of punch are born

A new article in collaboration between ebarman, Stir The Flow and Riccardo Marinelli.

The ships loaded with lemons, pineapple and Pisco passed through Peru, Mexico and San Diego arriving in San Francisco for The Bank Exchange Billiard Saloon bartenders. We can’t be sure that the drink found its bases among the sailors of the ship who could have tasted it in drinks during the stops made or thanks to the bartenders of the saloon, but the fact remains that the Pisco Punch was born and became the most drunk drink of the rich and famous people of the period.

The original recipe was secret and in turn had a secret ingredient, and it remained secret until 1941 when the following recipe was found in a letter:

  1. Cut a ripe pineapple into 1-inch squares and place in bowl of gum syrup to soak overnight. This both flavours the gum syrup and when strained produces sugar coated pineapple cubes with which to garnish each glass of Pisco Punch.
  2. In the morning mix the following in a large container.

–           ½ pint (8oz) of the pineapple flavoured gum syrup

–           1 pint (16oz) of distilled water

–           ¾ pint (10oz) of lemon juice

–           1 bottle (24oz) of Peruvian Pisco.

It was said that the secret ingredient was cocaine. At that time, however, there was Mariani Wine, a Bordeaux, which was also called “cocaine” because it was infused with coca leaves and it was thought that wine could be the secret ingredient.

With the death of Duncan Nicol who brought with him the secret recipe in 1926 (and found again as mentioned in 1941) and the subsequent advent of Prohibitionism, Pisco Punch was no longer available and consequently lost its fame.

The punch was a drink made with what was available and so we can see that over time it has undergone different influences given by the periods. For reasons of political influences, or navigation and therefore transport, over the years the market has seen the trade of Brandy, Pisco, Whiskey, Gin and consequently we find several recipes with different spirits.

Gin Punch was made with raspberry syrup, sugar, water, Holland Gin/Jenever, lemon juice and pieces of orange and pineapple, but found its popularity in 1830 thanks to the ”Punch del Collins” made no longer in bowls, but in glasses. John Collins, in fact, created his own version of Gin Punch, made with Holland Gin used in that period, which began to take root in England and then became famous in Canada and then in America in 1850 without ever leaving a written record; it was precisely this oil motive for which the traces of Collins Punch were lost.

In 1876 Jerry Thomas in his Bartender’s Guide transcribed the recipe for Punch, but he became Tom Collins because it was no longer prepared with Jenever, but with Old Tom Gin that saw its exponential growth in that period.

The Tom Collins, however, more ‘than a drink in itself, became a way of drinking the distillate with lemon juice, sugar and soda as we find in Jerry Thomas’ book several recipes with the name of Tom Collins associated with different distillates.

The years bring innovations and after the evolution of Punch with the Collins family of John and Tom will be born many descendants that will give a structure to this category that consists of drinking an alcoholic base with lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water defined in 1948 by David Embury ”a lemonade”.

The multiplication of the Punch’ therefore led to the birth of new heirs starting from the Fix that appeared in 1856 in Canada. This category appears in all the ancient recipe books described as a way distilled and liqueurs with fruit juices and sugar, served on finely crushed ice and garnished with fruit. After reading it on the menu of a saloon we will find it for the first time in a recipe book in 1862, always thanks to Jerry Thomas, who describes it as a ”Fancy Sour” (as we will see Fixes and Sours were born at the same time) and maybe that’s why he lost track of it:

Jerry Thomas has published the first known recipes for both fixes and sours.  If his recipes were to be considered representative of a wider practice in his time, it would be assumed that the fixes and sours were initially as diluted as a normal punch, but much less harsh.  There is a half glass of water added to his doses (not counting ice).  There is also only a quart of lemon in the whole drink.

The above book was published after the death of Jerry Thomas.  It was published by Dick and Fitzgerald, who had been Jerry Thomas’ publishers.  The passage at the beginning of page 110 begins with: “Let us give the following…”.  The proof is that Dick and Fitzgerald compiled and revised the book partly from Jerry Thomas’ work, partly from other sources, and partly from their own additions.  Compared to Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, Dick and Fitzgerald’s source indicates much less water (just “a little” to dissolve), and twice as much lemon juice.

As can be seen above, William Boothby’s fixes and sours in 1891 contained twice as much lemon juice as Jerry Thomas’ book, and four times as much as Jerry Thomas’ original book.  Boothby’s fixes are a kind of return to the past because they contained a considerable amount of water – something we could only be sure of if we knew the volume of his “punch glass”.  In Boothby’s Sour, however, he uses only a splash of water to dissolve the sugar.

Kappeler’s 1895 Apple Brandy Sour is modern in the sense that it uses sugar syrup and does not add water (not counting ice).  But it is a return to the past that uses only a quart of lemon – as Thomas did in 1862.  Apart from ice, Herrick and Harland’s 1905 Whiskey Fix is almost waterless.  It is made only with “a little water” to melt the sugar.

Grohusko’s 1910 Whiskey Fix contains no water (except ice) and is an example of a fix that became completely “short” in the pre-prohibition era.  The only thing not completely modern about this type of fix is that it is built-and-stirred into the serving container instead of being shaken separately with ice and then filtered on fresh ice in the tumbler.

The trend of fixes and sours was that before prohibition they were becoming completely sour (as any other type of punch could be) and completely “short” (unlike other types of punch).

In 1882 Harry Johnson published his Bartender’s Manual and we find 4 different versions of fixes, which changed the structure of the sugar with pineapple syrup to the initial one, and in 1887 Jerry Thomas remixed this recipe by adding liquor dash or Curacao.

Both the above fixes are made fancy by being at least partially sweetened with flavoured syrup.  A fair number of pre-prohibition drink authors have made all their fixes fancy.  This has led some of them, looking back at their books, to conclude that fancy sweeteners were the defining characteristic of pre-prohibition fixes.  Some modern sources even speculate specifically about pineapple syrup.  The multitude of simple fixes from the whole pre-prohibition era presented in the previous section of this article should silence this concept.  As mentioned before, the only feature they all have in common is that they are served with ice in the drink (as opposed to sours, which are not).

Kappeler’s Apple Brandy Fix is fanciful but made with Curaçao rather than pineapple syrup.  Note that Kappeler is still watering down this fix like others in his time.  It would still take fifteen years before the first recipe of the fix we know of was published without more water than ice.  Other fixes before prohibition were fancy Chartreuse liquor – but many were completely ordinary.  No special terminology seems to have ever emerged to describe fancy fixes.

This style was overshadowed by the contemporary birth of sours and as already mentioned, traces of it were lost, but thinking about it we can say that an example of our day’s Fix could be the Bramble. From 1860 to 1960 the Sour was one of the strongest categories of American drinking together with the Highball thanks to their simplicity and flexibility. Jerry Thomas in fact said that the sour consisted in the same way of a fix, with the difference that the fruit was not used, but only lemon juice; these, at that time, were prepared without the egg white that we find today that was then integrated in 1922 by Robert Vermiere who improved the consistency and said “few drops of egg white improve all sours”.

An important innovation was to cover the Whiskey Sour with a layer of red wine (float) that was called ”Claret snap” that became after Prohibition what we know as New York Sour.

The sour, however, lacked vitality, was designed to be a drink for mass production, but if we add sparkling water the simplicity of the sour evolves. The secret of who prepared the Gin Punch was just this as it is represented for the John Collins.

In the next article we will talk about the history of Fizz cocktails and how Flip was born.

Thanks for the collaboration of ebarman and Riccardo Marinelli