimm’s and lemonade are sold there to spectators each year.
Needless to say, I had to try the Pimm’s, along with other English staples like Fish and Chips. And I must say, everything I tried was quite (contrary to British stereotypes about their food) good! Just a little pricey. So, what might be in the Pimm’s Cup? Is it the precursor to the famous Mint Julep of Kentucky Derby fame?
The classic recipe calls for one-part Pimm’s to two parts lemonade—the Brits’ version is clear and carbonated, and if you can’t find it, you can substitute lemon lime soda. Modern variations endlessly tinker with the classic recipe, replacing the lemonade with ginger beer or tonic, and departing from the classic topper to decorate the glass with orange twists, pineapple slices or passion fruit. Any way it’s mixed, the fizzy, tea-hued sip is served with ice in a tall glass and artfully garnished.
Pimm’s was so popular at the oyster bar that James Pimm started selling it around London for “three shillings a bottle” in the 1800s. Commercial distribution followed in 1865, as did other “cup” variations including ones made with Scotch, rum, brandy, rye whiskey, and vodka. Of those, only the brandy-based version, originally called Pimm’s No. 3, now known as Pimm’s Winter, and the vodka-based Pimm’s No. 6 remain (though the latter is currently only available across the pond.)
Pimm’s caught on with the British and became popular at prestigious events like the Chelsea Flower Show and the Henley Royal Regatta, along with becoming the go-to drink at British university garden parties. A Pimm’s bar first popped up at the 1971 Wimbledon tournament, and now more than 300,000 glasses of the recipe are served to spectators every year.
Yes, I made it to Centre Court on several occasions. I roamed the grounds all day long, and saw most of the stars, tennis and others. And I made some lifelong friends along the way!
So, take your pick: a beer, a glass of champagne, or a Pimm’s. Or, as I did, all three, and on the same day, of course!!!
PS: The strawberries and cream were a bit of a disappointment. But the Pimms and champagne? Never!