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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's all true.

It’s true. It’s the multi-belief-system holiday season again. Time to reflect/give gifts/remember/get revenge/blow people up, as one’s personal-yet-codified dogma dictates. One thing is for certain, though, as was so eloquently expressed by our liege, J. Mailander, there’s punch.

Hogarth\'s Midnight Modern Conversation (detail)

One of the best explanations of the overriding importance of punch is in this book: “Mixologist; The Journal of the American Cocktail.” In it, David Wondrich, Esquire Magazine’s drink maven, takes us through what punch was when punch was king, and what punch was, was pretty specific. Punch had (and meant) five ingredients. This would’ve been around, oh, the 1630s. The five ingredients were: citrus fruit, cane sugar, water, spice, and number five: arrack. Of these, in Europe, all were arcane except water. Now, all are common except arrack. Arrack, while strange to Western ears, is a name well known in the Middle East. It’s an anise-flavored spirit, and an acquired taste. In the 17th century, it was mainly just a word for liquor.

A hundred years later, punch was the monarch of drinks, and monarchs drank it – as did everyone, from cups ladled from large bowls just as we’d expect. They even upended the bowls in a traditional round robin toast of greeting and kinship. And punch could be served hot or cold as the season dictated. By now, however, the arrack in the best punches had become more specific, and the best of it was known as Batavia Arrack, an odd combo of rum distilled with fermented Javanese rice. This was obviously close kin to rum but it had a better reputation owing to the Dutch influence (they were instrumental, through their colonizing, in its European introduction) and to it’s use in the trendiest punches. Sophisticates went to great lengths to distinguish their punches from anything containing rumbullion. As with all things, eventually punch’s star declined. This happened as it always does – through the chemical process of bastardization. First, of course, they’d sneak rum in. Just in time for Gin Lane, well looky, it’s a gin punch. And hot whiskey punch was the direct ancestor to the Hot Toddy, Mr. Wondrich posits.

As punch became old-hat, more than just the ingredients were bowdlerized too. The extended-family conviviality of the punch bowl gave way to the greatest outrage of all: the single serving punch. Oh, flasks of brandy, mugs of beer, spiced mugs of hot beer presented with a fireplace poker, were served singly, but punch…punch was the glue that bound society together, and it was coming apart. Religious reactionaries will speak of the dissolution of the nuclear family and point to liberal, evolutionary, immoral, secular ideas as the culprit. Historians and sociologists who are a little more thoughtful nod toward the Industrial Revolution and the tight packing of human beings into steamy terrariums called “cities.”

In fact, it was punch. The dissolution of the family began when punch ceased, in the main, to be shared. The slow, incremental movement of focus from the communal to the individual began here.

The offspring of the single serving punch was, of course, the cocktail.

By the time the first cocktail recipes saw print in 1862, punch still abounded as an also-ran. It became a thing of events, commemorations, and holidays. It has, today, turned into a chimera, inhabiting the silhouette of punch but really being something else, something less. No one takes punch seriously anymore.

The punch I served lucky guests at Casa de Cocktail was a rum punch from the early 19th century that, with slight variations, was christened “Columbian Punch” in 1893 to honor the quadricentennial-plus-one-year of Columbus’ New World frolic. The year-late World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois was the first World’s Fair. The punch was this:

Columbian Punch*

1 quart of Jamaican rum,
1 pint of brandy,
the juice of 2 lemons and 2 oranges,
1 pint of freshly brewed oolong tea,
2 sherry glasses (4 oz.) of green Chartreuse.
Sweeten this mixture to taste,
pour into a large punch bowl,
add ice (a bag of ice from the store is about right)
and pour in a quart of Champagne (750ml is fine)
Stir and ladle.
(*) From “Beverages And Sandwiches For Your Husband’s Friends”
by One Who Knows. ©1893.

It was a serious punch and a fleeting glimpse at the fine thing punch once was.

Happy multi-belief-system holiday everyone!
The elves are weeping.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Fruit of the Dead.

OK, so you’re dead, and Charon is ferrying you across the river Styx to your new digs on the Isle of the Dead,. Kinda thirsty? Have we got the thing for you! It’s pomegranate, the official Olympic Committee-sanctioned Fruit of the Dead, and hoo hah it’s popular.

Pom, the newish juice wunderkind has given good old morbid moribund pomegranates a new lease on death, errr…life. Suddenly the pomegranate is cool, and we see this reflected in products and marketing, thanks to Pom.

What you may not know, if you are woefully undereducated, is that the great classic use of pomegranates for at least the last couple hundred years is in grenadine. In fact, the word “grenadine” is French diminutive for “pomegranate” like “Yo! The Pomster!”

Now, if you feel you are experiencing a cultural disconnect, your Doctor is not surprised. You thought they’d taken all the surplus cheap cough syrup at the bottom of the vat (not the good druggy kind) and bottled it with a grenadine label. .Of course you did. Almost all grenadines of current manufacture contain little if any real pomegranate juice or syrup. Some of the better ones like Fee Brothers American Beauty Grenadine contain a commercially produced pomegranate extract, but the popular-by-default Rose’s Grenadine contains no pomegranate at all; they told me.

Given this state of affairs, there’s little question why grenadine is considered merely a sweet colorant for chick drinks. Of course, with the phoenix-like ascension of Pom, you can just imagine what nifty things are happening in the grenadine industry can’t you? You can’t? That’s because NOTHING is happening. Oh, Sonoma Syrup Company is producing a wonderful “pomegranate simple syrup,” and it and they are definitely up-and-coming. What makes this not a grenadine? Honey doll, you’ve got me. Maybe the grenadine moniker has been so devalued by crap that the name has no value anymore, or maybe Sonoma just wants the name to tie into all their other syrup products. Regardless, theirs is my current choice for quality cocktails calling for grenadine – and these cocktails stand proudest with real tart/sweet pomegranate flavor. To this I might add that Angostura makes a grenadine with real pomegranate flavor which is semi-hard to find, and that Trader Vic’s makes a very passable one also. These and Fee Brothers are all quite acceptable (unlike Rose’s or the local bar brand) but the Sonoma product is a cut above, cowardly naming convention or not.

To test it in a real drink (as opposed to the ones merely requiring a sweet colorant) try a Jack Rose.

1-1/2 oz. Applejack
Juice of 1/2 a lime (say about 3/4 oz.)
And 2 or 3 dashes of Sonoma “don’t call me grenadine” pomegranate simple syrup.
Shake in an iced cocktail shaker
Strain into a chilled, stemmed cocktail glass.

Now that is good.

As I said, despite grenadine’s exile from the party, pomegranate is the new kicky thing, so when I received a liquor company offering of a box set of Pama, a red pomegranate liqueur in a sleek designer bottle nestled in red confetti beside a red cocktail shaker, well, I was excited as one can get over pomegranates. I mean years ago they used to put about 1.5 to 3% alcohol in some grenadines and that’s what you’d call preservative-strength alcohol. Maybe, just maybe they were taking the next logical step and making a grenadine liqueur, as it were. That is, until I read the cover letter. Pomegranate liqueur, blended with “imported Tequila and super-premium Vodka.” I immediately wanted to triangulate my way to any handy vomit bags.

Well. Twas only fair to taste it. It….was good. It was good just like I would hope a grenadine liqueur would be. Note well, marketing staff – note well brand managers…it was good in spite of the Tequila and the vodka (the flavors of which were entirely undetectable.) Ergo, except for bragging rights they could’ve saved their vodka/Tequila money, used grain neutral spirits (which is exactly what vodka is, minus a little charcoal filtration) and sunk their money into a mammoth product launch. It’s 34 proof. Water, and sugar will smooth those rough edges.

Note to brain trust: Look. At. Pom. As is, the money line is and will be: “This pomegranate liqueur is honestly pomegranate-flavored, well balanced, and persuasively packaged. It ought to be a hit and I recommend it as an alternative to grenadine in drinks that call for that.” Mainly, combining winning trends may sound good in a meeting but be wasteful in what you need to accomplish for your product. As is, when it appears in limited release you should try it. You could probably even cut Sonoma Syrup’s Pomegranate Simple Syrup with it for a balance between sweet/thick/strong/thin.

Consider it Your Doctor’s prescription.

Monday, December 5, 2005

A Cocktail Dictionary

Translations for the Trade

Alcohol: A foul-tasting byproduct of trendy (which see) drink creation.

ATF: John Law with a speech impediment; a mean drunk (which see).

Bartenders are all using….: Barkeeps without pesky scruples being paid by the brand marketing dept. as shills to promote your trendy (which see) product (which see) in a new (which see) beverage.

Blank-blank cocktail news story: (vis: “drug cocktail,” “biodefense cocktail,” “Molotov cocktail.”) Reportage of any mixture of chemicals to create a desired effect for an intended purpose; see trendy and promo.

Champagne: Like spackling compound, a light sanding, and a new coat of paint.

Classic: Served in stemware (which see).

Cocktail bling: See schmuck

Cocktail revival: Served in stemware (which see).

Colorful cocktail(s): Cool (which see) new (which see) classic (which see) yet trendy (which see) drink you’re bound to love (which see).

Cool: Idiotic.

Drinking less but better: You’re raising prices across the board.

Drink responsibly: A benediction at the foot of all product (which see) advertising; (vis: “Have a good day.”).

Drunk: Noun: Valued product (which see) patron. Verb: See drink responsibly.

Enchant, enchanting: Girly drink (which see).

Ewww, I don’t like it: You can taste the alcohol (which see); opposite of new (which see) and trendy (which see).

Exclusive: If you’re reading it/getting into it, it’s over.

Girly drink: Any new, (which see) trendy (which see) drink.

Hip, hippest: You’re a writer who wouldn’t know a trend if it bit you on the ass.

‘Ho: The dignified purveyance of your estimable product (which see).

Kicky: Description of a girly drink (which see).

Latest: If you’re reading it/drinking it, it’s over.

Market coverage: Periodicals and websites created and maintained to ‘ho (which see) your product (which see).

Marketing Department: An orgy, on so many levels.

Marketing Rep.: You have a BA in business, it’s all about the ka-ching, so let’s rev up sales (which see) for the trend-setting (which see) product (which see) to which you’ve been summarily assigned. PS: You’re good-looking and horny but (somewhat) selective.

Mmmmph, mmmph, murph, murph, -gak- huuuawwpp: Office party with trendy cocktails.

New, newest: vodka with a diabetes-inducing dose of trendy (which see) liqueur and juice added to it.

Not for everyone: Ouch! What did you do to get assigned to THIS account?

Not just for Margaritas anymore: Another ephemeral attempt to increase Tequila sales by putting it in cocktails no bartender will make.

Popular: Was trendy (which see) but is now trending off (which see) and bartenders just have to suffer through it.

Press Release: Premature ejaculation.

Pricey cocktail: Another idiot is throwing schmuck (which see) in the bottom of an otherwise mediocre drink.

Product: Cowry shells and mirror bits, traded for gold and virgins.

Promo: What’ll it take?

Return of the cocktail: See cocktail revival.

Rev up sales: Big marketing push on this brand – which you’ll drop like a pump n’ dump stock next season.

Schmuck: German for jewelry; American for anyone who buys a pricey cocktail (which see) containing schmuck.

Sophisticated cocktail: “That’s awful; throw some Champagne (which see) into it.”

Stemware: Instant sophistication; often associated with Champagne (which see).

Style: Old hat.

Taking the brand upmarket: You’re not limiting your advertising to the African American and/or Hispanic consumer anymore (on this product).

This product has legs: 1: TWO seasons of revving up sales (which see).
2: Product (which see) has an unexpectedly addictive component. Also see promo.

Trendiest, trendy, trend-setting: This product/cocktail is so superficial it’ll last a week and a half before everyone realizes how wretched it is. See rev up sales.

Trending off: The public has begun to realize it’s swill; the gig’s up.

Vanilla brandy/”Cognac”: You haven’t taken this brand upmarket yet.

Versatile: A word rarely used when describing trendy (which see) cocktail ingredients because even brand marketing reps feel token shame.

What’s old is new again: Beating a dead horse.

Whiskey, cherry: You haven’t taken this brand upmarket yet.

Wow, that was a GREAT drink!: Not an industry term; perhaps a foreign language?

Yapping, trouble-making curmudgeon: See zealot.

You’re bound to love…: This cocktail/liqueur/spirit is so sweet and candy-like a six year old will like it, and you fit the bill.

Zealot: Nut case whose entire worldview is through a glass. Mea culpa.