A succulent spread of big game meats leaves little to be desired, except, perhaps, for some adult beverages. Choosing just the right libations can be tricky, however, as the average modern wine or beer will not stand up to the robust tastes and layered textures of wild game. For help and inspiration, look first to the Victorian era. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the leisure safaris in Africa and Asia by upper class Europeans and, subsequently, the development of dishes and cooking techniques to incorporate the yields of those hunts into Western cuisine. The “cocktail” we know today emerged in part to response to the broadening of English diet. As a liquid manifestation of Britons’ new curiosity about foreign flavors and unusual combinations, the cocktail was a significant deviation from “punch,” the nation’s heretofore-favored type of mixed drink. The hand-crafted aspect of the cocktail was particularly appealing to the moneyed classes; whereas punch was a communal beverage, mixed in a large bowl and ladled out to the masses, these new drinks were made in small batches or even individual servings and thus seemed more unique and exclusive. The influx of different liquors and ingredients from British colonies across the globe further facilitated the creation of wonderfully diverse concoctions, many of which remain the ideal liquid pairings for a post-hunt repast.
The components of the East India, developed by Harry Johnson in the 1880s, represent the merging of several different imperial influences, for the area known as “East India” referred not simply to the eastern side of the subcontinent but to all of Britain’s colonial holdings in Asia, including Burma, Malaya and Singapore. Many variations of the East India cocktail exist, but the recipe included here is of the original version found in Johnson’s epic tome New And Improved Bartender’s Manual: Or How To Mix Drinks Of The Present Style (1882).
3 oz. brandy
½ pineapple syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 tsp. orange curacao
1 tsp. maraschino liquor
Pour into cocktail shaker filled with ice. Serve in a chilled martini glass.
Silky and boldly sweet, the East India is a wonderful complement to hearty, savory dark meats. Its earthy fruit flavors and warm undertones make it especially appropriate for suppers under the stars on chilly evenings.
Today, the Pegu Club cocktail is relatively unknown and certainly underappreciated, but in its heyday achieved international notoriety. While it was hardly uncommon in the early twentieth century for bars and lounges to develop their own special eponymous cocktails, the Pegu Club of Rangoon distinguished itself in the 1920s by offering a drink that was familiar and comforting as well as foreign and refreshing to expatriates overwhelmed by the sweltering heat of British-controlled Burma.
2 oz. gin
¾ oz. orange liqueur
½ oz. lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice and serve in a chilled glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
The Pegu Club offers citrus notes that cleanse and invigorate the palate, thus preparing the diner for richer roasts and spicy stews to follow. Served almost painfully cold and with extra lime, the Pegu Club provides a welcome balance to warm weather big game barbeque.
As one of the largest exports of the British Empire, rum unsurprisingly made its way into a number of imperial beverages and, some say, even surpassed gin as the spirit of choice for Brits living both at home and abroad. The Rum Swizzle, long associated with Caribbean colonies, had many variations, but the version that emerged in late nineteenth-century Bermuda has become particularly iconic.
1 oz. dark rum
1 oz. white rum
1½ oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. orange juice
½ grenadine syrup
6 dashes of Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Serve straight up or on the rocks in a cocktail glass.
A vibrant cocktail on its own, the Rum Swizzle takes a back seat when paired with equally vibrant meats such as brined fowls or light to medium-dark meats in herbal marinades. And though ostensibly light and fruity, it is not for the faint of heart but certainly perfect for the big game hunter.
The East India, Pegu Club and Rum Swizzle are just a few of the “retro” cocktails that add an extra dimension to your wild game meal, whether it’s a white tablecloth and candlestick steak dinner or a plastic goblet and paper plate cookout. Best of all, even though they have been around for almost a hundred years, their requisite ingredients are found at most any well-stocked twenty-first-century liquor store, so you can save your energy for cooking (and eating).– Joanna O’Leary