Among other ingredients, I picked up some Triple-sec. What I really wanted was orange curaçao, but my local grocery, love them though I do, only had blue curaçao. While it's the same liqueur deep down, just orange zest macerated with port wine and spices, it has the annoying tendency to make everything looks like a Blue Hawaiian, which isn't what I was after tonight. Triple-sec is similar, but it's been thrice-distilled, and usually doesn't use the peel of the bitter laraha citrus fruit that's found on the island of Curaçao. The two liqueurs are similar enough for this drink to work, but at some point I'd like to try it again with real curaçao, just to compare.
So, tonight's drink! The Pegu Club. I've been meaning to try this one for a long time, and while it'd be simple enough to order in a bar in terms of ingredients, it's not one that most bartenders would know off the top of their head. So I figured the only way to get one would be to make it myself or to head to a fancy bar that's out of my price range...you can guess which I opted for. I'd actually included this drink in the early bit of a book that I'd started working on for National Novel Writing Month (I never came close to finishing, halting at 6,394 words out of the goal of 50,000 with no idea where to take the plot). So, for your enjoyment, I present an 877-word excerpt here from that work that remains in progress...and then I'll get to the drink.
Clive watched as Drew filled a pint glass with ice, poured in a healthy amount of London gin and orange curaçao, squeezed in the juice of a lime, splashed in some bitters, and then pulled a small brown bottle out from under the counter and shook some in. “Orange bitters,” he said. “I tried for a while to find a reliable distributor, but it got to be hit or miss, so I just started making my own.”
“You make your own cocktail ingredients?” Clive asked. “Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
Drew shrugged. “I used to play around with stuff all the time when I was a kid. My mom told me that when I was eight I used to mix things together and say I was making ‘formulas.’ So I guess I started early. Anyway, it’s not complicated, once you find the ingredients for the stuff. You just need some neutral grain spirits, some cheesecloth, a cool dark place, and some time for it all to come together.”
“So, what’s in the orange bitters?”
“Dried orange peel, some cardamom, some coriander, a little gentian, some cinchona bark...”
“Wait, cinchona bark? Where the hell do you find something like that?” Clive interjected. “I mean, the orange peel and spices I can see, but if you can’t find a distributor that carries pre-made orange bitters, how can you find all that other stuff?”
“Clive, this is New Orleans,” laughed Drew, sliding a shaker on top of the pint glass and starting to mix. “The heart of voodoo country! If you know who to ask, you can find all of this stuff in a twenty-minute walk of this place! Besides,” he added, “Most of the ingredients aren’t that obscure. I make our grenadine in the kitchen every few months out of pomegranate juice and sugar, and then just stash the bottles in the freezer until I need them. Tastes better than the pre-mixed stuff, that’s for sure.”
Drew strained the drink into the two Old Fashioned glasses on the bar. “Technically, this is supposed to be served up, in a cocktail glass, but I’d rather not sit here at the bar with you sipping frothy mixed drinks out of a martini glass like we just stepped off the set of the all male production of ‘Sex and the City.’ No offense, of course, it just could send the wrong message.”
Clive looked around the deserted bar, “Send the wrong message to who, exactly?” he grinned.
“Better safe than sorry,” said Drew, sagely. “Anyway, bottoms up, tip tip hurrah.”
“Wait, I can’t drink it until I know what it’s called. I’ve got to make sure I’m not knocking back a ‘Maiden’s Prayer,’ or something. It could send the wrong message, you know.”
“Fair enough,” Drew smirked, “It’s called the ‘Pegu Club,’ after the bar in Rangoon it was created in.”
“Rangoon? The only thing I about Rangoon is the little crab and cream cheese things named after them in Chinese restaurants.”
“It’s in Burma, drink up.”
“Yes, Burma,” Drew said, feigning exasperation, “Now sometimes called Myanmar, Bay of Bengal, exotic ports of call, bartending mystique, will you drink already?”
Clive took a sip. He’d never really been a gin drinker, but he decided he could get used to it in drinks like this; the botanicals of the gin, the tartness of the lime, the sweetness of the orange curaçao, plus the spiciness of the bitters, they all worked together to make some wholly new flavor. it was refreshing, exotic, familiar yet somehow alien. Yes, he decided, he liked this. What’s more, he liked the alchemy that created it.
“Where’d you learn about this drink?” he asked Drew.
“Well, when I started bartending, everybody always ordered the same things; vodka martinis, Cosmopolitans, gin and tonics, screwdrivers. And I thought ‘There’s gotta be more to bartending than these tired old things.’ So I tracked down some old cocktail guides, and I’ve been trying to get people to try the old classics that everyone’s forgotten about.”
“And do they?”
“Some do. Not many, though. Most want their old standbys,” he conceded. “Plus, not a lot of people think I’m old enough to have any clue about mixed drinks, anyway. I mean, look at this face,” he gestured, “I’m almost thirty, I look barely over twenty, would you figure that I’d know anything about cocktails from eighty years ago? Besides, the middle of a dinner rush at a restaurant in the French Quarter is not the ideal time or place to try to get people to sample something new. Nor is it the time or place to make them if you care about quality. And I do. I’d rather take two or three minutes to get everything mixed and poured right than to crank out a half dozen Cosmos as fast as I can. Sadly, though,” he gestured around at the bar, “While the ambiance is right for the old classics, the whole restaurant and bar biz in this area isn’t conducive to resurrecting the golden cocktails of yesteryear.” He quirked his mouth in a sad smile and sighed, “The reality of the hospitality industry seems to be add odds with the whole notion of hospitality sometimes, don’t you think?”
So there you go. You get a little culture with your cocktail tonight, aren't you lucky? Oddly enough, I wrote that before I'd ever tasted the thing, and as it turns out, I was pretty much right on the money. This is a great drink, and would be even better in the summertime. I tend to think of gin as a warmer-weather liquor anyway, though lord knows it's good anytime. Now, onto the recipe!
2 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz orange curaçao
3/4 oz lime juice
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash orange bitters
Shake well with crushed ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
As a funny aside, I'm still without an ice crusher, even at this point in my cocktail obsession, and therefore I was reduced to wrapping up ice cubes in a kitchen towel and walloping them with a cast iron skillet. It worked, but not as well as I might have hoped. Memo to self: procure ice crusher with all due haste.