Friday Night Cocktail: Swedish Punch and the Doctor Cocktail

When working on a homemade cocktail ingredient, I always find it helpful to try someone else’s version first, to establish a basis of comparison, so I know what I’m aiming for.

Take Swedish punch. Despite having read about it many times, I never had the chance to try it until this summer, when I found myself in Seattle’s famous Zig Zag Café and ordered a happy hour-discounted Doctor Cocktail. It was similar to a Daiquiri, but with an edge of spice and smokiness from the Swedish punch. A conversation with the bartender ensued, in which he told me that their Swedish punch was house-made, and that he couldn’t tell me what was in it except “tea and spices.” Between that and my taste memory, I didn’t have a lot to go on in making my own batch.

Fortunately, I had a couple of other sources for ideas, including eGullet, Erik’s Savoy Stomp, and David Wondrich’s book Punch. Recipes vary, but all call for an ingredient that may be hard to find, depending on where you are: Batavia arrack, a rum-like spirit from Indonesia. (And unrelated to the Mediterranean “arak” or “raki,” an anise-flavoured liqueur.) I brought back a bottle on a previous trip to New York, but because it’s not available locally, I combined it in my Swedish Punch with conventional rum to extend my supply and in keeping with some of the recipes I’ve read. If you don’t have access to arrack, you could make a similar punch with Cognac (an extant variation called “Bimbo punch”) or make an all-rum version. Just be sure to use a funky rum, like the Pusser’s I used.

Below is the recipe I used for making my first batch. I find the spices don’t really come through as strongly as I would like, so you might want to add them earlier in the steeping process. (I wanted to err on the side of too weak, rather than too strong.) I also used a Benriner to slice my lemons, which may have liberated a bit too much juice; next time, I’ll just slice them by hand.

How to make Swedish Punch

  • 1/2 cup Batavia arrack
  • 1/2 cup Jamaican rum
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 nutmeg
  • 1 small black cardamom pod
  • 300 ml water
  • 150g raw sugar
  • 2 tsp loose leaf tea (I used oolong)

Combine the arrack, rum and lemons, and let steep for 5.5 hours. Then add the spices and let steep for another half hour. Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil, remove from the heat, add the tea leaves and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the tea steep for 4 minutes, the strain. Strain the arrack-rum-lemon mixture, but do not press on the lemons. Allow it to drain naturally. Combine the tea syrup with the alcohol mixture and bottle. It may develop a sediment after a couple of days; if so, strain again.

How to make a Doctor Cocktail

  • 2 oz. rum (Jamaican or Barbados preferred)
  • 1 oz. Swedish Punch
  • 1 oz. lime juice

Add to a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

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