Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Mar 31, 2013
01:11 PM
Small Dishes

Transitional Cocktails

Transitional Cocktails

With the arrival of spring, it’s time to put aside the bourbon and martinis, the drinks I gravitate toward during cold weather. At times, though, spring in Wisconsin can look and feel not that different than winter. I’m not quite ready for tall, iced drinks like the gin and tonics that are my summer stock, but I am ready for a change. I’ve discovered a trio of classic cocktails—each given a new outfit for spring—that are just the prescription for spring fever.

The Pegu Club was a celebrated private club in Rangoon (Yangon). Popular at the turn of the last century, it catered to British officers and businessmen. The fame of its extraordinary gin-based drink quickly spread around the world. Following World War II—like the Pegu Club that burned downed in 1941—it became but a memory. This forgotten cocktail is now enjoying somewhat of a renaissance—there is even a new Pegu Club in Soho that pays tribute to its namesake.

Traditionally, the recipe is gin, orange liqueur—often Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and bitters; shaken with ice and served in a cocktail glass. Surprisingly, the concoction tastes a lot like grapefruit so it’s often garnished with a grapefruit slice or peel. 

More than likely, the original was made using orange Curaçao, a sweet liqueur that comes from the island of the same name. Naturally it’s colorless, but also available tinted blue thanks to the popularity of tropical drinks such as the Blue Hawaiian. However, in the 19th century when the Pegu Club made its debut, Curaçao was flavored with bitter oranges and dry—not sweet. French cognac makers Pierre Ferrand recently reintroduced the old formula. (It’s available at Steve’s.) The result tastes pleasantly bittersweet and distinctly orange, and has the intoxicating perfume of orange blossoms. In a Pegu Club, it adds just a touch of the exotic that the legendary libation deserves.

I’m fond of many brands of gin: They all have their own personality. When it comes to constructing the perfect Pegu Club, I again look to the past: Plymouth Gin.  Originally, as with bourbon and cognac, “Plymouth” referred to where the gin was made, not a single brand. Today the only gin made in Plymouth, England, is the Plymouth brand produced by the Black Friars Distillery since 1793. Taste in gin has changed over the years, but for over 150 years Plymouth hasn’t changed its recipe. Its flavor is distinctively different, less of a juniper whack, and very smooth.

Pegu Club

2 parts Plymouth Gin
1/2 part Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
1/2 part fresh lime juice
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Grapefruit peel

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of grapefruit peel.

When I think of the daiquiri, I think of Jackie Kennedy. It was her favorite drink. When she lived in the White House she posted a handwritten note in the butler’s pantry instructing exactly how she wanted it made. The daiquiri was the margarita of that era. It originated in Cuba and its fortunes rose along with rum maker Bacardi. Originally, the daiquiri was simply made from white rum, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup. Shaken over ice, it was served in a cocktail glass with a lime slice. Today—like the margarita—the daiquiri is made in every imaginable flavor, frapped in blenders, and gussied up with garnishes worthy of Carmen Miranda.

I’ve always found a daiquiri lip-glue sweet, excluding the Hemingway Daiquiri made with grapefruit juice and no sugar. It’s even made better without using bland white rum. Bacardi 8—the company’s luxury brand—is aged eight years, has a robust flavor yet isn’t overbearing, and a beautiful amber color.  Seemingly it was made for a Hemingway Daiquiri!

Hemingway Daiquiri

2 parts Bacardi 8
1/2 part Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 part fresh lime juice
3 parts fresh grapefruit juice
Lime wedge

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

Probably only the martini has more mystique that the Cosmopolitan. Despite its popularity—or maybe because of it—many serious cocktail drinker treat it with disdain. Too often it is poorly made with poor quality ingredients. To make a palatable Cosmo there must be a proper balance: not too much cranberry juice, not too much sweetness from the orange liqueur, not too much acidity from the lime juice. The question of what flavor of vodka to use is also a consideration. I recently heard someone say he was so old, he could remember when vodka only came in one flavor. Absolut was the first major brand to introduce the concept of flavoring bottled vodka. The first variety was Peppar (pepper) appearing in 1986, followed by Citron (lemon) two years later. Absolut Citron seems to have been the inspiration for the Cosmo, but is often now made with blackcurrant, orange and other sundry flavors as well. Absolut’s newest creation—its 16th core flavor—is Hibiskus (hibiscus and pomegranate). Used in a Cosmo, it provides a complexity that the cocktail usually lacks, adding subtle and intriguing floral nuances. Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to admit that the bright flamingo hue of a Cosmo is sure to put anyone in the mood for spring!

Hibiskus Cosmopolitan

2 parts Absolut Hibiskus
3/4 part cranberry juice cocktail
1 part Cointreau
1/2 part fresh lime juice
Orange peel

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel.

Finally, a recipe for something to nosh along with your cocktail:

Lobster Rangoon


8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 ounces cooked lobster

In a bowl blend together the cream cheese, bread crumbs, chives and Worcestershire until smooth. Stir in the lobster. (The filling can be made several hours ahead of time. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. The won ton wrapper should be filled right before frying.)

2 dozen won ton wrappers (defrosted, if frozen)
Peanut oil for deep frying
Thai-style sweet chili sauce
Lime wedge

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees.

Place heaping teaspoons of the lobster filling in the center of each won ton wrappers. Lightly moisten the edges of the wrapper, using a pastry brush dipped in water. Fold in half diagonally to make a triangle.

Fry the Rangoon in the hot oil four at a time for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with sweet chili sauce mixed with a few drops of fresh lime juice.

Makes 2 dozen appetizers.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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