Friday, July 27, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Pegu Club

Comes now a cocktail so nice it took its name from one watering hole and bequeathed it to another, decades later and on the opposite side of the world.

Rum may have built the British Empire, but gin kept it running. A good belt being necessary for one’s upper lip to remain stiff, the gentleman’s club became home away from home for those serving under the Union Jack. One such establishment was located outside Rangoon (now Yangon) in Burma. The house drink, ideal for warm weather, was described in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) as “one that has traveled, and is asked for, around the world.” That is certainly true considering that it had already appeared in Harry McElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails, published three years earlier; clearly some refugee from the British Raj had stumbled into Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and spilled the secret.

The recipe has a host of variations. Originally orange curaçao was called for. Some bartenders still prepare it that way, or suggest using Grand Marnier instead. I find that that substitution makes the drink too heavy and sweet. I opt for triple sec, specifically Cointreau. Some adherents drop the dash of orange bitters but on that score I’m a purist, the additional note a tether that allows your liqueur to blossom. I’ve seen versions that feature the addition of egg white, or use grapefruit as a garnish. And lives have been lost arguing over the correct proportion of gin to liqueur, with three-to-one favored by many but not necessarily, as you will see, by me.

What cannot be disputed is that the drink, however you prepare it, holds up. One of the vanguard New York cocktail bars is named after it. I’ve had a Pegu Club in the Pegu Club. The venue does honor to the beverage, and vice versa.

The Pegu Club

2 oz. gin
1 oz. triple sec
½ oz. lime juice
dash of Angostura bitters
dash of orange bitters

Shake. Strain. No garnish.