An Evening in Washington, DC with Dan Searing, Author and Craft Bartender

On October 4 the Museum of the American Cocktail, in cooperation with The Passenger in Washington, DC, held a punch seminar featuring local bartender and entrepreneur Dan Searing, author of the recently published “The Punch Bowl – 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry.” Searing is a founding member and current President of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild and bar manager of Room 11.

Philip Greene, Dan Searing and Gina Chersevani

The seminar was opened by Philip Greene, Founding Member of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Philip welcomed guests, reminding them that the Museum will be sponsoring future events across the nation including another one in DC on December 3 for Repeal Day, marking the passage of the 21st Amendment ending the era of prohibition. Philip also noted that for $35 anyone can become a member of the museum which includes discounts on museum events as well as access to member only information on the museum’s website, as well as discounts on book purchases. Membership also includes a copy of the museum’s special “Pocket Recipe Guide” featuring recipes for nearly 100 classic cocktails.

To warm people up, guests were treated to an appearance by Gina Chersevani, bar manager of PS7’s. She presented the audience with her “Old Faithful” punch featured in Searing’s book (recipe below) which uses bourbon as the base spirit along with elderflower liqueur, pink grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters, sparkling water, mint leaves, grapefruit peel and sugar. For those more familiar with punches made with rum, gin or brandy, the bourbon added a nice depth of oaky flavor while balanced with the sweet and tart grapefruit juice, boosted with the aromatic mint and sweet, floral undertones of the elderflower liqueur.

Donning an impressive kilt, Searing gave some background on his book, his first, which is not only a collection of 50 historic and classic punches but also 25 recipes from bartenders from Washington, DC and throughout the US, including some Searing originals.

“The Punch Bowl” is a great addition to any imbiber’s library. Beginners will love it as it presents the fundamentals of punch-making in a humorous and down-to-earth fashion. Seasoned bartenders will enjoy it as a reference to its many great recipes as well as a pool of innovative ideas that think outside the punch bowl.

The book gives a brief historical overview of the centuries-old tradition, informing readers, for example, that punch was originally derived from the Hindustani word paunch (sometimes also panch), meaning five, which is the traditional number of elements of a punch (sugar, spice, fruit, spirits and water or tea). Punch began as a favorite elixir among sailors from pirates to the British Navy. Once punch reached land in the West its popularity grew from Europe to the Americas, being commonly served at taverns and private celebrations with punch bowls becoming ornate status symbols to show one’s wealth and success.

The book also offers helpful recommendations on proper punch service and techniques such as making your own syrups, garnishes, proper tea steeping, ways to make block ice at home and how much punch to prepare based on the number of guests and how much you anticipate they will drink.

The audience at The Passenger was treated to punches from Searing’s book. He began with Fish House Punch (recipe below) named after the Schuylkill Fishing Company, a men’s club established in what is now part of Philadelphia in 1732 and is still in existence. It has served many historical patrons including George Washington. With its simple recipe, the Fish House Punch is a refreshing citrus-forward drink with fresh lemon and lime juice, balanced out by dark brown sugar, rum and brandy. A great punch for any occasion.

On the other end of the spectrum, Searing served a Cold Claret Punch (recipe below), a red wine-based punch made with Claret, but Searing notes that other full-bodied wines will work just as well. With its use of ingredients such as orange liqueur and cherry brandy, the punch was reminiscent of Swedish glögg or mulled wine.

Evergreen Dazed

As a final punch, Searing treated guests to a new original recipe of his called Evergreen Dazed (punch and cocktail recipe below). He said that it started as an adaptation of Jake Parrott’s Chip Shop Punch from the book, which itself is an adaptation of the Fish House Punch. The name comes from a song by the band Felt, from their first album, Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty.

Searing explained that making punch has many advantages when throwing gatherings in that it can be made in advance with some simple and quick additions right before service such as the adding of ice and sparkling water. Not only is it easy to ladle out portions but has the convenient benefit of guests being able to serve themselves. It can also be an economical way of offering one’s guest a unique and memorable experience. Searing even said that experimenting with punches doesn’t always have to be at home, saying that he often pre-mixes batches, packs them in glass jars, and brings them to parties in lieu of the standard bottle of wine or six-pack of beer.

Searing’s book is a great addition to the growing re-appreciation of a centuries-old tradition. How punch later became what many of us remember as that neon-colored, candy-sweet concoction served at childhood birthday parties or school functions, we may never know. “The Punch Bowl” gives readers an enlightening glimpse into the background and preparation of a drink which once bore great popularity and cultural significance – a custom which is thankfully finding its way home again across the nation.

By Matt Keller

Matt Keller is a Washington, DC resident and writes the blog District Cocktail – A Drinker’s Notes in Capitol City. Twitter: @DCcocktails

Featured recipes from “The Punch Bowl” by Dan Searing:

Old Faithful

From Gina Chersevani, PS7’s, Washington, D.C.

This is an update of an authentic 1830 recipe.  You start with good honest straight Bourbon Whiskey (we used Wild Turkey 101 proof), and add a bit of continental sophistication in the form of newly popular St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and this punch leaps forward into the twenty-first century.  Together these two ingredients form the base of a punch that won’t let you down whether you prefer to look where you’re going or reflect on where you’ve been.

Recipe for 18 to 24 servings

1 cup powdered sugar
1 750-ml bottle Wild Turkey 101 Proof Bourbon
1 2⁄3 cups St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
4 cups pink grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed (about 4 grapefruit)
20  dashes Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
1 750-ml bottle sparkling water
30  mint leaves
20  strips of grapefruit peel

In a large bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, bourbon, and St. Germain until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the pink grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters, and stir to combine.  Top the punch with the mint leaves and grapefruit peels, then stir gently and let the punch sit for about an hour. Immediately before serving add the sparkling water. Ladle into ice-filled glasses.

Fish House Punch

~ Circa 1732 ~

A concoction shrouded in secrecy (and ongoing disagreement about its exact ingredients), this grand old recipe comes from the Schuylkill Fishing Company, one of America’s oldest men’s clubs, originally founded in 1732. Some prominent figures in American history, including George Washington, have enjoyed a glass or two of Fish House Punch at the famous club (which still exists today, though no longer in Schuylkill county). Sip this punch and open a window onto what might have made America’s Founding Fathers feel so very revolutionary.

15 to 20 servings

4  cups freshly squeezed lime juice (about 32 limes)
2  cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 12 lemons)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1  cup Appleton’s Estate Reserve dark rum
2  cups Flor de Cana Extra Dry 4 Year Old white rum
1  cup Pierre Ferrand Cognac
1  block of ice

Pour the lemon and lime juices into a large punch bowl. Add the brown
sugar, and gently stir until dissolved. Slowly add the dark and light rums
and the brandy, stirring constantly. Slowly ease the block of ice into the
punch bowl.  Put the punch bowl into the refrigerator, and chill for 3 hours.
Stir the punch every few hours to help the flavors blend.  When ready to serve, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and, if need be, add more ice.

Cold Claret Punch

From Chafing Dish Recipes, 1896

Claret is the British term for Bordeaux wine, which is generally a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc along with a few other varietals. In the United States the blend is known as Meritage. If you cannot easily put your hands on either, your best bet is to select a jammy, full-bodied wine.

For 10 to 15 servings

1 750-ml bottle Claret, or other Bordeaux-style full-bodied red wine
¾  cup demerara sugar
2  tablespoons Orange Curaçao or other orange liqueur (such as Cointreau)
2  tablespoons kirsch (cherry brandy)
2  cups cold water
3  tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
½  pint cherries, pitted, or preserved cherries
2 tablespoons HUM Botanical Spirit

Pour the Claret into a medium punch bowl, and add the sugar, Curaçao, and kirsch. Stir well. Add the water and the lemon juice, and stir well. Add the cherries, and float a large block of ice in the punch bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes to chill, then serve.

Evergreen Dazed Cocktail

Original Recipe by Dan Searing

1.5 oz. Ridge Silvertip Gin
1 oz. Stone Barn Brandyworks Cranberry Liqueur (may substitute ¾ oz. cranberry syrup for liqueur and simple syrup)
½ oz. Old Sugar Cane & Abe Rum
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
Dash Angostura Bitters

Add ice, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail stem. To serve as a punch multiply ingredients by 16 and add 2 2/3rds cups water. Chill and serve in a bowl with a large ice block.

As always, the Museum of the American Cocktail would like to offer thanks to the generous support of our sponsors for this event, namely:  Wild Turkey 101 Proof Bourbon and Flor de Cana Extra Dry 4 Year Old Rum (from Skyy); Appleton Estate Rums; Pierre Ferrand 1er Cru de Cognac; Plymouth Gin; Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters; and HUM Botanical Liqueur.

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