Many bartenders I know have cultivated a certain sense of authority. It makes sense to me that it happens naturally. We bartenders are often seen as fonts of information, whether it's dating advice or a piece of trivia to settle a bet. Goodness knows I've certainly done quite a bit of work on that end. After all, you're reading this column, right?
One of my very favorite cocktails is the Pegu Club Cocktail. Indeed, it's the main reason I became fascinated with modern craft bartending over T.G.I. Friday's-style flair bartending. I wrote about the Pegu in this very column some time ago. It's a bracing gin-based cocktail from the late 1920s, invented at a British officers' club in the jungles of Burma as an antidote to stifling tropical heat.
For years, I've made my Pegu Club cocktails with a formula close to the classic Margarita, but with gin and a couple of dashes of bitters. That all changed last weekend when I stumbled across the fascinating cocktail blog Elemental Mixology. The author has done positively astonishing amounts of research regarding classic cocktails.
Some of the things I've read on Elemental Mixology have taken the way I think about cocktails and turned them on my head. Yet, what he writes makes perfect sense. One of the author's crusades is to bring the term "cocktail" back to its pre-Prohibition days. These days, a cocktail is anything involving at least two ingredients, one of which is booze. Say the word "cocktail" and practically everyone gets an image in their head of the quintessential Martini glass. The thing is, a century ago, a cocktail was a specific form of alcoholic beverage, just like a sour these days. Specifically, the old-school definition of a cocktail combines a base spirit, sugar, a splash of water to mellow the spirit and help the sugar dissolve, and bitters. Use whiskey and garnish with a strip of orange zest, and you'll instantly recognize the recipe as what we now call an Old-Fashioned.
Of course, there's only so much you can do with that formula before tedium sets in. So, variations happened. A common one was to use aromatized wine or a liqueur in place of the sugar. The Martini, with its proper dash or two of orange bitters, follows the formula perfectly. It turns out, the Pegu is supposed to follow the old-school cocktail formula too.
In old-school terms, a Pegu made with plenty of lime juice (or any other drink made with a base spirit, liqueur, and lemon or lime juice) is a Daisy. The term has fallen completely out of fashion, with one exception, the Margarita, which is what one calls a daisy en Español. If you're making a Pegu Club Cocktail instead of a Pegu Club Daisy, the drink gets just one little spoonful of lime juice.
The result is that you notice the gin and orange a lot more, with lime's subtle tang lurking in the background. You'll likely note that while many mixologists strive for balance between strong (gin), sweet (orange curaçao), and tart (lime), the old-school Pegu Club Cocktail is distinctly off balance. That's just fine; the classic form of cocktail is supposed to be off balance, letting the base spirit take the lead.
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Which version is better? I'll let you decide. Personally, I'll stick to my new version with a spoonful of lime, adding extra juice when the weather is just too hot to bear.
Pegu Club Cocktail (Revised) 1 barspoon fresh lime juice 1-1/2 ounces London Dry gin 1/2 ounce orange curaçao (Grand Marnier is especially nice here) 1 dash Angostura bitters 1 dash orange bitters
Stir well with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled small cocktail glass. Garnish with a wedge of lime.