The velvet glove — Chatham Artillery Punch

From Cold Glass on Aug 31, 2013

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Are you ready to take on one of the grandest, and most insidious, punches of all?

It’s whiskey, brandy, rum, and Champagne all bundled up together. The result is Chatham Artillery Punch, a tricksy and seductive charmer—an iron fist in a velvet glove.

David Wondrich, in Punch! (2010), says the earliest account of the making of Chatham Artillery Punch is from an 1885 article in the Augusta Chronicle. The Chronicle reported that sometime in the 1850s, Savannah’s Chatham Artillery Regiment hosted a “welcome home” banquet for another Savannah regiment, the Republican Blues. These regiments, being as much social as military organizations, took their regimental banquets quite seriously; in this case, a fellow named A. H. Luce designed a punch just for this occasion.

Chatham Artillery Punch, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

Chatham Artillery Punch

Wondrich has called the resulting mix “utterly devastating.” As the Chronicle reported, “…Rumor hath it that every solitary man of the Blues was put under the table by this deceiving, diabolical and most delightful compound.”

The quick version of Chatham Artillery Punch

Punches are socializers by intent, so most recipes generate gallons of the stuff—ingredients are measured by the bottle, not by the ounce. Making one or two glasses at a time requires a bit of math, but it’s well worth the trouble, as we’ve seen previously with Philadelphia Fish House Punch.

Here’s the quick, single serving formula for Chatham Artillery Punch:

Chatham Artillery Punch
(single serving, quick version)
  • ½–⅔ oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz Demerara syrup
  • 1 oz bourbon or rye (Sazerac rye, Weller Antique 107 bourbon)
  • 1 oz Cognac (Remy Martin VSOP)
  • 1 oz dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Estate 12, Myers’s Original Dark)
  • 2–3 oz Champagne (Chandon, Roederer)

Shake all ingredients (except the Champagne) with ice. Pour, with ice, into serving glass. Add Champagne to top up the glass. Adjust sweetness as needed. Grate nutmeg over the top.

The first time I saw this recipe, with three spirits, plus Champagne, I thought of those double-dog-dare-you things we made as kids, with all the flavors of soda and Kool-Aid we could find, thrown together in one vile mix. Or, worse yet, Long Island Iced Tea.

As it turns out, Artillery Punch’s blend-everything approach works very well, if you pick the right spirits. There is the nutmeg nose, the champagne sparkle as it hits your tongue, a jolt of lemon, then gradually revealed layers of whiskey and cognac, finally all given over to the rum at the end.

Chandon cork for Chatham Artillery Punch, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.The rum is the key ingredient in this Punch, and is the thing that can throw it out of balance. Champagne is a fine blender, and gives Chatham Artillery an elegance and lightness that is completely at odds with some of the big hogo-laden rums (I’m thinking of Smith and Cross—I love it in the rustic Fish House Punch, but it’s all out of balance here.) You want to use a Jamaican rum with a fairly refined flavor profile. I recommend Appleton 12; the widely available Myers’s Dark works nicely, too.

I find that rye whiskey is a good choice, but use your favorite bourbon or rye to start with, and adjust from there.

The nutmeg should always be fresh-grated; it’s more than just a traditional garnish—it provides the initial scent as you lift the drink.

The slow version: oleo-saccharum

If you decide ahead of time that Punch is on your agenda, you might want to try a different approach with the lemon and sugar: oleo-saccharum.

Oleo-saccharum—“oil-sugar”—is the product of muddling lemon peels with sugar. Given an hour or two, the moisture and oils released from the lemon peel begin to saturate and dissolve the sugar. The result is a lush, sugary lemon sludge.

Making the shrub, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

Making the “shrub”

Add lemon juice to finish dissolving the sugar, and the result is an astonishing lemonade, historically known as “shrub” or “sherbet.” It’s the traditional source of sweet and sour components of Punch.

Chatham Artillery Punch
(single serving, traditional version)Shrub:
  • peel of ½ lemon (just the yellow, not the white pith)
  • 4 tsp (15g) finely ground sugar (sometimes called “baker’s” or “castor” sugar)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice

Muddle the sugar and lemon peels, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes; muddle again, cover, and set aside for at least another 30 minutes. Add lemon juice to dissolve the sugar. (Add a bit of water if needed.) Strain and set liquid shrub aside.

Punch:

  • 1 oz shrub (above)
  • 1 oz bourbon or rye (Sazerac rye, Weller Antique 107 bourbon)
  • 1 oz Cognac (Remy Martin VSOP)
  • 1 oz dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Estate 12, Myers’s Original Dark)
  • 2–3 oz Champagne (Chandon, Roederer)

Shake all ingredients (except the Champagne) with ice. Pour, with ice, into serving glass. Add Champagne to top up the glass. Adjust sweetness as needed. Grate nutmeg over the top.

The fine sugar is sometimes called baker’s sugar or castor sugar. I recommend it here because it dissolves much more readily than the larger sugars.

If you take this traditional approach, you may as well make up a large batch of shrub. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, and it’s nice to have if the punch whim strikes.

Is oleo-saccharum worth the extra time and effort? I think so. The lemon prepared this way seems less tart than in the simple, “quick” method, and integrates better into the overall combination. The quick version has a more pronounced lemon profile, and seems both brighter and more tart than the version prepared with the oleo-saccharum. I have no explanation for this, but it’s the main reason I cut back the fresh lemon a bit in the “quick” recipe. I recommend that you try it both ways, and decide for yourself if the flavor improvement of the traditional method is worth it to you.

So there you have the Chatham Artillery Punch. There are a couple other recipes floating around—Wondrich himself published a version in Imbibe! that was mainly a champagne punch, doctored with sweet wine, rum, tea, and various fruit juices. Apparently it is served with floating chunks of pineapple and other fruits. I don’t know how or if the original recipe evolved into the fruited version; perhaps they are just two unrelated punches, served at different times, depending on the events at hand.

I don’t much like the idea of chunks of fruit floating about in my drinks. One cherry in my Manhattan is okay. Half the fruit bowl, no. I’m sticking with Mr. Luce and his simple, elegant, and flavorful antebellum Chatham Artillery Punch.


“The velvet glove — Chatham Artillery Punch” at cold-glass.com : All text and photos Copyright © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

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