It's true what they say about British beer. It's warm and flat. Well, the cask ale anyway, and that's the stuff that Brits get excited about when you tell them you're into beer. The whole craft beer thing is new there. That means I'm usually stuck with Guinness, some clearish PBR-type concoction from the continent or a cocktail. Since the cocktail scene in London is either at a place full of bankers or a measured pour of gin and a bottle of tonic I have to mix in myself (lime on request), I had to plunge deep to find that thing that would replace craft beer or a margarita from my former New Mexico home. (Not drinking isn't really an option. This is a country where the current Prime Minister once forgot his child at a pub.)
Enter the Pimm's Cup. It's about as close as one can spiritually get in Blighty to the margarita. It's ubiquitous, controversial and a drink that encourages socializing. The first time I came across Pimm's—which I now know is a drink associated with the posh (and, frankly boring) Wimbledon—was at Hyde Park the morning of the Royal Wedding. (I'd like to emphasize that I attended this event ironically, thank you very much.) Immediately I realized this weird brown stuff was super British. Also that it will get you shitfaced, especially when you start drinking it at 10 am.
So, WTF is Pimm's? It's sort of unclear. It's a bottle of gin-based booze you dump into a jug with various fruit and soda to make a cocktail that's got just enough ABV to immediately bring on a buzz, but that's cut with enough other stuff to keep drinkers upright and ordering more. It's got the slogan, "It's Pimm's O'clock," which is just about any time of the day. Doing so at lunch is socially acceptable to the point it's almost expected. It's great!
How one mixes a Pimm's is up for debate. Just like every Santa Fean has a margarita recipe, what you plop in your Pimm's is personal. I prefer mine with loads of floating strawberries, pineapple, oranges and mint. One part Pimm's; two parts bubbly lemonade and maybe a splash of soda water is just right. Don't get me wrong, when one shows up with mint and cucumber I'll guzzle it down, but inside I'll long for berries floating in my glass. For me, the citrus and berry recipe is my deep dive into Maria's margarita menu while cucumber is a Del Charro cheapie.
For those times when it's really hot out (75F in England), the prickly pair margarita is replaced with a Blackberry and Elderflower Pimm's. This recent release is really good for about a glass and a half, then it kicks in and brings the realization that it's high-class sizzurp.
As a whiskey fan, I'm especially pumped for the cold weather Winter Cup version of Pimm's. One part Pimm's Winter; two parts warm apple juice (which we on this side of the pond would call cider but over there cider is its own boozy thing. Found that out the hard way one Saturday morning.) and some apple and orange slices. If I'm ever back in Santa Fe for the holidays, this is going in my thermos for Canyon Road on Christmas Eve.
On a recent visit to the Southwest I managed to get a few margaritas in. The house marg from Tomasita's (after a few beers at Marble), was definitely the tastiest. I wouldn't trade the marg I got at the Southside Blue Corn Café for anything resembling a margarita in the UK. Though there are a few good ones there, I've realized the context is vital. Pairing a Cowgirl margarita on the patio with a sunny Santa Fe afternoon is somehow vital to the taste. Even the cheap tequila tastes sweeter in the company of friends and dry desert air. If I could grab a couple pitchers of silver coin from Maria's, tamales from Posa's, and sopapillas from The Shed, plop down on a blanket by the Santa Fe River with 10 of my closest friends and legally enjoy a picnic in the shadow of my favorite Santa Fe trees, I just might move back.
In the meantime, there's a bar near my house in Brighton that claims to serve good margs. They're OK, but even casual dining chain versions that are light on cheap tequila/heavy on the mix ones are better. It's not just the drink itself, I've come to realize, but the context. Being in the company of old friends, with the crisp, dry desert air outside made them taste even sweeter. I say give Pimm's a shot, it'll be good, but the missing ingredient will always be a warm English day with the shadow of The Shard moving across London.
Patricia Sauthoff is a former SFR A&C Editor who currently resides in England. During our last exchange, she was reconsidering her decision to smuggle in a bag of green chile that, in hindsight, resembled "terrible pot" into the country.