The Pegu Club ain’t the Pegu Club at the Pegu Club (or, The Lost Art of Accenting)

Back before the word ‘cocktail’ lost most of its original meaning, some true cocktails were made with accents of juice.  The three that always come to my mind first are the Brandy Crusta, Bronx and Pegu Club Cocktails.  Since then, the art of only accenting a true cocktail with juice has been mostly lost, and those drinks are usually over-juiced today. Some suggest that it doesn’t make sense to them to use such a small amount of juice.  They say, “Why bother?”  I would answer that some cocktails are good accented by juice, and they need not be turned into sours or blossoms.  The main point of the cocktail is to slightly sweeten and dilute the liquor, while removing with bitters the sensation of the fumatic harshness of the ethanol.  In a true cocktail (unlike sours and other punches), balance is not the goal.  The liquor must be left enough alone to form the main body and character of the drink.  This is why a barspoon (2.5 ml.), or maybe as much as a teaspoon (5 ml.), of fresh juice is sufficient as a delicate accent to a jigger (2 fl-oz.|60 ml.) of liquor. Here is the famous Brandy Crusta from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book:

Brandy CocktailFancy Brandy Cocktail  Brandy Crusta

It should be pointed out that other 19th century American drink books consider Thomas’ Brandy Cocktail to be the Fancy Brandy Cocktail (because of the presence of the liqueur).  That aside, we can see that Thomas indicates only “a little lemon juice” in his Crusta.  That leaves us to look elsewhere in the period to figure out what amount that may have been.  Here is Harry Johnson’s Brandy Crusta from 1882:

Brandy Crusta

Johnson indicates only “4 or 5 drops” of lemon juice.  That is very clear, but, since his recipe varies from Thomas’ in choice of liqueur, and by the use of orchard syrup, it might be worth looking at some other period recipes to help form a more educated assessment of what the mainstream Crusta was.  Here is the recipe from William Boothby’s 1891 book:

Brandy Crusta

Note that Boothby indicates “a few drops” of the sour juice — lime juice, in his version.  He also agrees with Johnson on the use of maraschino liqueur. While we are looking into Boothby, his 1908 book included the earliest-known recipe for the Bronx Cocktail — also a juice-accented, true cocktail.  Here it is:

1908 - Boothby - Bronx Cocktail

Note that the oldest-known Bronx Cocktail, unlike the later Jazz Blossom that nearly all call the Bronx today, is very sensibly only accented with “a barspoonful of orange juice.”  Below is the Jazz from the pre-prohibition book kept by Waldorf Hotel bar-tender Joseph Taylor, as later published in Old Waldorf Bar Days by A.S. Crockett.

1931 - Crockett - Jazz

If you go into just about any so-called ‘speakeasy’ or ‘mixology bar’ today and ask for the Bronx Cocktail, you get the Jazz Blossom — just one drink that suggests that the art of only accenting with juice is mostly dead. This isn’t new.  For a prohibition-era example of punch-ward drift causing earlier true cocktails with juice accents to be turned into sours and daisies, here is the Brandy Crusta in the 1930 book called the Savoy Cocktail [sic] Book:

Brandy Crusta Cocktail

Here the lemon juice is given in dashes instead of drops.  That meant that the bar-tender following this recipe was expected to give the drink four dashes of lemon juice from a bottle the juice was kept in during service.  The bottles used for this were not bitters bottles.  I have experimented with juice-dashing in the old-fashioned manner, and have found that the average dash comes out to about a teaspoon (5 ml.).  That would mean that the Savoy had taken their so-called ‘Crusta’ from a few drops in the American original to a punchy 2/3 fl-oz. (20 ml.).  I suppose that is to be expected of 1930, when the true cocktail was already becoming a thing of the past — being replaced by countless sours and blossoms parading under the ‘cocktail’ misnomer.  The English have also tended to make many American drinks into punches — their favorite type of drink, nationally. In 1922, Harry McElhone published the earliest-known recipe for the Pegu Club Cocktail.  Here it is:

Pegu Club Cocktail

This needs a little explanation, perhaps, to those not familiar with a few basic principles of the old mixology.  Firstly, it was assumed far-and-wide that the basic amount of liquor served to a customer per request, whether in a mixed drink or not, was the jigger or wine-glass (either way, 2 fl-oz. — the main exception being that liqueur served as a cordial would usually come in the amount of a pony, or 1 fl-oz.).  This means that if there were more than one liquor in a mixed drink, their total volume would usually be 2 fl-oz.  Early jigger-splits were often given in ponies (1 fl-oz.) for each of two liquors — such as among the oldest-known Manhattan, Martinez and Martini Cocktail recipes.  Later, the 2-to-1 jigger-split became more popular.  That would be 2/3 of a jigger (1-1/3 fl-oz.) of the base spirit combined with 1/3 jigger (2/3 fl-oz.) of the modifying liqueur or aromatized wine.  McElhone’s Pegu Club Cocktail calls for the 2/3 jigger of gin, and then seems to mostly make up the remaining 1/3 jigger with all of the other ingredients — even the non-alcoholic ones.  Let me do the math.  A jigger, being 2 fl-oz., is functionally equivalent to 60 ml.  The 2/3 jigger of gin would therefore be 40 ml.  1/6 jigger of the liqueur would be 1/3 fl-oz., or 10 ml.  That brings us to 50 ml.  The teaspoonful of lime juice (commercially processed and sweetened, in this case — not that I advise its use) would be 5 ml.  That brings us to 55 ml.  The two dashes of bitters (one of each type) should come to right about a scruplespoonful, or 1.25 ml.  That gets us to 56.25 ml., and about as close to the full jigger as Harry McElhone apparently thought necessary. In the previously-mentioned 1930 Savoy book, we also find a recipe for the Pegu Club Cocktail, but with a more standard use of the jigger:

Pegu Club Cocktail

The Savoy’s approach to the jigger here is more straightforward than McElhone’s was — and he seems to more sensibly be using fresh lime juice.  This recipe calls for 2/3 jigger (1-1/3 fl-oz.|40 ml.) of gin and 1/3 jigger (2/3 fl-oz.|20 ml.) of the liqueur, making a total of 1 jigger (2 fl-oz.|60 ml.) of liquor.  As my students will recall me repeating in class, a jigger of liquor will have its fumatic, ethanolic harshness fully mitigated by a scruple (2 dashes|1.25 ml.) of bitters.  The Savoy Pegu Club agrees with its two dashes, total, of bitters.  The drink is also accented with a teaspoon (5 ml.) of lime juice.  I often drop that amount by half, using the more traditional barspoon (1/2 teaspoon|2.5 ml.) of juice found in earlier, American, juice-accented true cocktails.

Here are a couple of other Pegu Club Cocktail recipes from the same period that agree on the accent-only amount for the lime juice:

1932 & 1934 Pegu Club Cocktails

Given that imitation sour-mixes became so common for so long in American bars, I suppose it was to be expected that bar-tenders and customers would go so completely giddy over the return of fresh juices that they would end up using too much juice in the Crusta, Bronx and Pegu Club.  But, fresh juice should never have been a mark of distinction.  If American bars had never abandoned fresh juices, in the first place, their return would never have seemed novel or exciting. Enough time has gone by now that it should no longer seem novel or exciting.  To make a big deal about fresh juice today is so very left-over from 2006. It seems that the Pegu Club in New York (the original in Burma no longer exists) won’t make the Pegu Club Cocktail as a true cocktail — even thought that’s exactly what it is in the oldest-known recipe.  Perhaps they are just trying to fill their larger, modern glassware — but that is doubtful.  More likely is that they are still caught up in attitudes formed by the return to fresh juices that they don’t consider just accenting with it.  It’s also possible that the traditional meaning of the word ‘cocktail,’ and the desired character of that one type of drink, is something that they are not familiar with.  They aren’t alone.  Many noted people in the so-called ‘cocktail culture’ routinely violate the jigger and the juice-accent-only of the Pegu Club.  Just look up the recipe online and witness the 2-1/2 fl-oz., or more, of total liquor straining the job of those two poor dashes of bitters, and the 1/2 fl-oz., or more, of lime juice occluding the liquor and turning the drink into a sour.  You will find many such recipes by people with well-known names who have made money claiming to be bringing back traditional mixology. As I stated, this all happened for very understandable reasons, and those who violate the tradition usually cannot help themselves.  They usually don’t even know that they are in variance from the tradition, to begin with.  Furthermore, the Pegu Club Daisy that the Pegu Club in New York serves when the Pegu Club Cocktail is asked for is not in any way a bad drink.   But that juicy thing is not a true cocktail, which it would be if they followed the oldest known recipe.  I often have my classes make the modern Pegu Club Daisy alongside the older Pegu Club Cocktail (with fresh juice in each, of course).  Each time, the majority of students prefer the older cocktail version with the juice just accenting the liquor. Given that the very name of their establishment recalls things gone-by, it should not be unreasonable to expect the Pegu Club in New York to also offer the original cocktail, in addition to the modern daisy adaptation.  How hard can it be for a bar-tender to ask, “Cocktail or daisy?”  Perhaps the customers might then also learn a thing or two that customers in American bars used to be familiar with. Below are the Pegu Club Cocktail and the Pegu Club Daisy from my own book.  It should be noted that the “liqueur of bitter orange peel” may be traditional Curaçao liqueur (as in the original recipes), or triple-sec Curaçao liqueur for a slightly less-sweet variation.  When opting for the more-bitter-and-more-sweet traditional Curaçao liqueur, I prefer Briottet Curaçao Orange Liqueur.  Since that is hard to find in the U.S.A., I will also use Senior Curaçao of Curaçao (the colorless variety).  When opting for the triple-sec (‘triple-dry’) variety of Curaçao liqueur made with both sweet and bitter orange peel (allowing for the lower sugar content), I like to use any of the following; Cointreau (eponymous bottling — yes, it was orignally labeled as “Curaçao blanc, triple-sec”), Gabriel Boudier Curaçao Triple-sec, or Luxardo Triplum.  All of those are made using the peel of the Curaçao orange — a special variety of Citrus aurantium (common bitter orange) from the island of Curaçao — as the bitter orange peel.  I will also use Combier l’Original — a triple-sec liqueur of bitter orange peel where the bitter orange peel comes from Haiti instead of Curaçao.  For that reason, it is not correct to call it “Curaçao.” Have fun in New York!

Pegu Club Cocktail

Pegu Club Daisy

4 thoughts on “The Pegu Club ain’t the Pegu Club at the Pegu Club (or, The Lost Art of Accenting)

  1. I’m so excited to see this, just as I’m planning the drinking-tour part of my upcoming first trip to New York. Thanks for posting it!

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