Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: Kevin Canty's A Stranger in this World, & the Pimm's Cup
Kevin Canty's A Stranger in this World, & the Pimm's Cup
While some drinks are tied to a season (e.g. Mojitos in the summertime, Egg Nog in the Winter), others are inextricably linked to particular events. In the states, one can hardly think of a Mint Julep without thinking of the Kentucky Derby. Similarly, our friends across the pond (and many domestic fans as well) associate the Pimm's Cup with Wimbledon. While this year's championship matches won't begin until June 22, warm spring weather has us making the first Pimm's Cups of the season. Of course, the summer always begs for good reading. In particular, I'm always eager to read short story collections over the summer. What better collection to re-visit than Kevin Canty's A Stranger in this World?, which includes the story "Blue Boy" (which is possibly the best story about an adolescent lifeguard ever)?
First, a quick note about Kevin Canty:
He's written several books, A Stranger in this World being his first. He's got a new collection called Where the Money Went coming out from Nan A. Talese Books in July. If the stories in the new book are anything like Canty's other work, then we're all in for a treat. The pieces found in his debut are a bit bleak, often quite funny, and filled with the kind of stark and straightforward observations that make Richard Ford and Barry Hannah's stories memorable in that line-by-line way. This isn't a happy book—not by a long shot. But it's one that's as necessary, I think, as, say Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and The Stories of Richard Bausch. Also, Canty's brothers are musicians Brendan Canty (Fugazi drummer) and James Canty (guitar, The Make-Up, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists), which is awesome.
A quick note about Pimm's:
Invented in 1823 by James Pimm, an oyster bar owner in London, Pimm's No. 1 recipe is a gin-based alcoholic beverage whose exact recipe is a closely-held secret. Pimm's also produced other recipes, of which only Pimm's No. 6 cup (a vodka-based recipe) and a seasonal Winter Cup are still produced. Pimm's No. 1 is a spicy mixture infused with bright, crisp citrus notes, and though its base spirit is gin, there's no real correlation to heady juniper notes that people typically associate with gin.
And, finally, the Pimm's Cup:
There are several variations of the Pimm's cup, and some are controversial among purists. That said, we're running with a fairly traditional fruit cup recipe, which incorporates fresh fruits and that substitutes the traditional borage garnish with some crisp cucumber (which has become not only an acceptable substitution, but an almost expected one).
1) The Glass: This is a drink you're going to want to build in the glass. Most recipes call for a collins or a zombie glass, but the friendly bartender who first showed me how to make the Pimm's Cup (Thanks, Gaber) likes to use a short hurricane-style glass, in this case a glass made to serve Duvel. Not only does it look nice, but the fluted mouth of the Duvel glass lends itself really well to this spicy, sweet, aromatic cocktail. Of course, there's wiggle room on this point (notice in the video below that New Orlean's master bartender Chris McMillian uses a large Cabernet/Merlot glass). In any case, I like aromatic drinks in wide-mouthed glasses that allow all of those awesome botanicals to jump up and punch you in the nose.
2) The Liquor: Pimm's is only about 25% alcohol by volume, so don't grimace at the amount of booze here—pour 4 oz. of Pimm's into your glass.
3) The Mixer: I'm of the school that says that fresh ingredients are always better than the stuff that comes from a can or a soda gun. That said, you're going to want to squeeze 1 oz. of fresh lemon juice into your glass and combine that with about .75 oz of simple syrup and a splash of soda water. Chris McMillian goes with a straight ounce of simple syrup, but I like the tartness of the lemon to come through, which is why I'm running with a bit less simple syrup and that splash of soda, to essentially make an ounce of tart lemonade in the glass with your Pimm's.
4) The Fruit: Some like their Pimm's cups with a few simple slices of citrus (lemon, lime, orange) and a spear or wide peel of cucumber, while others like the full-on fruit salad. I fall somewhere in the middle and like a Pimm's Cup that's got a bit of color and variety: a couple of fresh strawberries (halved), 4-6 raspberries and blackberries, even a slice of apple and blueberries are fine by me (though some would really balk at that suggestion). Avoid any wet fruits other than citrus (mango, honeydew, watermelon, pineapple, banana, etc) as those flavors would almost certainly skew the bright and spicy lemon and lime hues here. Add your fruit, but be careful not to overdo it. 2 strawberries (halved), 1 wedge each of lime and lemon, 1/2 and orange wheel, and 4-6 berries is a good start.
5) The Ice: Once you've got your Pimm's, lemon, simple syrup and fruit in the glass, go ahead and ice it up to the rim. You'll want to use cracked or cubed, as opposed to crushed ice so as not to water down your drink, and don't be shy with the amount of ice: you want this drink cold.
6) Mix it up: Pour the whole contents into a mixing cup or shaker cup and pour it back into the glass.
7) The Topper: Once you've got your contents back into the Duvel glass, you can adjust the sweetness of the drink with your last mixer. You can run with a lemon-lime soda like Sprite, or err on the dry side with soda water or carbonated mineral water. I like a ratio of about 75% soda water to 25% Sprite, or something closer to a press (50% soda, 50% Sprite). Any more Sprite than that, and it's too sweet for me.
8) The Mint & The Cucumber: Finally, you'll want to garnish with a cucumber wheel, a spear of cucumber, OR a wide length of cucumber peel and a fresh sprig of mint. Pop in your straw and wedge your mint sprig near the base of the straw so that when you dip down for a sip, you get a nice nose-full of mint and cucumber. Watch Chris slap the mint before garnishing and do as he does. It really wakes that mint up.
The Final Product: The finished drink should look more or less like the one above: the color of iced tea, slightly fizzy, packed with tasty garnishes, and oh so cold.
Here's Chris McMillian mixing up a Pimm's Cup at his home base, the Library Bar in the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans: