The Pegu Club

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A classic cocktail, this drink features several variations, not only in quantities, but types of bitters included.


“‘Got to put up with it, I suppose,’ he said.  ‘B–s of natives are getting into all the Clubs nowadays.  Even the Pegu Club, I’m told.Way this country’s going, you know.  We’re about the last Club in Burma to hold out against ’em’ [Orientals / natives.]”

George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934), p. 27

When thinking about the Pegu Club, two things come to mind: first is the Pegu Club in New York, a famous mixological establishment known for its’ attention to detail; the second being George Orwell’s Burmese Days.  This brief novel highlights the diminishing power of British Imperialism using fictional accounts in Burma as an example; it exemplifies aspects of orientalist ethnographic fictions which are dedicated to discussing the other and in many ways the political connections between the West and the East.  In Burmese days, much of the action revolves around a Club, similar to the namesake club of this cocktail; such institutions were places where westerners could gather and feel free from the troubles of the natives.  They are, in many places, a sacred space, one similar to a bar, but with other ulterior motives and contingencies of entrance (belonging to the proper group of people).

This drink originated from Rangoon’s Pegu Club according to the 1927 edition of Harry MacElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails (Wondrich).  This drink originated in the 1920s, and was a product of the British colonialism in Burma, blending the staple spirit of the British at the time, gin, with more exotic flavors (Haigh 227).  It is a drink that has truly traveled “round the world” (Craddock 120).  But because it is a cocktail which has traveled the distance, just like any other forms of information or trade, modifications have been made and the recipe has been altered.

One of the major problems when it comes to making a Pegu Club is the exact measurements.  There are several variations on this cocktail, each using different ratios of spirit to sweetener and lime juice; some also differ on the type of bitters included.  Ranging from the use of one teaspoonful of lime juice to one half the amount of gin, this drink can have a myriad of various flavor depending on the ratio of the ingredients; the different types of bitters only supplement these flavors.

As a drink, this cocktail historically should probably use London Dry gin, thanks to the relationship between Britain and their imperialist holdings of Burma.  However, that isn’t to say the drink can’t work with a Genever style gin such as Bols Genever.  If using one of this earth noted gins, the inclusion of the orange bitters alongside the Angostura bitters works marvelously; furthermore, higher quantities of curacao and lime juice can stand up in the drink, standing up to the full bodied flavor of the Genever.  In a version that follows the more traditional recipe, I recommend limiting the lime and Curacao, since a little goes an exceedingly long way against many of these drier gins.  If you are sticking with just the London Dry gin, the orange bitters work well, but are not by any means a necessity.  I would also recommend the Regan’s Orange bitters in any version with the London Dry Gin; Angostura Orange seems too light and funky in terms of flavor, and only works to help complement the inclusion of curacao or triple sec in the Genevieve style version.

It seems that the drink originally called for curacao; thus something such as Grand Marnier, which was originally known as Curacao Marnier, works quite well (Jay).  However, personally I prefer a drier cocktail, hence the use of Cointreau in my recipes, since to me it adds a nice simple orange flavor, without over complicating things and gives the overall drink a pleasan nor an absurdly sweet finish (not that Grand Marnier is absurdly sweet when compared to quite a few other curacao libations).  But if you are being truly historical, Grand Marnier would be your best bet in making this cocktail.

Whatever happens with your measurements, or the recipe you choose to follow, the Pegu Club is one cocktail which is very easy to continually adapt until it reaches a flavor pattern which befits you or the imbiber.  The drink is a gorgeous color with the bitters going quite a long way in imbuing the drink with a reddish orange hue.  This of course presumes you are using completely clear liquors; the use of Grand Marnier will change the color when compared to that of the empty colored Cointreau.  No recipe is genuinely better than any other: it is all dependent on which suits the imbiber’s taste at that current moment.  As Kazuo Uyeda believes, making the greatest cocktail is an attempt at producing something in line with the “mouth” or the “tongue” of the imbiber.

The Pegu Club (MacElhone):

2/3 gin
1/6 curacao
1 teaspoonful Lime Juice (Rose’s)
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
1 dash of Orange Bitters

Shake the ingredients in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Pegu Club (Wondrich):

2 ounces London dry gin
3/4 ounce orange curacao
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Same as above.

The Pegu Club (Haigh)
1 1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Same as first.
The Pegu Club (Hess)
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Orange Curaïcao
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
Same as first.
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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.
Jay.   March 23, 2008.  “A short history of orange liqueurs.”  OhGosh!  http://ohgo.sh/archive/orange-liqueur-history/ (accessed June 20, 2010).
 
Haigh, Ted.  2009.  Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond.  Beverly, Massachusetts: Quarry Books.
 
Hess, Robert.  The Cocktail Spirit by Robert Hess.  “Pegu Club.” Small Screen Network.  http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/video/51 (accessed June 20, 2010).
 
Wondrich, David.  Esquire Magazine.  “Pegu Club.”   Esquire.com.  http://www.esquire.com/drinks/pegu-club-drink-recipe?ha=1 (accessed June 24, 2010)