We’ve all seen how my namesake feels about Punch.
Moving a bit closer to home, and away from classical times, we see what Baltimore’s barkeeps are stirring up with the P-funk. A truly classic mixture for a city with a truly American heritage, Punch is shaping to be the drink of the summer. With the recent “Sailabration” of the War of 1812, a colonial essence is still wafting over the city, and the combination of oleo-saccharum and the devil’s elixir carry it far and wide. Maybe you’ll find it in a city or picnic near you soon?
“Taverns played a little-known but vital role as an important center of community life and activity…
Two forms of the early American tavern were closely modeled on English institutions and were found exclusively in urban settings: the city tavern and the coffee house…
Tavern activities in the city establishments were centered around economic life, everyday business transactions, mercantile exchange, and events such as auctions of goods, property, and slaves; city officials frequently held their meetings in taverns…
Small taverns were clustered along the docks of…port cities; catered to transient seamen or day laborers…” - - Text from Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers by Kym S. Rice
Ice and cocktails go hand in hand. The sling, the sans bitters precursor to the cocktail, was a combination of spirit, water, sweet, and sour. Water may enter a mixed drink in its fluid form, as with a couple drops added to scotch to release the essence of its flavor. But more often, water’s frozen friend is utilized — ice.
Ice brings rhythm to the cocktail world, helping to “wake up the spirit” inside shakers. Many savvy cocktail bars have instituted their own ice program, cutting blocks by hand, mallet, and pick. Machinery also comes into play, with KOLD-DRAFT machines and specialty ice-sphere machines creating harder, purer ice that won’t screw up the delicate balance in today’s craft cocktails. A slower melting ice cube
also helps with the dilution of your cocktail — allowing just enough water to help with the alcohol absorption into your system, while not drowning your scotch.
Some products would stop here, but ice strives for more, truly earning the “S” on its chest. It also shares a basic role — to keep food from going bad. In colonial times, way before the days of machines that produce 65mm ice spheres for the low cost of 650 pounds sterling, ice was relied upon to keep that 8 billion pounds of crab you bagged on your fishing trip cool enough to make crab cakes for a while. But since Frigidaire wasn’t in business yet, where did people store the ice?
Naturally, they’d want to keep it close to the chest. Back then, if you couldn’t hold it at your home, your local tavern was just as good. Ice wells were prevalent, like the one above that was kept at an Alexandria, VA tavern frequented by a whiskey distiller. It’s been mostly covered up by a couple centuries of transportation infrastructure and urbanization, but there are enough reveals to tacitly show the history of its usage. Quite the congenial way to display technological ties to our past, no?
We are a pious people but a proud one too, aware of a noble lineage and a great inheritance. Let us candidly admit that there are shameful blemishes on the American past, of which by far the worst is rum. Nevertheless we have improved man’s lot and enriched his civilization with rye, bourbon, and the martini cocktail. In all history has any other nation done so much? Not by two-thirds.
…look nearer home, at the Indians….they were an engaging people whose trust we repaid with atrocious cruelties….They evoke both pity and dismay: north of Mexico they never learned to make a fermented beverage, still less a distilled one. Concede that they had ingenuity and by means of it achieved a marvel: they took a couple of wild grasses and bred them up to corn. But what did they do with corn?…They threw the spoiled stuff out for the birds, angrily reproaching their supernaturals, and never knew that the supernaturals had given them a mash.
The Americans got no help from heaven or the saints but they knew what to do with corn."
— Bernard DeVoto, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto