Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Those Crazy Old Romans...

With the starting guns of this year’s Tales of the Cocktail sounding even now, I find myself somewhat at a loss for a posting topic. For those of you who aren't familiar with the event, ‘Tales is a convention for mixology, mixologists, authors & spirits-industry professionals from around the globe, all gleefully imbibing their way through educational seminars, panel discussions, exhibits, cocktail-cuisine pairings, receptions and unexpected (though often planned for months) trips to the Carousel Bar (or any of the New Orleans’s other fantastic bars).

Check out the shiny new Tales Blog for updates & articles from some of the numerous bloggers who are (nearly my entire links list is) in attendance, as well as Twitter updates from many of the same. Likewise, tune in to SSN's The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess for webcasts directly from the convention. As yours truly was unable to attend, I had thought to spread some of the educational spirit of ‘Tales with a short discussion on a wonderful, if little-known, cocktail (while I make convoluted plans for my attendance of next years’ convention):

Of the many drinks which the estimable
Jerry Thomas wrote about, a fair number of them come to the foreground as libations which should never have been allowed to vanish from the modern mixologist's repertoire. Thankfully, with works like IMBIBE! by David Wondrich, Darcy O'Neil's painstaking transcription of Thomas' revised 1878 bar-guide, or the soon-to-be released reprint of the original 1862 How to Mix Drinks, many such unjustly 'forgotten' cocktails may once again become known & loved (hey, one can dream).

One such beverage is the Roman Punch, which in my humble estimation is a variation on the concept of a flavored, Sour-styled drink. Interestingly (read: strangely), this cocktail made it through the fires of Prohibition almost completely unscathed in certain sources, as seen in Trader Vic’s 1946 Book of Food & Drink. Yet in nearly every source between its first & last (to the best of my knowledge) appearance are oddly altered or adulterated in some fashion. So what happened? From the differences in recipes (almost all of which include Lemon, Cognac, Rum & some manner of Wine) one can form some ideas about why such a variety of recipes emerged; but more on that as we go:

Here we see the original version; as crafted, I’d wager, to accommodate the sweet-tooth tastes of its eras’ imbibers, while presenting a drink to the same under the cloak of what would have been a very familiar concept at the time – a Punch:

Roman Punch (J. Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, 1862 & 1878*)
1 table-spoonful of sugar *[dissolved in a little water].
1 table-spoonful raspberry syrup.
1 tea-spoonful of Curaçao
1 wine-glass of Jamaica rum
½ wine-glass brandy.
The juice of half a lemon.
Fill [large bar-glass] with shaved ice, shake well, dash with port wine, and ornament with fresh fruits in season. Imbibe through a straw.

The Temperance Movement (active even in J. Thomas’ time) & its’ sinister designs of Prohibition in the ‘States had just gotten the ball rolling at the time of this recipe’s publication. As presented at the Savoy - a very high-end establishment - it took on the look of a formal Punch, with the inexplicable addition of Orange bitters (for the Curaçao perhaps?), Champagne, Orange & Egg whites. This seems like a reinforcement of the flavored-Sour theory, as this recipe essentially makes a California (or Stone) Rum Sour with bubbly added, yet somehow excludes the Raspberry syrup as its flavoring (& namesake coloring) element:

Roman Punch (Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930)
1 Qt. Champagne
1 Qt. Rum
½ Liqueur Glass Orange bitters
The Juice of 10 Lemons
The Juice of 3 Oranges
2 lbs. Sugar
The Whites of 10 Eggs
Use punch bowl. Dissolve Sugar in lemon and orange juice, add the rind of one orange, add the well-beaten whites of eggs. Surround the bowl with cracked ice and stir the ingredients well together.

Duffy seems to take the odd stance of “a Punch is complicated” in his adaptation of the recipe. He reintroduces Cognac to the mixture, yet attempts to make a dryer Punch out of our Sour by removing the Oranges, (still) omitting the Raspberry and substituting in some Swedish Punsch, Curaçao (likely as complex sweeteners) & Tea! On the other hand, he at least returns to the idea of adding fresh seasonal fruit to the final concoction as an edible garnish:

Roman Punch (P.G. Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, 1934)
1 Whiskey Glass Cognac
1 Whiskey Glass Swedish Punch
½ Whiskey Glass Curaçao
1 Pint Jamaica Rum
Juice of 6 Lemons
1-1/2 Quarts Champagne
1 Teaspoonful Aromatic Bitters
2 Tablespoonfuls Good Tea
Put Tea in a small cheesecloth bag and leave it in the above mixture for about ten minutes, surround punch bowl with cracked ice, pour in the punch and add cut up Fruit.

Here W.C. Whitfield also advocates the 'bubbly California Sour-style', shying back from the somewhat complicated Punch idea, yet still excludes the Cognac & more importantly, the Raspberry syrup:

Roman Punch (W.C. Whitfield’s Here’s How, 1941)
10 Lemons (juice only)
3 Oranges (juice only)
2 Pounds Sugar
10 whites of Eggs
Dissolve sugar in the fruit juices, add rind of one orange and whites of eggs, well beaten. Stir these thoroughly, place in a punch bowl with large piece of ice, then pour in
1 Quart Fine Rum
½ Liqueur Glass Orange bitters
1 Quart Champagne

Here we see the drink (somehow) being served largely unchanged from its original recipe in the mid-1940’s. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Bergeron had a slight aversion to all but the best of the classic methods of making a champagne-fizzed Punch, and saw this drink for what it should be – a sort-of flavored Rum Sour:

Roman Punch (Trader Vic’s Book of Food & Drink, 1946)
½ Lemon
1 ounce raspberry syrup
1 ounce Jamaican rum (Red Heart or Meyer’s)
1 ounce Brandy
Port wine float
Squeeze Lemon in a 12-ounce glass; add syrup and liquor; fill glass with shaved ice and swizzle. Add berries in season and a float of port wine. Serve with spoon and straws.

I really enjoyed this when I first tried it – by both Thomas’ & Vic’s methods and as with anything I like so much, I had to mess with it. Once you’ve tried the others, give this blackberry-flavored variation on the classic recipe (named for Julius Ceasar's principle unit) a spin. I'd like to think it is a tasty preservation of the original recipe with some small concessions to the various interim drinks which were called "Roman" (©):

Thirteenth Legion
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice

1 oz. Blackberry syrup
1 oz. Jamaican Rum (Appleton’s V/X)
¾ oz. Quebranta Pisco (BarSol)
1 dash Regan’s Orange bitters
¼ oz. semi-sweet Port Wine (Sandeman Reserva)
Combine all ingredients (except Port) in a chimney or Collins glass with crushed ice & swizzle to incorporate & chill. Top with more crushed ice, float Port & garnish with several fresh Blackberries.

In closing - your homework is to try (almost) any of the many versions (though do try the ‘non-punch’ ones first) of this classic – I’ll be sure to order a Roman Punch down at next year’s ‘Tales and I promise, just as Trader Vic did - you’ll really drop your toga on this one...

For those of you currently attending this year’s convention – have one (or three) of something for me & have a great time in the Big Easy. Cheers & enjoy everyone!


Tiare said...

Great post Chris! so you also want to attend the TotC next year..

BTW: Are you also on twitter?

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

Thanks Tiare! Love your MxMo article.

Yeah, I'd really like to make it out to 'Tales next year (& the London event in October) if at all possible...

To be honest, I had never heard of Twitter until alot of our fellow bloggers who did go to Tales made posts about using it there. Sounds cool, but I've got a pretty low-grade cell phone so it might not work for me anyway.


Tiare said...

I heard of it the same way, but it was also used on the web where u could follow all the fun happenings at the Tales to your own frustration..;-) and it can be interacted with Facebook as well.

Peter said...

When are you going to make some Roman punch for the Swampies?

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

I made a few Roman punches & 13th Legions at War, but I'll be sure to have the requisite ingredients at NYE if not sooner.

We missed you guys - wish you could've come...