What I Drank on my Summer Vacation, 2010 edition

This week was the start of school here in Seattle, which means that promptly at 9:15 Wednesday morning I hustled my offspring through the doors of their elementary school and — while their new shoes were still squeaking in the hallways and before they’d had a chance to lose a backpack or a lunch box — I was on my way back home to enjoy the first uninterrupted work week (a three-day one, at that) I’ve had since June. So of course, I’m spending part of it blogging.

I guess “of course” isn’t entirely correct, considering how little attention I’ve given this site of late. But while my recent days have been filled more with driving my kids to play dates than with tinkering with cocktail ingredients, it hasn’t been a dry summer. And on the days that passed for sweltering here in the Pacific Northwest, more often than not I’d find my thoughts drifting in the direction of punch.

Part of this desire for tall, frosty glasses of drinks both potent and voluptuous could be due to the impending release of David Wondrich’s new book that covers the topic in depth — a priming of the palate, as it were, in anticipation of the rigorous experimentation the book will no doubt incite — but there’s more to it than that.

Y’see, in case you haven’t noticed in this whole cocktail renaissance that’s been under way for some time, there’s been a great deal of emphasis placed on precision, nuance and the ideal of esoteric ingredients. God knows I’ve done my part to push this whole thing along, but recently — and I’m certainly not alone in this — it’s all begun to seem a bit much. While I can still bore a bystander to tears when chatting with another cocktail geek, I’ve been at the point for a while where I honestly don’t give a shit about all the dogma and detail anymore. For all the heated debate about historical ingredients and the true origins of certain old classics, ultimately these are just drinks we’re talking about — they’re just fucking drinks. By getting too caught up in rigid formulae and absolute rules, we as a generation of drinkers are at risk of missing the most essential point: a drink is made for simple enjoyment, and different drinks please the drinker in different ways. And for me, with the whole sloughing off of rigidity and relaxing with things that simply taste good, few drinks fit the bill better than old-fashioned punches.

When you look at some of the old punch recipes — and here I’m talking about the single-serving punches of the sort that populate the old tomes of mixology, most notably Jerry Thomas’ book — there’s a certain “oh, what the hell” nature to them. Sure, they’re compounds of spirits, juices and other ingredients that all taste good together; but there’s also a carefree aspect to them. The Brandy Punch is a fine thing, but if you’re not in the mood for a cognac-heavy mix redolent of raspberries? No problem — Thomas has got you covered, and you can mix-and-match other ingredients to find a drink that does suit the bill. Punch is also forgiving, and for someone fatigued with the precision required for many high-falutin’ cocktails, this is a good thing; a splash this way or that of syrup or citrus won’t damage the drink, just give it more personality once it’s in the context of all the other ingredients.

Anyway — while this summer I worked my way through various manifestations of Gin Punch, Whiskey Punch and Brandy Punch, it was in the offshoots where I found my happiness; here’s one drink I came to enjoy: West Indian Punch.

The recipe is from Jerry Thomas, though it first came to my attention in Wondrich’s Imbibe! The punch starts with the formula for a Brandy Punch, but has a couple of diversions that attracted my interest. First, the cognac is knocked down from 3 to 2 ounces, and an ounce of rum (I used a buttery Cockspur, from Barbados) is substituted; as a longtime sucker for drinks mixing cognac and rum, I couldn’t resist this version. Additionally, the raspberry syrup that sweetens the Brandy Punch is eliminated; instead, the sugar is bumped up a tad and additional sweetness, and a dose of spice, comes with a scoop of preserved ginger in syrup – and since I’m also a sucker for the bite of ginger, this drink had my name written all over it.

A couple of points on preparation: Wondrich notes that shaking the drink (with the bits of orange and pineapple involved) can result in a mushy mess. Agreed – I followed his suggestion of preparing the drink with crushed ice and then rolling the mix between the halves of a shaker, which keeps the fruit more-or-less intact. Also, for a good delivery of pineapple-ey goodness, I’ve substituted pineapple gomme for the simple syrup when the mood has hit. And since preserved ginger doesn’t have quite the intensity of bite I’d like, I’ve taken to supplementing it with a few slices of fresh ginger, just tossed into the mix (and why do I continue to use the preserved ginger, then, if I find it lacking? Because I bought the whole damn jar and I’ve got to use it somehow). Finally, Thomas calls for two ounces of water in the mix, to soften the drink from sour to punch territory; I add this at the end, in the form of chilled club soda, just because I like bubbles.

Garnished with a few blackberries picked last month and kept whole in the freezer, this is my closing drink of summer.

West Indian Punch
(adapted from Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, with suggestions from David Wondrich’s Imbibe!)

  • 2 ounces cognac
  • 1 ounce rum (something with some age to it)
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 ounce simple syrup, to taste
  • Several chunks preserved ginger with a spoonful of syrup
  • A few chunks of pineapple
  • 1 slice of orange, cut in half
  • Chilled club soda

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, stirring the syrups with the citrus and booze until well mixed. Add about a half-cup of crushed ice and roll between the glass and a mixing tin several times. Pour unstrained into a tall glass; add about 2 ounces chilled club soda and additional ice to fill. Garnish with an orange slice, berries in season, a pineapple stick or whatever the hell you want. Straws, gentlemen.

9 Responses to What I Drank on my Summer Vacation, 2010 edition

  1. Paul, I thought you’d lost your marbles until I realized you were merely trying to prepare the reader before you defiled a Jerry Thomas recipe.

    Just kidding.

    As pedantic as modern bartenders can be with individual drinks, most lighten up when it comes to making punch. Why? That’s the definition of punch: bartender’s shorthand for “I don’t give a shit.” When you serve someone punch, the unspoken meaning is, “I’m too busy/understocked/cheap to make anything bespoke, so shut up and drink it.” It’s the casserole of the bar.

    I have to assume that this made-do attitude was the original basis for a lot of classic punch recipes, so I’m sure Jerry Thomas would find our modern punches completely within the spirit of the profession.

  2. Punch sounds amazing… especially as my day at the office is winding down (hence the reason I am slacking and reading blogs…oops). Another favorite of mine to drink after work is a lemonade drink. Simple ty ku liqueur and lemonade of your choice. Delicious!!!

  3. Paul,

    You’re touching on something really important with the “just drinks” comment. Wanted more of that dialogue, though. It seemed strange that the topic shifted abruptly to commentary about a ‘casual’ beverage like punch. As a follow-up post, more exploration on the “just drinks” conversation would make for a very interesting read. It’s detrimental that we have refined technique, thorough research, and educated personnel behind the bar. But, what’s the cost? Pretension(?). Exclusion(?). Bitter Guests(?). Bitter Friends(?). After all, we are merchants of fun. We’re getting people drunk with great products and having great conversations about why we’re doing it!! That’s what I signed up for. But, does that attitude contradict the classical/refined approach, and erode into another age of cocktail ignorance (e.g., Vodka + apple pucker = ‘tini ; muddler + busy service = sad 🙁 bartender)?

    It seemed very similar to Bourdain’s topic in Medium Raw – see his discussion on the French Laundry’s and Per Se’s of the world in comparison to the instantaneous rise of Momofuku. The latter would not exist without the former, but will the refined approach subside? Per David Chang’s feedback, the momofuku empire would surely fade without the ‘temples’ of fine dining… But what will happen to the temples? Will they disappear under pressure from the patron’s exodus to the more affordable quality joints?

    If anything is the “next level” (this topic ALWAYS comes up among brand ambassadors and cocktail nerds… “Dude, F tiki… I got it! Mudslides are the next big thing, bro! Make a lava flow with good products and watch your customer’s mind get blown!”) in the craft cocktail world, it is redirecting focus on defining service, rather than drinks – Can We Be Serious & Still Be FUN??? Acquiring such an ability would be my most valuable tool. Forget my goofy hard shake. Forget my precious ice. More valuable than any priceless antique mixing glass or jigger. I would trade those in a heartbeat. If I could only master the art of producing Fun service while creating Fine cocktails… THAT would be the Joy of Bartending!

    Thank you for saying something. Let’s keep talking about it.

    – A

Leave a reply