Speaking of Mr. Darcy O’Neil…
A couple years ago, Darcy published an article about Arrack. Being as I thought Arrack was, at the time, completely unavailable to those of us in North America, I was quick to send him a note asking where on earth he’d found it.
Batavia Arrack is important because it is used as the base for a liqueur called Swedish Punch. Swedish Punch has not been available in the US for a number of years and has no direct substitute. If you want to make cocktails with it, your only real options are to either travel to Sweden or make it yourself. Unfortunately, as I noted, Arrack had also not been available in the US for a long time, so you couldn’t really even make it yourself.
After a little exchange of interests and ideas, a bottle of Very Special Old Arrack from Sri Lanka appeared on my doorstep.
In his article, Darcy also noted that Jerry Thomas had a few recipes for Arrack Punch. One involved Calves’ Foot Jelly, which seemed a little hard core for me, even if it really is the same stuff as Jello. The other two seemed fairly adaptable.
United Service Punch.
Take ½ pint of Arrack.
1 pint of Jamaica rum.
½ pound of loaf-sugar.
3 pints of hot tea.
Rub off the peel of four of the lemons with some of the sugar. Dissolve the sugar in the tea; add the juice of all the lemons, and the Arrack. Serve cold.
Imperial Arrack Punch.
Take 1 quart of old Batavia Arrack.
1 pound of loaf-sugar.
1 quart of boiling water.
Cut the lemons into thin slices, and steep them in the Arrack for six hours. Remove the lemons without squeezing them. Dissolve the sugar in the water, and add it while hot to the Arrack. Then let it cool. This makes a fine liqueur which should be thoroughly iced before serving.
I wasn’t sure about amounts for the liquids, since I have no idea what proof liquors Thomas might have been working with. I decided to shoot for something around 20% alcohol, since this seems to be where I see most Swedish Punch listed. I ended up doing a sort of hybrid of Thomas’ two recipes.
Trying to halve the recipe above, I steeped 2 thinly sliced lemon in 1/4 pint Arrack and 1/2 pint Mount Gay Eclipse Rum overnight.
I made a double strength cup of Darjeeling tea, dissolved a cup of Demerara sugar in it, cooled to room temperature, (the reason to cool to room temp before chilling is tea tends to cloud if chilled too quickly,) and chilled overnight.
In the morning I strained the alcohol mixture (not squeezing) and combined it with the tea syrup.
12 hours later, I ran the barely aged liqueur through a filter and bottled. The result wasn’t a bad tasting liqueur. A bit odd, it must be admitted. Still, tasty.
I had no idea, at the time, if it was remotely similar to real Swedish Punsch. But, that didn’t prevent me from making a Biffy Cocktail with it!
1/4 Lemon Juice (3/4 ounce Lemon Juice)
1/4 Swedish Punch (3/4 ounce homemade)
1/2 Dry Gin (1 1/2 Ounce Plymouth Gin)
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.
But, here’s the problem.
As I did more research about Arrack, I discovered that the Sri Lankan Arrack that Darcy had sent me is altogether different from Batavia Arrack. Sri Lankan Arrack is made by distilling Palm Wine.
The Batavia Arrack that Jerry Thomas is calling for, and that is used in Swedish Punch, is made in Indonesia and distilled from fermented Sugar Cane. It is basically a Rum. However, for a rum, it is unusual in that its fermentation is started with the addition of fermented red rice, giving it a hint of the unusual flavors, (for a Westerner,) that you find in Sake and some distilled Asian spirits.
The Biffy was tasty with my liqueur. If I’d had Batavia Arrack, I would have been making Swedish Punch. But with Sri Lankan Arrack, what I’d made wasn’t Swedish Punch.
This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.