American Orange Punch — a lot of work, a delicious outcome & an unsettling resonance with our peculiar moment of populism
Until quite recently I thought “punch” was essentially a huge cocktail served in a bowl — sort of a “family size” Manhattan with a ladle.
Now that I have twice conjured American Orange Punch I can report that I was deliciously, deliriously wrong.
An “authentic” punch, I learned from the magnificent David Wondrich volume, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, requires among many other things proper oleo-saccharum-izing, the vigilant filtering of pips [!], the manual agitation of sugar your mama never heard of, and the attentive employment of a vegetable peeler and cheesecloth — to say nothing of boiling, infusing, cooling, funneling, stirring, and, not least, carefully and repeatedly taste-testing.
This took me 4 hours the first time but only 3 the second.
American Orange Punch: A populist libation
I chose from Wondrich’s volume American Orange Punch for two related reasons:
It was served at the epic 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson — the infamous “open door” White House party, where The People were invited in to celebrate the heartland hero’s election. By some popular accounts his supporters proceeded to get turbulently drunk on the stuff — smashing glassware, staging fist-fights, engaging in rude assignations, nearly suffocating the President by overpacking the parlor, etc. White House staff had to set the barrels of the punch outside to get the ruffians out of the place.
As it happened, both holiday parties I brought the punch to took place within a few miles of the White House. Call me seditious, but in 2016 the theme of a rowdy idiot populist mob descending on the White House, fighting, stealing stuff, breaking shit, screwing around, and generally defaming the office of the Presidency seemed to have a certain resonance. That all this was happening around a famously Orange American….well, I was too weak a man to resist.
The obscure Zazarac is not a misspelled Sazerac. It’s a drink unto itself. Its obscurity likely derives from the fact that nobody who makes it once is likely to do so again
One of the most obscure drinks I’ve blundered across is the Zazarac.
That may seem like a misspelling of the Sazerac, that otherworldly classic that comes to us via mid-19th century New Orleans. And some will argue that the Zazarac was the same drink, spelled differently as a litigation dodge.
But there are better reasons to believe that the Zazarac, as captured in certain editions of Harry Craddock’s definitive-for-its-time The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), is its own thing.
And what a peculiar thing it is.
Zazaracs: Not just a spelling difference
Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the definitive scholarly exhumation of defunct cocktails, mentions two versions of the Zazarac, which he found typed in a 1930s bartender’s pocket notebook.
I’ve lined them up below, adding what I’m calling #3, which appears in Harry Craddock’s book.
As you can see, the household comprises one perfect child and three black sheep.
The Sazerac and Zazaracs #s 2 and 3 all abide by the classic definition of a “cocktail”: Base spirit, sugar, and bitters. All share absinthe. But from there things get hairy.
Z1 omits bitters, flouting the “cocktail” definition. It adds sweet vermouth and Amer Picon [a dark, bittersweet, fragrant French apertif, a bit like Italy’s Averna]. It tosses in curacao, an orange liqueur similar to Cointreau or triple sec. So it goes in pretty deep with orange.
Z2 uses Peychaud’s, sure enough, but then tosses in orange bitters and Amer Picon — again, an unusual commitment to orange.
Z3, explored below, adds white rum as a second base spirit [!], and anisette, a sweet licorice-flavored liqueur whose anis-y power essentially doubles down on the absinthe. It retains a hint of orange only via the bitters.
It seems unlikely to me that any of the Zazaracs were attempts to produce the Sazerac and avoid legal trouble with the New Orleans Sazerac House importer, the French maker of Sazerac cognac, or any number of taverns nationwide with the same name.
At best they are heavy-handed riffs, at worst original desecrations.
And since all versions add to rather than replace ingredients of the Sazerac [excepting the swap of bitters in #3], it seems unlikely that early American supply chain issues drove these variations.
Nope. These Zazaracs are not legal dances to stay out of court. For better or worse, but mainly worse, they are purposeful creations unto themselves.
The Sazerac and the Zazarac have as much in common as a lucid dream and your kitchen junk drawer.
The Zazarac recipe presented here is a modified version of what appears in Wikipedia.
I know that’s lame, but bear with me. There’s a lot of confusion here, and the Wikipedia one appears to hunker pretty closely to one in the Savoy book, which became the reference recipe going forward.
Anyhow: Let’s grab a pair of tins and shake things up.
Actually we should stir them up, but that’s another twist in this odd little tale.
Zazarac Cocktail recipe [via Craddock, I think]
1 oz rye
Or Canadian whiskey — Canadian Club if you want to get specific. Canadian whiskeys skew more rye-heavy, so this alternative makes sense.
.5 oz rum
I used Bacardi white, which aligns with several recipes I dug up.
.5 oz anisette
I used pastis, a French version of that family of licorice-flavored beverages. To be more historically and culinarily accurate —and I know how deeply important that is to you— you should use Sambuca or Ouzo. It’s a maceration vs. distillation thing, and an anis vs. licorice thing, for what it’s worth.
.5 rich simple syrup
“Rich” simple syrup mixes sugar to water 2:1. The original called for gum arabic, aka gomme syrup, an even sweeter elixir.
3 dashes absinthe
Yeah, I know. Absinthe + anisette. Anisette — pastis in particular — is often used in place of absinthe. Why use both in the same drink? Who knows? Worse: Many Craddock follow-ons call for .5 oz absinthe.
1 dash each Angostura and orange bitters
Shake, strain into an Old Fashioned glass, garnish with lemon peel.
The recipes all say to shake, though there’s no citrus in sight. Maybe that’s a relic of the days when gummy gomme was used, which may have needed more agitation. Beats me.
So: On the menu I see a Ramos Gin Fizz [ca. 1888, New Orleans], a hard-to-spot classic I’ve been warned to order only when in good hands. It requires the fairly obscure ingredient orange blossom water, for one thing, and between 3 and 12 [!] minutes of vigorous — even “violent,” as some recipes say — shaking.
So much shaking, in fact, that 19th century accounts report that the tins were passed among multiple bartenders, as no man working alone could possibly produce the amount of agitation required.
Martinis aren’t much more interesting than the people who drink them. Time to give the snooty kid a good hard wedgie.
It’s not that I hate Martinis exactly. It’s more that they’re tedious, like a salad at Cosi or an episode of CSI. You know what you’re getting. They accomplish what they set out to do.
They should call any mixture of gin and vermouth a “Meh-tini.”
And of course the name Martini has been desecrated since the late Clinton administration by the reckless use of flavored vodkas and day-glo sweeteners, resulting in happy hour chalkboards nationwide filled with several varieties of “[WTF]-tinis” for $5.
Then there are the cultural connotations of the drink: haughty, heeled well, self-satisfied — “classy,” as interpreted by those who view it from below.
Short version: In 1860 the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to visit the U.S. was in New York, lodged not far from Jerry Thomas’ bar on Broadway. Thomas, America’s first celebrity barkeep and author of How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862), may have served this drink to the delegates. Like most ancient cocktail history [Wondrich will be the first to admit], the story is built on rickety inference and hopeful attempts to associate long-disconnected dots.
Anyhow, the Japanese Cocktail is one of a few drinks in that seminal text that’s easy to make from contemporary ingredients.