Friday, February 6, 2009

Pegu Club Tasting

One of our more enjoyable tasks at the HCAR offices is cocktail tasting and testing. Recently, to bring a new life to the exploration we were sent a tattered copy of Patrick Gavin Duffy's The Standard Bartender's Guide by our sponsor and superior, Colonel J.R. Harmon. The drinks within hearken back to days when Galliano flowed the streets like gold, and requesting a Wild Turkey Mist with a Twist, would not yank forth looks of disdain from your bartender.

This week the office tasting was on Superbowl Sunday, and so we had many guests stop in. Ladyboy and Rachel made chili, the Masked Drinker donned his mask and shortly before Bruce Springsteen attached his balls to the camera, we sipped The Pegu Club.

Tasting Roster:
The Masked Drinker
Faux-Bee June (your author)

The Pet
Fraulein N

Two Parts Gin
One Part Curacao
Splash of Lime Juice
2 Dashes Bitters

As usual, we mixed a small number of cocktails (in this case, three) and divvied them up into smaller rocks glasses for the tasting. We used Beefeater Gin, and instead of curacao we used Cointreau.

Curacao, incidentally, is a liquor from the Island of Curacao off the Venezuelan coast. When the Spanish brought Valencia Oranges, the oranges failed to grow properly and the surviving trees produced a fruit now called the lahara citrus. This citrus is a major component in the flavor of traditional Curacao, though it is often simply made with orange. The blue color of Curacao is food coloring added to make the initially colorless drink look exotic. On the mass market, Curacao and Triple Sec are very similar, and since the HCAR offices didn’t have any traditional, high end Curacao available, we decided that Cointreau – a popular brand of Triple Sec – would better suit the drink than the taste of blue food coloring and artificial citrus.

The majority of the tasters did not know the ingredients or recipe prior to tasting.

The large size of the group arranged for a wide variety of responses. In general, the taste profile was agreed upon, and, in the area of improvement, many people had similar thoughts. But there was a large polarity when it came to the overall view of what place people thought the drink should hold in the umbrella culture of cocktails, which we I will explore after our initial discussion.

First impressions didn’t always match the end result, it seemed. Cleopatra was given the most strait forward impression, stating that it tasted like lime and gin, and was a suitable sipping drink. Sycrls and The Pet (both notorious for not liking to taste alcohol in their spirits) said, respectively, that it tasted “like rubbing alcohol and lemonade” and “like a medicine I was given as a child.” Nonetheless they both agreed, (along with IamanIndian, who had similar misgivings at first) that it grew on them, and was “not so bad by the third sip.” Which is also nothing startling considering that the main ingredient, gin, as long been considered an acquired taste.

Russell thought that it was similar to a margarita, which it is, and thought that if any change were necessary it would be to “take out the gin and add tequila. – Oh, and put salt on the rim of the glass.”

It is no surprise, given the comparison to a margarita, that most people would have liked to see a bit of sweetness added. IamanIndian mentioned simple syrup or orange juice, which LP and Lacroix echoed. JPMaxMan and I thought that more cointreau would have done the trick, but since that’s pretty much orange flavored simple syrup, there was little to argue.

From here we moved on to discuss whom we thought might be most likely to enjoy this drink, (pre-revision, of course).

For my own part, I’d like to mention that my first response was that it was not overtly masculine or feminine, and could be enjoyed by anyone at a cocktail party. I was very, very wrong.

The split went like this:

The women in the group tended to argue that it was a “Ladies Drink.” LP said it should be served by “Ladies on a Ladies Nite in the summer.” Fraulein N agreed, naming it “spiked ginger ale” but also saying that she wouldn’t be likely to order more than one. IamanIndian was a little harsher; she strayed from the category of “ladies” but argued that it would be the kind of drink that Mrs. Krabapple on the Simpsons might indulge in. Lacroix was the only one of the women to argue that, perhaps, it would be better suited for her grandfather’s palate, which is what most of the men would echo.

Running on the assumption that the Masked Drinker is a man, he felt it was for “A man in seersucker. He has a goal in life. He will meet it.” JPMaxMan would serve it to Lord Byron, while Juicy was a bit more flexible in his listing, stating that his uncle, Santa Claus, lumberjacks and Eskimos would be included in the target market.

The Masked Drinker and I, both being devout whisky drinkers and usually disgusted by gin, were both pleasantly surprised, agreeing that it would definitely be something to try again, but Juicy seemed to sum up the groups sentiments best. “This goes into the same category as a hot toddy. It has its place.”

All in all, this drink may demand a re-visit if not primarily because it does not contain a whole raw egg.


  1. This one brings back memories. As I recall, the drink was named after a bar in Burma. The Limeys there before WW2 drank this as if it were water.

  2. Umm, that is JpMaxMan - one word... learn it, live it, love it. In retrospect, instead of more cointreu, simply a splash of OJ would have gone a long way.

  3. It's too bad that some of your tasters weren't down with it. The Pegu Club cocktail, while not my favourite cocktail, is certainly a fine gin cocktail. The spiciness of the gin combines very nicely with the woodsiness of the bitters and Curaçao. Another nice variation is to use a bit of orange bitters along with the regular bitters.The thing about any kind of gin drink is that it tends to be pensive.

    Ideally it should taste like wonderfully refreshing yet musky gin marmalade (the real marmalade: none of this sugared up, American, Pepsi-palate pandering stuff).

    I'm a whisky drinker, myself, and understand how the aromatic essences in gin can be an assault to the nose. One thing I dofor that is to serve gin cocktails very cold: I slowly pour the cocktail over ice and let it drip into the glass (less ice melt than shaking or stirring) thus rendering the aromatics a little less volatile. The drinker's palate then acclimatises to the spiciness of the gin as the drink thaws.