Friday, December 5, 2014

One for the Road... Fish House Punch

In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, John presents the Fish House Punch.

First off, hot damn it is good to be back. Happy Repeal Day, everyone!

As we approach the holiday season, my love of cocktails is met with the cold hard reality that when I'm at or hosting a party, I can't always spend the whole evening tending bar. There's that whole socializing thing to consider, too. So how do you balance your need to create well crafted and tasty beverages for your friends with the desire (social obligation?) to actually converse with them? Enter the punch.

I was faced with this very dilemma at Thanksgiving this year, and elected to go with the Fish House Punch. The recipe dates back to 1732, to the Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania. 1732! George Washington is said to have had a cup or two of this in his day. So this isn't just a punch recipe, it is a time machine!

The Drink
When a recipe is nearly 300 years old, there are bound to be a few variations. I found 5 different recipes in just six recipe books, ranging from ancient craftsmen like Harry Craddock through Charles Baker and David Embury to modern mixologists like Ted Haigh. At its core, though, the drink is the same: dark rum, brandy, peach brandy, sugar, and lemon and lime juice.

The catch here, and likely the reason for the large number of variations over time, is the elusiveness of actual peach brandy. I've read that it can be found in the US now, but it simply doesn't exist in Cambodia. So I substituted Bols' peach liqueur instead. Since this is much sweeter - I assume - than actual peach brandy, the disappearance of real peach brandy is likely the single biggest culprit for the vast number of variations available for this drink.

I used a recipe from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology as a starting point and played around a little bit. While most recipes call for sugar, Gary suggests simple syrup, which I find mixes more consistently, especially if you are just stirring as opposed to shaking. The beauty here is the simplicity: want something with more of a bite, and you can add more rum, perhaps complemented with a bit more lemon or lime juice; want something a little sweeter, then add a little more of the peach liquor or simple syrup.

Ultimately I deviated a little bit from Gary's recipe, upping the peach liqueur slightly and adding about two-thirds of a bottle of champagne. I found this helped make the drink a little more palatable for those looking for a milder tasting beverage, and a little effervescence never hurt anybody. At least, that is what the two empty punch bowls professed after Thanksgiving this year. And don't be fooled - sweeten this sucker up all you want, but it will still knock you on your butt if you don't watch yourself.

One last tip: as always, the quality of the ingredients is so important. I made a cocktail version of this initially to sample it, and almost gave up on the recipe all together. Turned out I was using a really horrible rum that gave off a bitter, metallic after taste. I switched the rum out for something better, and it made all the difference. Use good quality booze and fresh juice (always and forever, use fresh juice!), and it's hard to go wrong.

The Fish House Cocktail

(The author forgot to photograph the actual punch, so here is the cocktail version for your viewing pleasure. Come to think of it, that is a good indication of how effective a punch this actually is)

The Recipe
1 bottle (750 milliliter or 25 ounces) - dark rum (I used a lovely Nicaraguan brand, Flor de Cana.
9 ounces - brandy (I used Courvoisier VSOP)
6 ounces - peach liqueur
4 ounces - simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water)
5 ounces - fresh lime juice
5 ounces - fresh lemon juice
champagne to taste (at least half a bottle).
one large block of ice*

Pour all of the ingredients except the champagne into a large bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours (one recipe recommended 24 hours. I haven't tried this, and I'm skeptical of its necessity, especially if you use simple syrup). When ready to serve, place the large block of ice in the center of a large punch bowl and add the punch and champagne. Stir slightly. Garnish with lemon, orange, and/or grapefruit wheels, and ladle into punch cups to serve.

*to make a large block of ice, thoroughly clean out an empty juice container (any cardboard container will do), fill with water, and stick in the freezer. When it is time to serve, you should be able to cut/peel the box away pretty easily.

In case you want to try this out but don't want to commit to making the whole punch, try this scaled down recipe:

1.5 ounces - dark rum
0.5 ounces - brandy
0.35 ounces - peach liqueur
0.25 ounces - simple syrup
0.30 ounces - fresh lime juice
0.30 ounces - fresh lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass with one large ice cube. Champagne is not necessary, but feel free to add.

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