Proposed by: David
Reviewed by: Jonathan
The strange origin story of Cohasset Punch #2 begins with a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams, who was invited to travel to small Cohasset, Massachusetts by William Henry Crane, a popular comic actor of the Victorian period. According to accounts of the day, Chicago loved the actor’s creative use of transformative greasepaint and face prosthetics, and he was a much-demanded and much-lionized figure in Chicago theaters. The association between Williams and Crane was a business matter—to celebrate his success on the Chicago boards properly, Crane needed a bartender he could trust to serve drinks during the infamously large and raucous parties he hosted at his vacation home back east.
It was on this trip that Gus Williams invented Cohasset Punch, a cocktail using canned peaches, rum, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (later Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. The drink started with half a peach at the bottom of a large coupe glass, followed by ice, with the shaken spirit and lemon combination (plus some syrup from the peaches) poured over.
Williams carried his recipe, which he kept secret, back to Chicago, and it became one of the most popular drinks in his bar. Eventually, he sold his formula to The Lardner Brothers Saloon on West Madison Street, which they later adorned with a neon sign reading, “Home of Cohasset Punch.” The Lardner Brothers bottled the drink as well. Despite their efforts to keep Williams’ secret, the drink also became popular—under other names—throughout the city.
By the 1950s, the sign was a curiosity, but for a long time, Chicagoans thought of it as the city’s signature cocktail. As I mentioned last week, it appears in Saul Bellow’s first novel Dangling Man when he describes the quintessential Chicago arts party with spare Swedish furniture, brown carpet, prints of Chagall and Gris, vines on the mantelpiece, and a bowl of Cohasset Punch. I haven’t read the novel, but my understanding is the punch went down much too easily. The evening ended with the hostess haranguing all assembled.
As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I made a Cohasset Punch as it was originally formulated—being a Chicagoan, I sort of had to. However, reviews that described the drink as “pleasant enough” encouraged me to focus on the update, Cohasset Punch #2 created by Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee). The canned peach is gone—it’s so not 21st century, right?—and it adds cinnamon simple syrup, which involves steeping cinnamon sticks in regular simple syrup. You’ll see what Jonathan thought of the cocktail, but I have a spice store near me and bought some Vietnamese cinnamon for the syrup and, wow, it made a spicy and pleasant concoction. Here’s how to make the new and improved Cohasset Punch #2:
2 oz Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup
Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:
The first thing everyone says, or asks, when you tell them the drink of the week is the Cohasset Punch #2 is, “What about #1?” David has described the differences so my simple response of “canned peaches” makes more sense. At least more sense than the other response, “So it could get to the other side.”
It is more than Labor Day as this week and weekend marked the end of summer with a celebration of marriage and the unofficial beginning of fall. My wife and I ended last week at a beautiful family wedding in Charleston and continued the fun at our first tailgate of the college football season in Chapel Hill. The first event was not short on festive parties, but the cocktail had to wait until the latter event to be unveiled.
The other part of the context of this week’s selection needs to come with a qualifier. That qualifier is that I do read books other than those related to libations, spirits, and drinking, but I am currently back on that category of non-fiction. I am reading And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. David’s suggestion of this cocktail came just as I was getting to the chapter related to the era of rum punch, so it seemed to be particularly apt.
There is little question, at least to me, that the best part of this drink is the cinnamon simple syrup, although that may also be why it is not found at more bars. That syrup provides a background taste and sweetness that gives the punch a depth beyond the classic image of punch. Both the orange bitters and lemon twist add to that depth. In fact, the first batch we shared with tailgaters was without the lemon twist, and there was a noticeable improvement when it was added. The drink could have been a little less sweet (maybe a substitute for sweet vermouth), but that may not be in keeping with the whole punch concept. This was the most elegant punch I have ever had, perhaps the only elegant one, and it punctuated the end of summer.
Jonathan’s take: Never doubt the subtlety of the perfect garnish (lemon twist in this case) and what it adds to a drink.
David’s Take: The story might be better than the drink, but cinnamon simple syrup has promise for future cocktails
Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):
The suggestion is to return to the top 100 classics with the Tequila Sunrise. There is a wonderful article on the Huffington Post site by Anneli Rufus reintroducing the drink and providing some new twists available at bars across the country. David will have the opportunity to try one, or more, in person since three of those bars are in Chicago. My plan is to try the Rising Sun created at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Oregon, but I will have to make it myself. Any excuse to make my own grenadine is okay with me though.