Obviously I’ve already fallen off my “mock the guy who writes the podunk local cocktail column” wagon, after only two posts, so that’s, you know, not good. This week I’ll just point out that, in his most recent masterwork, “Benji” (I swear that’s not a nickname, it’s a young adult novel by Avi or someo– oh wait WHAT THE HELL?): manages to mention his totally unjustified love for “Jack” (see my explanation of why this is a sign of alcoholic unsophistication); recommends fucking Jagermeister as a holiday gift (are your relatives all frat boys?); and gives a recipe for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy that not only fails to include the obligatory lime juice, but even leaves out the lime wedge garnish. Please, someone save this town.
Luckily for those of us who enjoy drinking (and are not merely seeking oblivion), David Wondrich himself has gifted us with another wonderful book of cocktail history, Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl. I bought a copy for Girlfriend as an early Hannukah present; perhaps I should send Benji a copy as well. Armed with this tome, we decided to spice up Thanksgiving with a punch, and settled on the Regent’s Punch as an interesting but not overwhelming exemplar of the genre. Also, it’s named after George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of Mad King George III, and near and dear to my heart due to Hugh Laurie’s entirely accurate portrayal in Black Adder the Third. We made some changes from the original recipe based on the availability of ingredients, but I still think it worked well. For the original, buy the book (seriously); what follows is what we did.
- 3 oranges, 3 lemons
- 4 oz white sugar
- 2 bags black tea (we used Tazo “Awake” because it was on hand, but I would recommend PG Tips)
- 1 pint potable water
Peel the citrus fruit, removing as little bitter, white pith as possible. Juice peeled fruits. In a large, heat-proof bowl, combine citrus peels, sugar, and tea bags. Boil water, and pour over. Smush, mash, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then strain into a separate container and combine with juice.
- 8 oz VSOP cognac
- 2 oz Wray & Nephews Overproof Rum
- 2 oz Dark Jamaican Rum (we used Smith & Cross)
- 4 oz pineapple syrup (steep some chunks of fresh pineapple in simple syrup for a day or so)
Add all of the above to the juice/tea mix. Stir well and refrigerate for at least an hour but not more than 4.
- 2 bottles brut Champagne (we used an Anderson valley sparkler made in the méthode champenoise)
In a large bowl, combine punch base, champagne, and some large, pre-frozen ice shapes. Stir gently to combine. Add some thinly sliced citrus, edible flowers, or other frippery for effect, then serve with a ladle.
The punch base tasted similar but not identical to the homemade Swedish Punsch we made a few years ago, using the Underhill Lounge method. It could probably stand by itself with some ice, but it really came into its own with the bubbly. The Regent’s Punch disappeared into the relatives’ maws with a right quickness, and I like to think the unusually mellow Thanksgiving dinner (despite the Scientologists) was, in some small part, due to the punch.
One of the nicest things about the Regent’s Punch was its relatively low proof (Wondrich, in Killer Cocktails, has an older recipe which essentially doubles all the ardent spirits – this is probably delicious, but approach with caution): falling somewhere between a simple glass of wine and a French 75, the Punch was a great social drink. We all put back a couple of glasses without undue haste, enjoyed the surprisingly complex taste (interesting enough for an experienced drinker like me, sweet and tasty enough for your everyday amateur), and felt a rare bonhomie for the people we purposefully see only once a year.
When I say “we”, above, I mean to imply that I had help. And, in fact, in this case it would be more accurate to say that I helped, while someone else did most of the actual work. My father, (I can’t capitalize him as The Father, as is my accustomed style, since that looks either like I’ve suddenly gotten religion or joined la cosa nostra) bought all the ingredients (a serious investment), made the pineapple syrup, carted everything down to Virginia Beach, and made sure that I got off the couch and put the ingredients together in a timely fashion. I was really just an adjunct to a beautiful drink. So I can end the holiday by being unironically thankful that I have a father cool enough to make such an awesome drink happen. And that I know enough not to pay attention to my local cocktail column.