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Summer Fruit Cup

Fruit Cup, Summer Cup, Pimms
Pimm's from 1926
Pimm's from the 1950's
Pimm's from 1984
Pimms. Fruit Cup
Written by Olivier Ward

For those not based in the Uk, some 36 thousand of you each month according to Google Analytics, what follows is a seemingly strange and uniquely British problem. How to revive the Fruit Cup? It’s a call to action that may seem bizarre given it only seems to apply to us, here on our petite island. However, no matter how niche, we feel it’s a matter of national importance. Okay, well, maybe that’s pushing it too far… Incidentally, it will also explain why so many Brits are laughing when they see a Pimm’s being served as a “high end” mixer and $15 a glass in bars across New Orleans

When it comes to gin tangents, variations and subcategories, there are now many. The gin boom has brought in a wave of new and revived categories, from Old Tom and Navy Strength to Cask Aged and everything in between. However, one of gin’s most famous (and uniquely British) offshoots has yet to properly break the single brand monopoly and return to its historic glory, let alone be recognised globally.

We are of course referring to the Fruit Cup, sometimes known as the Summer Cup or if your feeling wordy, the Summer Fruit Cup. It almost only confined to one brand, Pimm’s No.1 Cup. In fairness there’s a reason for its dominance as a product, it tastes great, but it seems like a shame for their not to be a wider understanding that there are more fruit cups out there. It’s even got to the stage where this summer, several newspapers have even started calling the wider category as Pimm’s, when describing competitor products and the race for supermarket presence – much like when people described all vacuum cleaners as a Hoover… 

So what’s the history of Pimm’s? The original inventor, James Pimm, a farmer’s son from Kent, is thought to have invented the recipe in the 1820’s. In that time, he became the owner of an oyster bar in the City of London, going on to owning a chain of them in the decades that followed. It is thought that his establishment near the Bank of England is where the drink was popularised, alongside other infusions, or “cups”, that he created.

Allegedly, he offered this gin-based drink containing a secret mixture of herbs and liqueurs, as a tonic and an aid to digestion, serving it in a small tankards. The gin based infusion became known as a “No. 1 Cup” (as opposed to No. 2,3, 4 or 5 which were different and made using a different base spirit), hence its subsequent name today. Pimm’s as a bottled brand only really began large-scale production in 1851 to keep up with sales to other bars. Fast forward a few decades, since the late 90’s  it has been owned by Diageo, whose stewardship have furthered it into an iconic British tipple.

Although it has gone through its ups and downs in the past 50 years, so ubiquitous and cheap is Pimm’s today,  that it’s considered a basic staple of British supermarkets. For context – during the two weeks of Wimbledon this year, 177,135 glasses of Pimm’s were sold in within the grounds alone. 

There have been other Fruit Cups available throughout history of course. Plymouth Gin even have their own Fruit Cup for decades, although it is only now available from the distillery itself. Chase, Master of Malt and Fortnum & Mason‘s have all had a go at the “Summer Cup” market, yet none seem to have gained much traction and look to break open the category.

Sipsmith’s valiant attempt to launch their Summer Fruit Cup (recently rebranded as London Cup) has helped greatly to showcase that Pimm’s is not a just drink on its own and that it was merely the last remainder of what has become, until recently, an almost defunct category.

Their offering was, and arguably still is, the catalyst for the new found interest in the category. With their impressive and continued growth, give it a few years and we predict that Pimm’s will no longer be the only one in that (holy grail of mass sales figures for those involved) “summer picnic special” shelf of every supermarket in the UK.

Another sign that things are improving is Brooke’s, (typically a brand reserved exclusively for export markets and made by Burlington Bottling Company), which is now available nation-wide in Majestic. A quick look at the effort that M&S have placed on their supermarket home brand version, is also a good indicator that there might be some wider interest from the supermarkets themselves to challenge the status quo.

Ironically as Sipsmith tried to break the monopoly and turn tides of branded deckchairs from Pimm’s red to Sipmsith yellow in a strange, life-sized game of drafts playing out in festival sites and foodie shows – Pimm’s have desperately been trying to revive sister editions to make a product that can be sold outside of summer.

Their problem remains two fold. Firstly they and their marketing embody the British Summer and are now falling victim to their own success, as to be synonymous with one is to also be invisible during the other seasons. Secondly, even if this weren’t true, selling fruit cups in winter is akin to pushing water uphill. Sloe Gin has long dominated the agenda there and with other fruit gins like Warner Edwards Rhubarb and specialist “winter” infusions gaining popularity, the notion that a fruit cup competing in that arena seems unlikely to succeed anytime soon. While not impossible, it would certainly require a monumental series of marketing campaigns (and a flagship winter product that was genuinely good) to do so.

So what can be done to help new fruit cup brands coming into the market?

Perhaps, the Brit’s passion for making their own Sloe Gin is what needed at this stage. Perhaps there needs to be more individuals, more bars and more shops making their own Fruit Cup and going back to the roots of this sub-category. Diversity and grass roots support for new, different, experimental and fun is what is required to break that embedded culture that Fruit Cup means Pimm’s.

Out of this explosion of ideas will emerge the next generation of brands and even if none make the transition from amateur concoction to serious brand status, this groundswell of geekery will help elevate the wares of the current pretenders to the throne to a much wider audience.

We’ve always enjoyed infusing gins, making our fruit syrups and making our own version of the summer classic. We encourage you to do the same. After all – Pimm’s No.1 Cup itself began as just one of many “cups” in their own bar, let alone as one of many bars making their own in the UK.

We’re not advocating avoiding Pimm’s – on the contrary, it’s a fantastic product and long may it continue to flourish. However, wouldn’t it be nice to, on occasion, come accross more bars that have made their own version and were genuinely excited about serving it as opposed to being dead eyed and forlorn about making yet another pitcher? It’s already happening with tonic water, syrups and cordials – so why not a Fruit Cup as well?

We feel it’s high time for a (gin based) Fruit Cup revolution. Here’s a starting recipe for you to try your hand at to get started. It will be a touch more bitter in comparison to Pimm’s, so if you like a sweeter profile, add sugar once the infusion is done. Also, if you have a recipe that you’d care to share or tell everyone about, tweet @GinFoundry with an image and we’ll be sure to continue spreading the love. 

Add all of these ingredients into a jar, which can be sealed and stored in the fridge. Let it infuse for a least a day, taste, then let it continue infusing to suit your preference. Once ready, fine strain and store in a fridge. Use as you would Pimm’s and serve with lemonade / ginger ale.

Half a bottle of Juniper forward Gin

Half a bottle of Sweet Vermouth

Half a sweet orange, cut into wheels.

A tiny amount of (dried) bitter orange peel

A dozen strawberries cut into quarters

A dozen cherries with the stone removed

A sprig of Lemon Thyme

A couple of sprigs of Lemon Verbena

For anyone whose London based, we’ll be hosting a Fruit Cup Fiesta (yes – fantastic alliteration yet a terribly confusing theme for provenance) this week at The Oliver Conquest. It’ll be a glorious mix of gin based fruit cup concoctions where we’ll be showcasing a few different recipes and ideas. Hopefully, it may well be the start of a new era…

Fruit Cup. Pimm's cocktail
Fruit Cup, Pimm's
Fruit Cup, Summer Cup