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Columbian Punch

If you’re going to throw a party, make punch.

[UPDATE: Those of you seeking great historical punch recipes (as well as the amazing history of punch) should check out David Wondrich's indispensible Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, published in 2010. The recipe has been revised slightly to include the technique of making "oleo-saccharum" as learned in this book.]

It’s easy, tasty (if you pick the right one), and you don’t have to spend all night mixing drinks for people. The key is finding the right punch. As our friend Dr. Cocktail points out in his excellent recent post on punches, simply go to CocktailDB, enter the word “punch” in the search box and you come up with 98 of them. I found even more looking through some of my old cocktail recipe books. Still, as interesting as many of them looked, I wasn’t exactly lighting up with excitement.

We had some folks over for a holiday party last night, and the punch was the talk of the living room. This is yet another of the pleasures of life for which we must thank Dr. Cocktail, who provided the recipe for the best punch I’ve ever had. Said punch recipe dates back to the early 19th Century and in 1893 was named “Columbian Punch” at the first world’s fair, the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago, which celebrated the near-quadricentennial (so they were a year late, big deal) of Columbus’ “discovery” of America (Natives: “Um, you can’t discover us, we already live here!” Columbus: “Do you have a flag?Thank you, Eddie Izzard.).

I’ll research and attempt a few other punch recipes that looked interesting, but out of at least two dozen recipes I studied this week, none was as interesting as this. It’s fantastic. To this day it still rules as my favorite punch.

COLUMBIAN PUNCH

1 quart Jamaican rum.
1 pint brandy.
4 ounces Green Chartreuse.
1 pint freshly brewed oolong tea.
The juice of 2 lemons.
The juice of 2 oranges.
1 cup superfine sugar.
750ml Champagne.

The day before making the punch, fill a metal bowl or large tupperware container (that fits into your punch bowl) with water and freeze to make a large block of ice. (Or, if you’re forgetful like me, you can always just buy block ice and break it down to fit your punch bowl.) Chill the boozy ingredients and tea; keep the fruit at room temperature.

Carefully peel the lemons and oranges, getting as little of the white pith as you can. Muddle the peels with the sugar until you’ve extracted as much citrus oil as you can from them, and allow to sit for at least an hour, preferably three hours. Juice the fruit and strain the juice.

Combine the boozes, juices and tea with the muddled peels and sugar in a large punch bowl and stir until dissolved. Remove the peels. Add the Champagne and stir, then add a large block of ice to keep chilled. Ladle into small punch glasses and allow your guests to serve themselves until it’s gone (and I guarantee you’ll have none left).

(Recipe originally published in Beverages and Sandwiches for Your Husband’s Friends, authorship credited only to “One Who Knows”, 1893.)

This is unbelievably good, and not for the faint-hearted either (i.e., it’s mostly booze). Rather than shriek, “J’accuse! You stole me idea, you young cur!”, Doc was, of course, gentleman that he is, flattered that I had made the punch; to the best of his knowledge no one other than himself had made this stuff in the last hundred years or so.

For the rum I used a fifth of Appleton Estate, topped off with some Myers’ Dark to make a quart. For the brandy I used Courvoisier VS, which was on sale for $19.99 for a 750ml, in a lovely gift box with two narrow brandy-and-soda glasses (such a deal).

You, of course, have a bottle of green Chartreuse in your bar (along with a bottle of the yello variety) because, although pricey, they last a long time and are indispensible for any number of truly extraordinary cocktails. Green Chartreuse makes an excellent post-prandial digestivo as well.

 

The Réveillon Cocktail

Not long before Christmas 2005 I wanted to come up with an original cocktail that evoked the flavors of the holidays. “Christmas in a glass,” to purloin a phrase used by Seattle bartender Murray Stenson to describe one of this drink’s ingredients, was what I was aiming for. I wanted something more than just a one-note flavor, I wanted (as usual) a symphony of flavors. I think what we came up with (Wes helped a lot on this one) was pretty darn good.

In order to make it you’ll need to have made a batch of pimento dram, or Jamaican allspice liqueur. (This is because these days I seem pathologically incapable of concocting new cocktails unless they contain one or more very obscure ingredients.) Go ahead, it’s easy; all you need are whole allspice berries, 151 proof Demerara rum (or a mixture of Myers’ rum and Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum), brown sugar, water, a sealable jar and 40 days. Make some; you won’t regret it. “It’s the most important liqueur in the world!” declared Dr. Cocktail, with regards to the commercially made version which is completely unavailable outside Jamaica and isn’t exported.

Paul Clarke at The Cocktail Chronicles was kind and trusting enough to give my new drink a whirl and came away impressed. (Thanks!) He didn’t think I should tinker with it any more, so I didn’t. I liked it, so did Wes, and with one trustworthy taste test we decided we were pleased. It has a similar development history to the Hoskins Cocktail, in that I wanted no one ingredient to predominate and for them all work together toward the whole, and that in both cases Wes tried the first attempt, said “ehh” and suggested swapping proportions between two ingredients whereupon the bell rang, the lightbulb lit and we shrieked “Eureka!”. I wanted the holiday season in a glass, and I guess I did all right.

The acid test, of course, was when I made one for Dr. Cocktail at our 2005 holiday party. “Be critical!” I demanded. He’s opinionated and demanding and brutal regarding flavor and quality, and I knew that if he hesitated and tried to keep from making a face, it might mean a trip back to the drawing board. Instead, after one sip, he immediately said, to my great relief, “Oh, this is delightful!” and then added later, “It’s like suckin’ on Santa!” Well, that’s good enough for me.

You can use regular sweet vermouth in this, but if you use one of Carpano’s high-end vermouths like Antica Formula or Punt E Mes, as the recipe calls for, you’ll get even more wintry, spicy nuances in your drink. (Paul Clarke favors Punt E Mes, not only for its additional hint of bitterness but because it’s all he can get in the state-controlled liquor stores in Washington; the silly sods don’t carry Carpano Antica.) However, at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans, bartender Chris Hannah makes this drink with Dubonnet Rouge, and it’s wonderful.

As for the bitters, Angostura bitters will be easier to find, but Fee Brothers’ “Old Fashion” aromatic cocktail bitters work quite a bit better. As Dr. Cocktail once said, “Fee’s Bitters have one note, and that note is cinnamon.” That note happens to work very well for this drink. You can also use Fee’s new Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters, which have a lovely complexity. Of course, if you happen to have any vintage Abbott’s Bitters — which haven’t been made in over 50 years but are obtainable if you’re obsessed like me and look hard enough — which are redolent with the “apple pie spices”, the flavor is beyond amazing. In a pinch, use good ol’ Angostura.

The original idea for the garnish was a cinnamon stick, but the star anise pod emerged during the photography for the drink when it was featured in the July/August 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine, which was really cool.

Now, this drink is all clear spirits so should be stirred, but Chris shakes his specifically to produce the wintry-looking froth, and the star anise pod sitting on that is perfect for the Christmas season.

Oh, and the name? Just as I was about to bestow upon this drink the well-intentioned yet supremely dopey name “Bingle Cocktail” (named, of course, for Mr. Bingle, beloved New Orleans Christmas mascot), Wes thought better of it. The name he suggested evokes Christmas, especially Christmas eve, but also the recent New Orleans spin on the old tradition that expands the feasting of la veille de Noël all season long …

The Réveillon Cocktail

The Réveillon Cocktail

2 ounces Calvados (or other apple brandy).
1/2 ounce pear eau-de-vie (clear, unsweetened pear brandy).
1/2 ounce homemade pimento dram (allspice liqueur).
1/4 ounce or Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth (substitute Punt e Mes) or Dubonnet Rouge (Arnaud’s version).
1 dash Fee’s Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters (or Abbott’s Bitters, if you’ve got them).
Star anise pod for garnish (or a cinnamon stick, if you don’t have star anise).

Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir like hell for no less than 30 seconds, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the star anise.

Serve on Christmas Eve, throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas … or whenever you want.

Obituary Cocktail

This wonderful drink was supposedly created at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and has become a favorite of ours. While you may certainly use an absinthe substitute/pastis such as Herbsaint or Pernod, it’s at its best when you use real, quality absinthe. We like native New Orleanian Ted Breaux’s Absinthe Nouvelle-Orléans, made by his company Jade Liqueurs, available from Liqueurs de France, Ltd. and, we’re told, an American distributor soon.

Don’t let this drink’s name become something more meaningful. Reread the above article and do what I say.

The Obituary Cocktail

2 ounces strong gin.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce absinthe.

Combine with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker.
Shake vigorously for 13 seconds, or stir vigorously for
no less than 26 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass;
no garnish.

You really should visit the Jade Liqueurs site, and I can’t recommend their products more highly. They’re expensive, but worth it — a truly handmade product that’s the result of years of miraculous research (revist the articles about Ted in the Gambit and Wired to learn about how he did it). Ted also could use the income, as he lost his New Orleans home to Katrina.

Incidentally, Obituary Cocktail: The Great Saloons of New Orleans is the name of an excellent book by Kerry McCaffety that you should probably buy.

The Atlas Cocktail

Ever since I began experimenting with my Pimento Dram (a.k.a., allspice liqueur) recipe I’d been wanting to play more with the lovely, rich, sumptuous, dark and caramelly Demerara rum that I used to make it. Demerara rum is made exclusively in the nation of Guyana, with Demerara sugar — large crystals, golden-colored, rich with molasses but not as moist as typical American brown sugar. The most readily available brand is Lemon Hart, which is fine stuff (and, as Dr. Cocktail points out, the makers of the only palatable 151 proof rum on the American market; the only cocktail for which Bacardi 151 is suitable, by comparison, is the one made by Mr. Molotov). I picked up a bottle for a mere $16 at Topline Wine and Spirits in Glendale, and it was off to CocktailDB to look for interesting suggestions for the use of this fine rum. Here’s the first one that came up. It’s good.

The Atlas Cocktail

1 ounce Calvados or apple brandy.
1 ounce Demerara rum (Lemon Hart).
1/2 ounce Cointreau.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir in mixing glass with ice for no less than 30 seconds.
Strail into a cocktail glass. Optional orange twist garnish.

It didn't specify a garnish; you could plop in a cherry (although that's easy), but I think an orange twist would suit the drink better. When I'm feeling extravagant I'd love to try this with a dash of vintage Abbott's Bitters.