Conduit Street Punch

So I was looking at a couple of these bottles of “White Whiskey” in my cabinet and thinking to myself, “When on earth will I ever drink this?” Casting about for ways to spare my family the trouble of disposing it after my demise, I got to thinking about the origins of Gin on a base of pot still grain spirit. Then I was reminded that David Wondrich, in his awesome book, “Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl,” remarked that the John Collins was a type of punch.

In fact, Reza Esmaili (now of Long Bar & Bistro) once had a drink on the menu at the late lamented Conduit Restaurant called (I think) the Hanover Collins. It had Genevieve Gin, Lemon Juice, and sugar. When I asked about the name, he got enthusiastic and ran to get his notebook, so he could recite the following excerpt.

My name is John Collins,
head-waiter at Limmer’s,
The corner of Conduit Street,
Hanover Square;
My chief occupation is filling of brimmers,
To solace young gentlemen laden with care.

Supposedly, he informed me, the Collins was named after the head waiter at this particular establishment in honor of his wonderful Gin Punch.

Hm, if the Collins is a Punch, maybe I could use these unaged whiskies to replicate it. A sort of bottled Tom Collins Mix.

Well, why not?

Starting with the methods and proportions from my adaption of Jerry Thomas’ California Milk Punch, we’ll give it a try.

Conduit Street Punch

1 Bottle Tuthilltown Old Gristmill Unaged Corn Whiskey, 750ml
1 Bottle Tuthilltown Hudson Unaged Corn Whiskey, 375ml
1 Bottle Death’s Door White Whiskey, 750ml

.6 oz Juniper Berries, Crushed
1 TBSP Coriander, Crushed
1 tsp Celery Seed, Crushed
1 tsp Anise Seed, Crushed
1 Cassia Cinnamon Stick
6 Green Cardamom Pods, Crushed
1 Long Pepper Pod, Crushed

6 Seville Oranges
4 Lemons
2 Limes

16 oz Water
16 oz Sugar
4 tsp Hubei Silver Tips Tea

1 Quart Straus Farms Milk

Method:
Zest citrus and add zest to Whiskies. Juice Oranges, 2 Lemons, and 2 limes. Strain, and add to aforementioned liquid. Add Spices. Allow to infuse for 48 hours.

Heat water and add tea. Steep 6 minutes and stir in sugar. Strain tea leaves out of syrup and chill.

Strain Peels and Spices out of Liquid. Juice other two lemons and add to Flavored Booze Mixture. Heat milk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Add to Flavored Booze Mixture. Allow to stand undisturbed for 30 minutes and filter through cheesecloth, removing milk solids. Add Tea Syrup to filtered booze mixture and pour into clean containers. Allow to stand for a couple days*. Rack clear liquid off of any accumulated sediment into clean bottles and store. Chill well before serving. Serve on ice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Makes about 3 quarts.

*If you have space in your refrigerator, storing the punch chilled will greatly accelerate the separation of the remaining milk solids from the other liquids.

Well, hm. Tasting this room temperature, last night, after the Milk step, I was struck by two things. First, the Celery Seed was a mistake. It has an unpleasant earthy flavor which distracts from the higher flavors of anise and juniper. Second, this doesn’t taste like it has any booze in it at all.

When I serve my Milk Punches to people, they often remark that they could easily drink a pint glass of them, they are so smooth. I generally discourage that, as, smoothness and drinkability aside, I am pretty sure the alcohol content is up near 25%. And those were the Milk Punches made from rough spirits like Batavia Arrack and Jamaican Rum. This one, made from unaged pot still clear whiskey, is on an another level of smoothness altogether. Is this vaguely herby citrus water or punch?

I’m not convinced this particular Milk Punch is super awesome, I wish I had left out the Celery Seed. But I will bring it along tomorrow night, Feb 27, 2011, for Savoy Night at Alembic Bar. Stop by and ask for a taste, if you are curious. But I recommend caution.

EDIT

So, the celery seed element calmed down a lot after resting, and I have decided this is quite an enjoyable punch. The flavor is very light and somewhat reminiscent of Yellow Chartreuse. While fairly sweet, it has a somewhat dry presentation. It is really good, about 50-50 with chilled soda water, though still produces a pretty potent buzz.

Imbibe!

First, I want to apologize to David Wondrich for not writing up his new book “Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar” before Christmas, depriving him of whatever paltry sales a blog post here will generate. Sorry David.

In any case, the book had been covered so well by such stellar writers as Paul Clarke over at the Cocktail Chronicles, (“IMBIBE! (no, the other one)”,) and Jeff Berry over at Beachbum Berry’s Grog Blog, (“AN EDUCATED THIRST: PROFESSOR JERRY THOMAS, REMIXED”,) that I figured anyone with even a passing interest cocktails would have purchased it before Christmas. Heck, they should have pre-ordered the thing!

Plus, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for many of my friends and family, as they were getting a copy for Christmas whether they wanted one or not.

Recently, though, it has come to my attention that some of my acquaintances (<cough>Rick<cough>) have not yet purchased a copy for themselves.

Now, I know perhaps you are thinking, “Why do I need a book about 19th Century cocktails and bar culture? I can make an Old-Fashioned as well as the next man. There’s nothing else to it, is there?”

Indeed, when I heard that Mr. Wondrich was working on this book, I wondered how he would make such things interesting to those of us already familiar with the subject matter.

The beautiful thing about Mr. Wondrich’s writing is that it is a joy to read. Indeed, I suspect if he applied himself to the subject of paint drying, he could, somehow, bring it to life.

He not only brings the culture of the 19th Century Saloon to vivid life, he provides seemingly endless amusing anecdotes about the cocktails themselves and the characters that created them. Boothby, Schmidt, and especially Thomas all get some time in the sun here.

Indeed, if I have any criticism of the book, it is that it spends too much time on cocktails, and not enough on the colorful characters and histories of the 19th Century. After reading the wonderful first chapter on the the life of Jerry Thomas, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to get down to the business of cocktails, punches, and fancy drinks.

Sigh, I guess, ultimately, it is a cocktail recipe book, after all.

But, lest I also worry about that, Mr. Wondrich’s research and writing about those recipes is thoroughly fascinating and well worth going through. Not to mention, every recipe I have made so far has been outstanding. They may take a bit more work than modern cocktails, but the results are well worth the effort and the instructions impeccable.

Crack open your stingy wallet, mix yourself a drink, enjoy Mr. Wondrich’s prose, and smile.

Full disclosure: After I had pre-ordered a copy of “Imbibe!” the publisher sent me a copy. I didn’t cancel my pre-order, instead giving it to a friend. So, I figure we’re about even.