Build-A-Bar: Swedish Punsch, a Revered and Now Revived Spirit
Where would the world of cocktail geekery be without Eric Seed? Given that he is more or less single-handedly responsible for reintroducing a ridiculous number of esoteric ingredients to the U.S. market, I'm guessing it would be in a sorry state indeed. If there's one thing cocktail geeks like, it's something no one else has heard of. That's where Haus Alpenz comes in.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall The Dr. Cocktail
For a number of years, Seed and Alpenz have been on a mission to discover flavors many thought lost to time, helping to fuel the cocktail renaissance (and this column) with spirits and liqueurs that were once considered essential drinking, but have fallen out of favor and off the map. I've written about a good number of them here. Heck, looking back through my columns, you might think Haus Alpenz was the only concern worth anything. Their portfolio looks an awful lot like the search results you get from clicking that little Build-A-Bar category link down there.
A little over a year ago, I made reference to Swedish Punsch in another column, which, of course, featured another Alpenz product, Batavia Arrack. Back then, if you wanted Swedish Punsch, you had to make it yourself, with Arrack as its foundational ingredient. Seed has closed that loop with the introduction of Kronan.
Swedish Punsch shares a lot of the same characteristics as Batavia Arrack. Smoky, rich and slightly buttery, it also carries a slight funk that keeps it from being cloying, and has a slight black tea quality. Tasting like an almost citrusy, pleasantly spiced commingling of dark rum and scotch, it's an intriguing tipple and works well in a variety of cocktails. Some caution is needed, though, as it is simultaneously easy for Punsch's nuanced, somewhat aggressive flavor to overtake and to be overtaken. If you were a Swede, you'd take the easy way out and drink it warm with a bowl of pea soup.
The easiest way to use Swedish Punsch is to think rum. With its similar base, Swedish Punsch works well with the same characters as rum. Swedish Punsch loves citrus, plays very well with all things tiki and its smoky qualities take it where Scotch holds sway, which leads us, via the Modern Cocktail No. 2, to gin. The bracing botanicals can stand up to Punsch's heady spirit, offering an appropriately stiff foil for its lush flavors.
If you want to start somewhere familiar, though, I suggest the Dr. Cocktail. A drink sufficiently wonderful to serve as the nom de plume for one of cocktailia's greatest, the Dr. Cocktail highlights everything that's great about Swedish Punsch in a streamlined package. A sort of modified daiquiri, I like to think of it as that dependable cocktail's evil twin. Delicious, but slightly devilish.
2oz Aged Rum
1oz Kronan Swedish Punsch
1oz Lime Juice
Combine all ingredients over ice. Shake, then double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge, if you're feeling a bit of scurvy coming on.
There are a number of variations of the Dr. Cocktail, some of which are worthwhile from a historical perspective (the earliest being an overly sweet combination of punsch and citrus, with nothing there to anchor it), and some of which are just worthwhile. For a slightly unexpected twist, I like the one that swaps the lime juice for equal parts lemon and orange. Lime and rum go together so often for a reason, but it's nice to shake things up every now and then.
So I mentioned that Swedish Punsch is smoky. That pointed me not only toward Scotch, but toward mezcal. With its smoky undertones, I had it pegged as a sympathetic ingredient, though it took me awhile to get there. I've said before that I often start work on a new drink by smelling, and that's what I did here. Mezcal and Kronan worked great in the nose. A bit of my housemade Kabocha Squash Tequila seemed to round out some of the deeper, earthier smells, and a whiff of grapefruit bitters pulled the scents together with citrus. Blanco tequila didn't offend, and since I had its cousins in there already, I figured it might help round out and soften the overall effect.
Great in the nose, horrible in the glass. For one thing, I hadn't considered the tannins. Swedish Punsch carries a bit of astringency itself, and my Kabocha Squash Tequila (made from the dehydrated, ground peel) packs a bit of a wallop. Everything was competing for attention, like my children in the backseat of the car squabbling over who gets to tell her version of a slightly incorrect, unfunny punch line to the same joke. A few iterations later, I'd dumped most of those ingredients, and come up with something delicious. My kids' sense of humor has yet to make that leap.
Bork! Bork! Bork!
2oz Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall My apologies to the Swedish people, whose language is no doubt rich and nuanced.
1oz Kronan Swedish Punsch
.25 oz Lime Juice
Bsp. Allspice Dram
Bsp. Maraschino Liqueur (optional)
Dash Grapefruit Bitters
Combine all ingredients over ice. Shake, then double strain into a cocktail glass. A twist of lime is a nice touch. As for the Maraschino, I'm a bit undecided. I'm a huge fan of the liqueur, and think it adds a nice touch here. Unfortunately, it also helps to mask the Punsch a bit more than I'd like.
Try it both ways, see which one strikes your fancy. Either way, I'm confident that Swedish Punsch will. Now, I'm off to go develop a recipe for pea soup with Swedish Punsch in it. I'll let you know how it turns out...
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