Recently, I was seated at the bar at the Zig Zag with my dear friend Angela trying to shake off the effects of the work day. After the merest glance at the current menu, I picked some familiar classic that I am sure was wonderful, though I can't say I recall what it was. Angela calmly perused the new options before opting for the Bohannon, a cocktail originally created by Casey Keenan at Deep Ellum in Boston. As I watched Murray put together the three ingredients, I couldn't wait to taste Angela's cocktail. I hate it when that happens. Since then, I have been on a part-time mission to make this drink at home. Usually, at worst, this requires a trip to the liquor store, but one of the ingredients is not readily available in the United States: Swedish punsch. Fortunately, a simple Internet search provided me with a do-it-yourself recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Underhill-Lounge. I love home booze projects, so this was a win-win situation.
So what is Swedish punsch? Swedish punsch came about from efforts to make Batavia Arrack more palatable, and it became a bottled version of a popular drink from the 1700s, namely, Arak punch. And the follow-up question becomes, what is Batavia Arrack and then, what is Arak punch? Babushka nesting dolls anyone? Okay the summary: Batavia Arrack is a type of spirit made in Indonesia that is distilled from sugar cane. What makes it so different from "rum" is that the fermentation of the wash is started with fermented red rice in addition to local yeasts, which combine to impart unique flavors and aromas to the finished product. Arrack was very popular starting in the early eighteenth century when the Dutch East Indies Company introduced it to Europe. Its particular funky, fiery nature induced many to temper it with spices, citrus, or even other spirits--hello punch. It can stand up to pretty much anything, and as a punch ingredient this is ideal. As punch found a greater following, Arrack punch, complete with its signature flavor profile, filled many a flowing bowl. The primary ingredients consisted of Arrack, rum, lime juice, sugar, and water with a garnish of freshly grated nutmeg. As with all punches, though, of course, there was a great deal of leeway with the recipe. Swedish punsch is a variation of this popular libation in bottled form. It was originally created in Sweden in the mid-eighteenth century and is still popular in many Scandinavian countries. Swedish punsch, or caloric punsch, also found its way into several classic cocktail recipes, notably the Diki-Diki and the Biffy, both from Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book.
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Underhill punsch
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
Shake in an ice-filled shaker. Garnish with a pinch of black pepper.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Bellringer gin for this one.
Boy, do I love chartreuse! When I took a big whiff of this drink and the green chartreuse wafted up to my nose, I knew I was smiling. Green chartreuse was also what greeted my taste buds, though the botanicals of the gin were present as well and created the backbone of the drink. The black pepper contributed a pleasant warmth aftter each swallow. The drink had a surprisingly rich texture, most likely the result of the punsch, and was very complex considering the staggering amount of the flavors at play. The punsch was most apparent mid-palate, with the arrack and tea flavors shinging brightest. This drink was very much worth the wait and was every bit as good as I remembered.
Charles Baker tells us that this cocktail is from the Army-Navy Club in Manila, Philippines. This social club was the go-to hang out spot for Americans in Manila back in the early part of last century. It was notorious during that time not only for not allowing any local Filipinos in unless they were servants--hello American imperialism--but also for drunk's row, a line of bunks situated side by side along the entire length of one veranda, specifically for those who could not handle their liquor. Many American officers, fresh off the boat and far away from the constraints of Prohibition, were escorted (carried) up to this room to sleep off their over-indulgence in freedom, read extreme inebriation. Somehow this seems better than the only modern equivalent I can think of: the good ole drunk tank.
When I first gazed at this recipe, I was puzzled and a bit disheartened. Oh Charlie, what am I going to do with you?
"Shake well with lots of cracked ice, pour into a large flat champagne glass, and send for the Marines!"
Notes on ingredients: I used Cruzan white rum in place of the Bacardi. Dolin dry vermouth, Bellringer gin, and Paul Masson brandy in place of cognac.
So I find in my glass numerous spirits, vermouth, and citrus. But, alas, no liqueur, syrup, or other sweetener. Boozy and sour, yes; drinkable . . . my hopes were not high. Could this be a typo? Was something lost in transcription? Please? But as I began my search for other versions, my hopes were dashed with the appearance of the Adios Amigos in Trader Vic's guide (1947) and on cocktaildb.com, both without any mention of a sweetener. The proportions are different and the lemon juice has been dropped in favor of lime. Other than that it is still dry, boozy, and sour. But where Mr. Baker leads we shall follow, if only for one sip. So here is my attempt at having an open mind.
Well hello there, lemon. This drink was fucking sour. The aroma included all things lemon and not much else, big surprise, though I may have talked myself into detecting the rum. That was when I started to rethink my choice of citrus, could lime have been any better? The first sip was as expected dry, sour, and quite boozy in an unimaginative sort of way--the flavors kind of blended together so I only felt the sensation of alcohol, but could not decipher the flavor. It was just too hard to get beyond the sourness. I tried, but after much puckering, I found this concoction unremarkable and quite undrinkable. Oh well. But since I had done my homework on our friend Mr. Baker, I was not surprised that one of his drinks was--well, to be nice--out of touch with modern tastes. So, after scratching my head and poking around in other cocktail resources, I came up with a more modern translation:
Shake ingredient in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass.
What a difference a little bit of sugar makes! My first thought was to balance out the citrus. My second thought ran to lime juice. Limes go well with rum; limes go well with gin. Why not? The lemon had already failed miserably. Fortunately for me, after making these two considerably small decisions, I turned to the professionals. What luck that the Adios Amigos was in the Diffordsguide with lime juice balanced by syrup. I had not thought of cutting down the amount of juice, but boy did it work. The citrus was still the most prevalent smell, but the rum and the gin were present as well. On the first sip, the flavor of lime mingled pleasantly with the rum and the herbal notes of the gin. The brandy contributed a nice richness to the overall drink, making it very mellow. The drink still retained its dryness, and on the swallow I tasted the botanicals of the gin and the vanilla notes of the rum. The one fault I found with this drink was that when it warmed up the dry vermouth began peeking out in a not-so-nice way . . . do not tarry with this drink.
Some Charles Baker drinks are more suspect than others. Some seem completely wrong from the get-go, while others are mere curiosities, things that catch your eye but fail to incite action. But like the Alamagoozlum, just because it looks strange on paper doesn't mean it isn't a tasty libation. Whenever I flip through Jigger, Beaker, and Glass, I inevitably pause on the Amer Picon Fizz, smile and then move on. It is a curiosity, without a doubt. The combination of Amer Picon and grenadine is not novel; they go well together with brandy in the Picon Punch, though the proportions are astoundingly different. But with the fizz the lack of base spirit always gave me pause. Could the grenadine possibly balance out the amaro without the help of the brandy? Also, the drink has an entire ounce of grenadine in it. Would it be overwhelmingly sweet? So even though I adore Amer Picon, there were too many ways the drink could go wrong for me to make it. Until now.
Amer Picon Fizz
1 1/2 ounces amer Boudreau 1 ounce grenadine 1 egg white 1/4 tsp Angostura bitters Club soda
Dry shake amer, grenadine and the egg white. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled goblet over a lump of ice. Top with club soda, add bitters and stir gently.
Notes on Ingredients/Procedure: I used Jeffrey Morgenthaler's recipe for homemade grenadine. For the club soda, I used about 2 ounces.
What a lovely drink.The combination of the egg white and angostura created a pinkish foam above the dark reddish brown liquid. Using the bitters as an aromatic garnish ensured that cloves and cinnamon wafted from up from the froth. And somehow, the tart smell of pomegranate found its way through as well. This drink had a truly creamy texture, donated by the egg white, but it still had that refreshing zing from the club soda that brightened each sip. But how does it taste? The initial taste was full of the spices of the Angostura coupled with the herbal notes of the amer. Each sip ended with the nice bitter orange flavors of the amer and was much drier than I expected. After a while the taste of the grenadine became more apparent, and I could really appreciate the way the Amer and the grenadine played off each other. The full ounce of grenadine did make the drink overly sweet or add a cloying texture as the bitterness of the amer Boudreau helped to balance it all out. Even though the drink worked and tasted balance, in the future I might cut the amount of grenadine to ensure an even drier drink, just because that's how I roll. Also, I would definitely lose the lump of ice. It really didn't add anything to the drink, and it looked weird sitting in the middle of that luscious foam.