Two Champagne Punches – or, Jerry Thomas and the Pope
I recently saw a retweet from David Wondrich, in which the original author was calling for a moratorium on punch. More than anything, it disappointed me. After such a long absence, punch is coming back like Robert Downey Jr. – we’re realizing that all the bad press caused us to forget just what we’d been missing. With David Wondrich’s “Punch” – the first authoritative history on the subject ever written – having come out this past November, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of bartenders and blogs are going to be serving up punch for, at least, the near future, and, I hope, much longer. Sure, everyone’s excited right now; it’s the honeymoon period. But, punch, like all worthy drinks, will settle into its rightful place alongside drinking’s other titans, and should you need it, it’ll be there for you. Like on New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s is a time for Champagne, and in all honesty, it’s pretty impossible to improve on a neat glass of bubbly. Pour it, and you’re good to go. But, maybe you want to do something different – something that will let you add that little extra bit of festivity and craftsmanship to your evening, something that you can slyly brag about to your friends, and something that allows you to show off your mixological wizardry to the object(s) of your affection. If any of those scenarios apply to you, well, we’ve got a couple of Champagne punches that will get your New Year’s Eve flowing in the right direction.
Note: When we say Champagne, we mean sparkling of your choice. If you need some advice in this area, please go here.
Jerry Thomas’ Champagne Punch
1 Bottle Champagne
2 oz Sugar
1 Orange Sliced
Juice of 1 Lemon
3 Slices of Pineapple
2 oz Raspberry Syrup (or Grenadine)
In a punch bowl, dissolve the sugar (I like brown, but white will do) in the lemon juice
Slice orange very thinly
Add Champagne, syrup, orange slices, and pineapple to bowl
Stir gently to combine
Garnish with fruits in season
Note: A bottle of Champagne holds approximately 4-6 servings. This can be scaled at will.
Not only is that about as simple as a punch can get, you can tell all your friends that it comes from the great Jerry Thomas himself (via David Wondrich) and the first-ever cocktail book, published in 1862. If such things are not of concern to you and your friends, then simply accept that it is delicious. The raspberry syrup/grenadine really makes it special.
Now, for something a bit more complicated:
1 Whole Lemon
The Rind and Juice of a 2nd Lemon
2 oz Brown Sugar
0.25 tsp Stick Cinnamon
0.25 tsp Whole Cloves plus 12 More
0.25 tsp Whole Allspice
0.25 tsp Whole Mace
1 Pint Water plus Boiling Water
1 Bottle Champagne
Stud one whole lemon with the 12 cloves and roast in the oven at 300° for approximately 2 hours
In a bowl, cover the lemon rind with the sugar, set aside for one hour
In a sauce pan, place all whole spices and the pint of water and boil until the water is reduced in half
Juice the peeled lemon and set juice aside
Cover the remaining, juiced solids of the peeled lemon with boiling water, steep for about 5 minutes
When ready, add the lemon juice to the sugar, followed by 1 oz of the hot “lemon” water
Stir sugar mixture until dissolved
Remove lemon peel from sugar mixture and whole spices from spiced water
When the roasted lemon is ready, combine it with the spiced water and sugar syrup
Allow to cool fully, remove studded lemon, then refrigerate liquid until needed
To serve, combine mixture with the bottle of chilled Champagne
Grate fresh nutmeg over the top
Pope comes to us from Richard Cook’s “Oxford Night Caps: A Collection of Receipts for Making Various Beverages Used in the University” (1827). Pope is an “elevated” variation on Bishop, one of the great British holiday punches. Bishop, or Smoking Bishop as it is often called, is a cornerstone among English Christmas punches (Scrooge invited Bob Cratchit for a bowl), and I really would have liked to include it among our Christmas drinks. But, Bishop is mulled Port, and even though I’ll occasionally bend the 12BB rules for a little Sherry here or there, a full-on Port punch just seemed too far afield to me. Fortunately, “Oxford Night Caps” opens with a slew of variations on Bishop – there’s Lawn Sleeves (Madeira or Sherry), Cider Bishop (as it sounds), Cardinal (red wine), and Pope (Champagne).
The two things to know about Pope are: it’s a lot of work, but it’s not difficult work; and, if you follow the above recipe, the results will be very subtle. If those two statements add up, in your mind, to “a lot of work for little reward”, I won’t argue with you. The joy of Pope is in the process. I loved making this recipe – of integrating the lemon in four different ways (roasted, peeled, juiced, boiled) and of working with whole spices. If you enjoy the tinkering and finessing of cooking, this is one for you. Moreover, I submit that the above recipe also provides a brilliant template with which you can and should tinker to your heart’s content. Up the sweetness, kill off the mace, roast pineapple instead – you get the idea.
If you fish out the spice and lemons before they send the mixture ‘round the bend, Pope will do a nice bottle of sparkling no harm, and its delicate nature will most likely marry best with a delicate Champagne. At first, you’ll wonder if the flavors are actually there – it integrates so well and so subtly with the wine – that you’ll hardly notice. But, you will. And, therein lies the joy of drinking it.
Now, a few considerations to keep in mind when mixing up Champagne punches. Champagne is, without exception, always served cold. If you were to read the Pope recipe in “Oxford Night Caps”, you might assume that the author intends for it to be made hot; he probably did. The English of the time didn’t possess the reverence for Champagne that the French did – an attitude to which an 1866 French pamphlet on punch-making (this tidbit from Wondrich) responds, “do not speak to me of people who would heat sparkling wines. In every age there have been idiots and blasphemers.” On the other side of the spectrum, the addition of ice to your Champagne punch is an equally bad idea – dilution is uncalled for here. Chill all ingredients, refrigerate the bowl, and drink quickly are the best bits of advice. Oh, and skip the flutes in favor of coupes.
Again, come New Year’s, you cannot go wrong with Champagne straight from the bottle. But, anyone can do that. For something a little more exciting that doesn’t leave you tending bar all night, give Champagne punch a whirl – and leave the moratoriums, like the resolutions, for next year.