A Smooth-Tasting Drink from Exotic Rangoon
Back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, its soldiers and civil servants could face any crisis with equanimity as long as they had a gentlemen’s club to retreat to at day’s end — and something to drink therein. That “something” usually contained gin.
In Rangoon, Burma — today known as Yangon, Myanmar, but once a tough corner of the Empire — the Pegu Club Cocktail was the house drink of The Pegu Club, a meeting place for British military officers and civilian administrators (visitors welcome). The club got its name from the Pegu (Bago) river, which flows through the city.
This is the perfect drink for late summer/early autumn. We’ve still got our share of hot days ahead of us, so something citrusy-cool appeals. But Labor Day has come and gone, and we know the chill temperatures will soon start to descend. We’ll want a beverage that stiffens our spines against cold weather ahead.
The Pegu Club delivers. It’s a drink with authority, but its hint-of-grapefruit tang is mighty soothing.
And you won’t have to go to Rangoon to sample it.
The Pegu Club is a mix of gin, Cointreau (or orange curacao), fresh lime juice, and bitters. Opinions differ about which ingredient proportions are the best (see notes). My recipe is adapted from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. This recipe makes 1 serving.
- 1½ ounces gin (see notes for alternative measurements; I prefer Beefeater’s gin for this drink)
- ½ ounce Cointreau (you can substitute Grand Marnier, but the drink will be a touch sweeter)
- ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice (reduce to ½ ounce if this is too tart for your taste)
- 1 - 2 dashes Angostura bitters (I use 2)
- 1 - 2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters no. 6 (optional, but delicious; see notes for where to purchase)
- lime wheel or twist for garnish (optional)
- Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker that is half filled with ice. Shake well for 20 – 30 seconds.
- Strain mixture into a cocktail glass. If you want a garnish (I usually don’t), add a lime wheel or twist to the rim of the glass (or toss a lime twist into the glass).
Note that the recipe directs you to shake the drink. There are three reasons for this:
- It makes the drink cold.
- Shaking with ice somewhat dilutes the drink, which adds volume and an important dimension to the final flavor.
- Lime (or any citrus) juice is difficult to incorporate into a drink merely by stirring. So it’s better to shake a drink that contains citrus.
- Use whatever brand of gin you like or have on hand. My favorite for a Pegu Club is Beefeater’s. It has herbal aromas (most obvious are the juniper and citrus notes) that combine well with lime and Cointreau to produce a smooth drink. If you enjoy the Pegu Club, definitely try it with Beefeater’s at some point.
- I highly recommend using Cointreau for this drink. You can substitute a different orange curacao or triple sec (Grand Marnier is a good choice, although it is sweeter than Cointreau). But Cointreau balances so well with this drink that I hesitate to use anything else.
- As mentioned above, there is some disagreement as to the proper ingredient proportions for the Pegu Club. For an interesting (albeit long) discussion, you might want to read this thread on the eGullet forums.
- For a different take on the drink, you may want to try 2 ounces of gin and ½ ounce each of Cointreau and lime juice; or 2 ounces of gin and ¾ ounces each Cointreau and lime juice. The quantity of bitters should remain the same, in my opinion (but adjust to suit your taste).
- Speaking of bitters, they are a key ingredient in many cocktails. They “season” drinks the same way salt and pepper season foods.
- Angostura bitters alone are good in this cocktail. Even better is the addition of orange bitters. There are several brands of orange bitters available commercially, but I prefer Regan’s orange bitters no. 6.
- Regan’s bitters were developed by mixologist and author Gary Regan (my favorite of his books is The Joy of Mixology). Many good liquor stores will carry his bitters, but if you can’t find them, you can order from Amazon.
Burma was a British colony from 1885 until it achieved independence in 1948. Some considered Burma the worst posting in the Empire, though others enjoyed the prosperity they found there. Rudyard Kipling captures the seductive roughness and remoteness of the country in his poem, Mandalay:
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,Mandalay lies far inland in Burma, and travelers reached it via steamer up the Irrawaddy River, chugging their way north from Rangoon.
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst
It’s entertaining to picture Kipling in Burma, perhaps sitting in Rangoon’s Pegu Club, sipping one of its signature drinks as he writes his famous lines:
On the road to Mandalay,Makes you want to sip a nice, smooth Pegu Club Cocktail. Or two. Or three.
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
But be careful. One too many, and you’ll know why the dawn comes up like thunder.
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