MxMo LII: Forgotten Cocktails

Really, Dennis? Could you have put this one more on a tee for me?

It is Mixology Monday time again, and this month’s host is Dennis at Rock & Rye. Here is his charge for this round:

The challenge this month is to bring to light a drink that you think deserves to be resurrected from the past, and placed back into the spotlight. It could be pre-prohibition, post-war, that horrible decade known as the 80′s, it doesn’t really matter. As long as it is somewhat obscure, post it up. If possible, try to keep to ingredients that are somewhat readily available. While we all appreciate the discovery of an amazing cocktail, if we can’t make it, it’s no fun for anyone.

This is just too damn easy, folks. May I present to you a cocktail that has labored in great obscurity, and still labors in far more anonymity than it deserves? Let’s try that exotic offering from the late British Colonial Era of Burma, a delicious and exotic gin sour called…

How could I do anything else? Three and half years, 600+ posts, and 275,000 visitors ago, I started this entire blog with the purpose of bringing this hardly remembered classic back to the minds of cocktail drinkers everywhere. I’d been pushing this on my own since the turn of the century, badgering every bartender I encountered while traveling around the country killing people into learning the recipe. I can’t tell you why I have this obsession schtick, but the last decade has been one long-form version of MxMo 52 for me.

There are a variety of ways to make a Pegu, but all have certain things in common. Pegus all are sours made with gin, orange liqueur, lime and bitters. All are light, bracing, delicious, and deceptively potent.
This cocktail was created by and for the men who were members of the Pegu Club, an outpost of British culture in the frontier of The Empire in the jungles of Burma. These were men who were men of culture, refinement, and breeding, who simultaneously straddled the globe and bent it to their will (for a time). They appreciated a drink with subtlety and grace, that accompanied that refinement with serious power. A drink, in short, meant for this guy:

Here’s the first version of the Pegu I ever encountered, in Paul Harrington’s important Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century.

THE PEGU

  • 3 parts Bombay Sapphire
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients with ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a wedge of lime.

This is a delicious drink. It is easy to make, and most reasonably equipped bars (no bar is reasonably equipped without fresh limes for juice) can make it for you. Harrington’s Pegu is constructed to capture the feel of the older recipes, while using ingredients readily available in normal bars. For further discussion on this “easily make-able today version vs. classic version” issue, see this post on versions of the Aviation. Harrington’s Pegu is still my favorite, and accounts for more than half of the ones I drink myself at home and nearly all of those I have in bars. It’s best with mainstream gins, especially floral jobs like Sapphire.

The first variation of a Pegu was also the first one made for me by a bartender who already knew of the drink before I told him about it. The man was Peter Dorelli, back in 2000 when he was still head barman at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. My wife and I went to England and France for ten days that Spring. She wanted to see and do a hundred different things in London. I wanted to go to the American Bar—because I figured since the Pegu first saw print in The Savoy Cocktail Book, I ought to be able to order one without giving a class for the first time. It worked. It was a sufficiently unusual drink order that Dorelli came to our table, and sat and talked with me about cocktails for quite a long time. It was wonderful.

The drink he brought me looked quite different from what I had expected. And while it tasted just right, the texture was smoother and the color lighter. It was a bit frothy. Apparently he thought all Americans are Health Nazis, since he took a lot of convincing before he admitted that he made his Pegus with a dollop of raw egg white.

SILVER PEGU

  • 3 parts gin
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 tsp.-1 tbsp. egg white

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice and shake very, very thoroughly to combine and leave a light froth. Strain into a cocktail glass and do not garnish.

While just as powerful, a Silver Pegu is even more gentle in the mouth. And less aggressively orangey pink. If you are worried about the dangers of raw egg whites, you have three options:

  1. Buy pasteurized eggs. (The whites are a little less effective than regular)
  2. Consider the amount of disinfectant that tiny amount of egg white will be swimming in.
  3. Live a little.

When I make these (which is rare, as the eggs are a pain), I usually use a big, juniper-heavy gin, like Broker’s. The egg white takes the natural softening of the gin in all Pegus and goes almost too far. A good burly gin fights back and comes through admirably.

In the ten years I’ve been pushing this drink, the cocktail world has, to say the least, changed. The range and numbers of fine drinks being served has exploded. Naturally, business has responded by introducing new ingredients and reintroducing old ones to facilitate.
Today you will easily find, for the first time in 50-80 years, not only one, but a variety of such ingredients as orange bitters and orange curaçao. Now, you can drink a cocktail much closer to what they were making in the Nineteen Twenties, when the Pegu first made it’s name around the globe.

THE PEGU CLUB COCKTAIL

  • 3 parts gin
  • 1 part orange curaçao
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a champagne coupe and garnish with a wheel of lime or a tattooed wedge.

This is pretty close to most early versions of the recipe you find. It is also just about what Audrey Saunders slings in her wonderful Pegu Club lounge in Manhattan. (It’d be wonderful even without that name and signature cocktail… just not as wonderful.) Lighter in color, the Pegu Club is also lighter on the tongue. Interestingly, the orange bitters doesn’t do as good a job of softening the juniper, so the Broker’s I recommend for the Silver Pegu will ruin a Pegu Club. When making these, I’m much more likely to choose Beefeater, or better yet, a light touch gin like G’Vine or Aviation.
For the orange curaçao, I often still use Cointreau, though I’ve had some good experiments with Creole Shrubb. I strongly advise against Citronage in Pegus. Other curaçaos do other things, and if you’ve got a good recommendation, please let me know!
I’m making a lot more Pegu Clubs lately, in part because the PeguWife prefers them.
The chief disadvantage of the Pegu Club is that while any reasonably equipped bar can make a Pegu, only a premium cocktail establishment will have the stuff to make Pegu Clubs.

There you have it: Three cocktails, any one of which you can legitimately call a Pegu, and any one of which will make your cocktail snob’s heart sing. Not only that, but if there is a good entry gin cocktail for the “Oh I don’t drink gin” crowd, this drink is it. Help me out here, have a Pegu yourself, and pass along the good news to ten of your friends!

I’ll add a few words about the challenges and the rewards of running a cocktail blog called The Pegu Blog. I started this blog almost as an exercise in self-parody of my “obsession” with this drink. But I really do want more people to relearn this great cocktail. I figured out very early on that I couldn’t just write about Pegus. As wonderful as the drink is, there is not enough material to keep up regular postings, and no one would read such a monomaniacal set of writings if I tried.

That’s OK, Doug.
No one reads your writings anyway.

I thought I’d make it through this post without you.

Hey!
I’d never miss a Mixology Monday!

So here you are, insulting me. You know, bloggers have sockpuppets to give them a way to praise themselves…

Hence, your exercise in the old self-parody!

Pardon me while I hit my head on the desk….

Regardless of Guy’s snotty commentary, I’ve found that the best way to get you to read about Pegus is to write (hopefully) entertainingly about cocktails in general. Less than 10% of my posts are really about Pegus at all. Thanks for visiting, this Mixology Monday, and I hope you look around the site while you are here, or even subscribe to my feed. Now that you’re done, head on back over to Rock & Rye, thank Dennis for all the work he’d done, and enjoy the other forgotten classics we cocktail writers have put together for you!

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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