Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cazuela Punch

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the New York launch for Don Roberto Tequilas. Now, I won't bore you with detailed tasting notes about the tequila itself, that's for other bloggers, but I'll say that they're quite good. More importantly for us at Punch in the Mouth, there was punch! A punch with a story, no less, the best kind.

My friend Junior Merino, a prolific cocktail and tequila expert, was on hand as Don Roberto's mixologist. As one of the signature cocktails, he chose to fall back on the traditional Cazuela. This stuff is as communal as it gets and Junior had a lot good stories about it. You throw a bunch of tequila, citrus, grenadine and grapefruit Jarritos in a traditional earthenware casserole-like bowl and you go to town. Or as the case may be, you go through town. See, in Jalisco and Guadalajara, driving down a dirt road through small farming towns you're likely to see Cazuela stands every few miles. You pull over and you have one of two (awesome) options. Option one: Grab a straw and for a nominal fee (say 5 cents) take a nice long sip. Or, Option two: if you're feeling like you need a bit more, they'll grab a sandwich bag, ladle some Cazuela in, and wrap the whole thing around a straw. Yeah you read that, punch in a bag. A new height has been reached!

It's been a long time since I've seen punch at a tasting, let alone a tequila one!

Pretty awesome stuff, and I'll be writing more about Cazuela punch in the future. In the meantime, I took the liberty of modifying Junior's single-serving recipe to a full punch size. Now, Junior being Junior has a flair for the exotic, so I've also added some alternatives. Hope you enjoy it!

Don Roberto Refresher

20 oz Don Roberto Tequila Reposado
10 oz Grilled Grapefruit Juice
30 oz Jarritos de Toronja (or Squirt for you gringos)
2.5 oz Hibiscus Syrup (Junior makes his own, you can substitute the more traditional grenadine)
2.5 oz Orange Liqueur (Junior used Combier)
5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice

Garnish with slices of Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit Stir ingredients in large bowl, preferably a Cazuela (which can be found pretty cheap). Optionally you may add a pinch of salt or rim a glass in salt (the former being more traditional).

That's a gooeseberry blossom - lots of flair.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Birthday Punch

Ah, punch! -- where to begin?

There's something very powerful about the image of the punchbowl, something anachronistic & very, very deep-set, as though, through long use & some distance, that weighted image has sunk directly into our collective unconscious. The punchbowl calls to mind recollections of gatherings we may or may not have attended, candlelit & rowdy.

A good punch is spellbinding. It summons up forth conviviality, slows time, kindles & rekindles friendships. There's something unmistakably magical about the sound of a ladle darting around a block of ice. Better than the ring of silver of a wine glass, it demands attention -- but in a low-key, continuous, unobtrusive, and irresistible way. It's a patient charm: punch has been around for a very long time.

A good punch is a mystical experience. In a sense, maybe each bowl of punch is every other bowl of punch. Drinking a glass of punch, ladling from the flowing bowl: you're drinking from the One True Punch in one of its many manifestations. When you lift a glass of punch to your mouth, toast the assembled revelers and merry-makers, it's as though you're lifting that glass & toasting each and every drinker through the long parade of punch drinkers, all assembled in some sort of punch-space, punch-time.

A good punch is dangerous. It's silky smooth, and tastes only of the best points of alcohol. Large men, great drinkers, have fallen, unmanned, by too much punch, too quickly. People do the funniest things while punch-drunk: punch intoxicates like a heavy fragrance. It lends a certain unreality to a gathering -- one doesn't doubt those legendary stories of bowls as big as fountains, with child-servers paddling in mini-canoes serving the assembled through the day into the night into the day into the night.

So noted, the Birthday Punch:

A few years ago, in celebration of a birthday, my friends & I set up to whip up a punch: ah, but not just any punch! A Birthday Punch. It began simply (as all great punches do), but quickly escalated into a carefully orchestrated free-for-all. All the great tricks were employed: Batavia Arrack, Angostura & Absinthe, strong rum. Bases split a thousand different ways, complex sweeteners. The zest and juice of a great many citruses. Concocted in a space-age punchbowl of great depth and capacity like some wyrd sisters' cauldron. Iced down with a large block of ice, served surrounded with frozen vessels hewn out of pineapples.

Finished off, at the last, a la cafe brulot: Lemonhart 151 poured down the zest of oranges studded with cloves, ablaze. Hypnotic. The assembled watched in hushed reverence.

Punch was served.

& appropriately, forgotten. Because, of course, punch is the great facilitator: even at its most garish, its most complex, punch calls up a certain atmosphere, and then fades into a very pleasant background, where, one presumes, it sits pleased in itself, fulfilled, burning down like a lamp.

It was a hell of a punch.

Everything in perfect balance and order, all eighteen or so ingredients: enchanting, delicious. & it led to a hell of night. I'm not sure that I could ever recreate that punch, although -- of course -- I dutifully noted its many ingredients & their respective proportions.

I know I've got that recipe around here somewhere. Pardon me while I go look for it.