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Cool Britannia

Refreshing summer drinks from across the pond.

(Photo by Jim Scherer)

With the annual Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships opening tomorrow, let's look to Britain for summer refreshment ideas. Since the 1930s, Wimbledon players and spectators alike have quenched their thirst with lemon barley water, a popular and nutritious lemonadelike affair that some view as the granddaddy of sports drinks.

The British often mix their beer with something sweet. Adding lemonade or soda to make the pub standard shandy lightens the load and provides another layer of flavor. A little farther up the British beverage chain is the revered Pimm's Cup. Based on Pimm's No. 1, a liqueur made of infused gin, Pimm's Cup is the drink of choice among cricket fans viewing a match. In my experience, it also serves well as fortification for long, leisurely midsummer croquet games.

Gin and tonic, perhaps the quintessential British summer cocktail, is said to have originated in India as a medicinal aid. Soldiers with the British East India Company used quinine to help prevent malaria (and limes, some say, to thwart scurvy). The quinine-laced tonic water was bitter and unpalatable, so the soldiers added gin to help the medicine go down. Nowadays, tonic water may be less essential pharmaceutically than in the 19th century, but gin and tonic is no less popular.


Cucumber spears or slices are the classic Pimm's Cup garnish, and some recipes add twists or thin slices of lemon or lime, slices of apple or orange, sprigs of mint, and even strawberries. The gin-based liqueur Pimm's No. 1 is available at good liquor stores. Ginger ale is the first-choice mixer, but lemon-lime soda and seltzer water are common alternatives.

Ice cubes
4 ounces Pimm's No. 1
10 ounces ginger ale
1/4 medium cucumber, washed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 2 spears, for garnish
2 thin slices fresh lemon, for garnish (optional)

Fill each of 2 narrow highball glasses three-quarters full with ice cubes. Pour 2 ounces of Pimm's No. 1, then 5 ounces of ginger ale, into each glass. Stir gently to blend, garnish with cucumber spears and lemon slices, if using, and serve at once.


Lemonade or a lemon-lime soda such as 7-Up or Sprite are the two typical mixers for a shandy. If you choose the soda, which is generally sweeter than lemonade, you may want to use a little less, so the final drink won't be too sugary. A variation, often called shandygaff, is made by substituting chilled ginger ale or, preferably, ginger beer for the lemonade and omitting the bitters.

12 ounces lemonade, well chilled
1 bottle (12 ounces) lager or pale ale, well chilled
1 dash bitters, such as Angostura, optional

Pour 6 ounces each of lemonade and lager or ale into each of 2 frosted beer glasses. Add bitters, if using, stir very lightly to avoid generating foam, and serve at once.


Different brands of gin have their own distinct characteristics. Beefeater is a classic, and Tanqueray, Bombay (both the originals and the upmarket No. Ten and Sapphire, respectively), Plymouth, and Seagram's all have legions of fans. For information on tonic, see right.

Ice cubes
4 ounces gin
6 ounces tonic
2 wedges fresh lime

Fill each of 2 old-fashioned glasses three-quarters full with ice cubes. Pour 2 ounces of gin, then 3 ounces of tonic, into each glass. Squeeze a drop or two of juice from the lime wedges into the drinks, then drop a wedge into each glass. Stir gently to blend and serve at once.


Barley water flavored with lemon is classic, though it can also be flavored with orange or other fruits. It's less sweet than typical American lemonade, and it has more body, from the barley (which, by the way, is not a strong flavor in the drink).

1/2 cup pearl barley Boiling water
2 quarts cold water
8 4-inch strips zest and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons juice from 4 large lemons
1/2 cup honey, or more to taste
Fresh lemon slices, for garnish (optional)

Place the barley in a fine mesh strainer and pour boiling water over the grains to wash them; drain the barley well.

In a large saucepan, place the washed barley, cold water, and lemon zest. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the barley is almost tender and the water is infused with barley essence, about 30 minutes. Pour the liquid through a strainer into a 2-quart or larger heatproof container, add the lemon juice and honey, and stir until the honey dissolves. (To reserve the barley for another use, remove the lemon zest.) Adjust for flavor with additional honey or lemon juice, if desired. Refrigerate the lemon barley water until well chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 5 days. Serve over ice, garnished with lemon slices, if you'd like.