Episode 058 - Summer Cup & Sangria

Summer Sangria.jpg

What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast, and for joining us for another one of our Bar Cart foundations episodes. 

These are the podcast episodes where we take a deep dive into some aspect of cocktails or home bartending that will hopefully help you to understand and execute just a little bit better next time you’re making drinks for friends.

It being the dog days of summer, this episode is going to focus on some of the lighter, batched cocktails you can make for groups of people, really harnessing the delicious energy of all the amazing fruits and herbs that are at their peak at this time of year.

The two styles we’re going to focus on are the Summer Cup and the Sangria, each of which have interesting origins and fascinating little historical tributaries to explore. This episode has a bunch of cocktail recipes, so we’re just going to jump right in here and take a trip back in time to the year 1823.

The History of Pimm's No. 1 Cup

In the United States, president James Monroe was busy with the Monroe Doctrine, which basically said we Americans were done with the rest of the world. We were sick of all these stinkin European wars, and we intended not to get involved in any of it. Arguably, this was the height of U.S. isolationism. We peaked pretty early, guys.

Elsewhere around the world, 1823 was around the height of the British Empire, at least in terms of stability and commercial success. Colonial control of India, Australia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa was continually reinforced, and one result of this was that trade flourished. This was the same era when the idea of the sun never setting on the British empire was popularized.

When you’ve got a lot of trade happening, you’ve got a lot of money coming in, and when you’ve got a lot of money, you need a lot of bankers to keep track of it all.

What do bankers enjoy eating for lunch? Oysters, obviously. And where do you go to grab some oysters if you’re working at the Bank of England in 1823 London?

How about Pimm’s Oyster House?

In 1823, oyster house proprietor James Pimm began making an intriguing little gin-based herbal liqueur and selling it as a digestive remedy out of his restaurant. It was served in small tankards known as “No. 1 Cups,” and so the name Pimm’s No. 1 Cup was born.

By the 1850s demand for this sweet, herbal beverage was so high that Pimm had to increase production, also releasing a No. 2 and No. 3 recipe, which were identical to the No. 1 cup, except that their base spirits were Scotch and Brandy, respectively.

So, we’ve got this tasty little liqueur gaining popularity in England around the same time as cocktails are really starting to capture the imagination of American drinkers, so it makes sense that the Brits would start trying to use Mr. Pimm’s creation as more than a digestive remedy.

This is where we run into the Summer Cup.

The Pimm's Cup, Properly Defined

In general, a Summer Cup is any long drink (possibly produced in a large batch) that includes some alcohol, some fresh fruit and herbs, and a little sweetness. In many cases, we’ll see recipes calling for things like lemonade, ginger ale, sparkling water, gin, or even champagne. The sweetness comes oftentimes from some cordial like Pimm’s, or perhaps from a syrup. And the common fruits and herbs used include mint, cucumber, strawberries, and apples.

A very basic recipe for a Pimm’s summer cup is as follows:

Pimms Pitcher Square.jpg
  • 2 oz Pimm’s No. 1
  • 4 oz sparkling lemonade or lemon-lime soda
  • Fruit/Herb Garnish.

Sometimes this is built in a Collins glass over ice, and sometimes it’s all thrown into a big ol’ pitcher or punch bowl so that the ratios correspond to the recipe.

Now, the big questions when you’re making a Pimm’s cup (or any summer cup) are: what’s the occasion, and how boozy do you want it to be? These are important questions.

As a host, you’re responsible for your guests, their health, and their safety. And the beauty of a big batched cocktail like this is that it really allows you to dial in your desired ABV pretty precisely.

If the only source of alcohol in your summer cup is the Pimm’s, you’re going to be looking at something that’s roughly 8.25% alcohol by Volume, and that’s before dilution or other non-alcoholic liquid ingredients come into play. So really, you’re looking at something around 5-7%, which is about as boozy as a normal beer and about half the strength of a glass of wine.

Knowing that’s your starting point, you can choose to go for a more middle-of-the-road approach by addiing Champagne or sparkling wine into the mix. This would be called something like a "Pimm’s Royale."

And if you’re looking for a more potent brew, you can always crank it to 11 and add some gin, which is the base spirit used in Pimm’s No. 1 cup, and it also happens to pair well with cucumber and mint.

Pimm's & Wimbledon

One last fun fact we’ll add about the Pimm’s Cup cocktail is its historical connection to the Wimbledon tennis tournament that’s held each year in London. The Pimm’s Cup is to Wimbledon as the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby. Essentially, it’s the traditional beverage that all the fancy rich people drink when they attend these sporting events.

According to Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the first Pimm’s Bar at Wimbledon opened in 1971, and ever since, the cocktail has enjoyed wild popularity wherever Brits congregate to watch people bat a fuzzy ball over a net repeatedly.

Other Popular Summer Cups

That said, Pimm’s cup isn’t the only cup. There are other summer cups under the sun. In fact, some might argue that the sun never sets on summer cups.

Green Hat Capitoline Summer Cup.jpg

These days, you sorta see summer cups moving in one of two directions. You’ve got commercial and sort of generic options like the Austin’s Summer Punch, which is available in the UK from Aldi. I’m honestly not sure if you can purchase it at US Aldi locations. But one thing to note is that it’s apparently very similar to Pimm’s in flavor, but it only weighs in at about 17.5% ABV.

On the other hand, you’ve got more craft alternatives that emerge locally every once in a while. Here in the DC area, we had a collaboration between Green Hat Gin and Capitoline Vermouth that was produced all the way through 2017, but I can’t find any mention of it being produced this year.

Here’s a blurb from Green Hat’s Summer Cup 3rd Annual Release:

“We’re the first commercial producers of a Summer Cup in the United States. It took us a long time to get the recipe right and it continues to be a crowd favorite and perfect patio drink companion. It combines our Navy Strength Gin with Capitoline White Vermouth and a blend of fruits, herbs and spices that includes cucumbers, black tea, citrus zest, lemon balm, lavender, rose-hips and a few secrets. It’s delightfully complex and refreshing, with less sweetness than some other well-known cups out there. It’s perfect when topped with cucumber, strawberries and lemonade.”


Now, I want to address a realization that most of you probably had at some point during the Summer Cup discussion, and that realization is:

Wait, so a Summer Cup is basically just Sangria...

In the sense that Sangria is a light, fruit infused summer drink that’s occasionally served sparkling and has a number of different expressions, then yes. Summer Cup and Sangria look and act much the same. They’re both great for parties or backyard barbecues, and you can usually throw one together with a single trip to the grocery store or whatever you have lying around the house.

The Historical Problem with Sangria

One problem with Sangria, though, is that historians and bartenders can’t really agree on where it comes from. It emerged in its current form at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, where it was served as the official drink of the country of Spain in an effort to help popularize Spanish wine, which at that time was really looked down upon as inferior. Ironically, this didn’t really do much for the wine’s reputation because it still implied that the best way to drink Spanish wine was to mask its true flavor with fruit.

But let’s look at the linguistic base for sangria - sangre - a word that means “blood” across the romance languages.

Clearly, this name refers to the red wine base that provides the color of this beverage, and this little etymological factoid connects us back with a much older drink called the Sangaree.

The Sangaree: A Proto-Cocktail

This proto-cocktail holds down a really important part of the historical development of the cocktail. It’s one of a few bridges between the age of punch in the 16- and 1700s and the age of individually served mixed drinks in the 1800s and beyond.

One thing historians generally agree upon is that the Sangaree is basically a single-serving punch.

You’ve got alcohol from whatever wine you use (most popularly it was port wine or sherry). Then you’ve got a bit of sugar, a bit of citrus if it was available, and a little grated nutmeg on top for your spice. This was usually a shaken cocktail and with that dilution from the ice, it would put you in the general vicinity of punch potency at least where ABV is concerned.

Breaking(ish) News: Sangria DOC

One last thing to note about Sangria, in terms of recent developments, is that Spain and Portugal have managed to push a regulation through the European Union that grants them a sort of geographical dominion over Sangria in the same way that France has Champagne and Italy has Prosecco. In other words, if it comes from any country besides Spain or Portugal, they have to call it German-style Sangria, or some other type of Sangria - none of which sound nearly as appealing as the genuine article.

Easy Sangria Recipe


In a large pitcher, combine

  • 1 bottle of fruity red wine. I like Grenache (AKA Garnacha) or a nice Red Zinfandel.
  • ⅓ bottle of brandy. This should not be expensive cognac, and can be a fruit brandy if you’ve got it on-hand.
  • ½ apple (cubed)
  • ½ orange, cut into small pieces
  • Likewise, 1 peach or nectarine if you’ve got it on-hand
  • 3 tbsp of your most flavorful sugar (white is okay, but raw cane sugar is better)
  • 1-2 cups of ice.

Stir all of these ingredients up and let them chill before your guests arrive. If you need to do it in a large bowl before you add to the pitcher, then that works too.

CC Attributions

Harph Jingle (ID 644) by Lobo Loco is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. 

Divertissement by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. 

Featured Cocktail Background Music

Backbay Lounge Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/