Last night, I posted a recipe for Canadian Punch from 1935. I suggested that the combination – Canadian whisky, rum, sugar, pineapple, lemon – would produce a smooth but potent number.
A punch-up it was but under the Queensbury Rules so to speak. The Canadian whisky, mixed with rum 4:1, would have been the approachable blended rye Americans had come to love in the parched 1920s. Canadian Club or one of the Seagram brands would have been the preferred type without a doubt.
If Canada had by then acquired in general its reputation for politesse and restraint, this punch would have exemplified that to a t.
It all makes sense, except for one thing. Virtually the same recipe existed in 1862, a time when Canadian whisky was a more unruly fellow. A very similar recipe can be found in Jerry Thomas’ landmark book of that year entitled How To Mix Drinks, Or The Bon-Vivant`s Companion. The Thomas recipe differs little from G. Selmer Fougner’s, and there is every reason to think G. Selmer simply recast it for his 1935 book. (Nothing unusual in that, as for food recipes, cocktails books, especially in an earlier time, often relied on previous publications for ideas).
The idea that rum filled out – flavoured – a fairly bland whisky doesn’t work for 1862. As Tanya Lynn MacKinnon documented in 2000 in her superb study of Ontario`s whisky industry from inceptions to 1900, Canadian whisky c. 1860 was still in process of development. It was the product of one distillation, either in a primitive multi-chambered wood still or the original pot still. The congener-laden run was given a douse in a vat of wood charcoal (as Jack Daniel’s still gets today), and aged perhaps a month or two, at most a year.
This was vigorous, young whisky, probably quite similar to many craft whiskies and the youngest bourbon and straight rye of the large distillers today.
Mixing that with rum – even if the rum tasted like, say, Captain Morgan, which is debatable – would have produced a feisty drink. No Queensbury manual regulated that affair, it was more a melee or free-for-all. Of course the lemon, pineapple, and sugar would have ordered things a bit. Indeed that is the way of punch, and cocktails, where you mix disparate elements and come up with a new and inviting taste.
The Canadian Punch made both ways surely would taste quite different. I invite those interested to try, let me know the results. I may take a shot at it … of it, myself, over the holidays.
But there’s another thing. Jerry Thomas advised to use approximately twice the amount of water Fougner did. So Thomas’ version was less alcoholic by about half. The more you dilute any mixture, the more inoffensive it will taste. Even if liquor on average was stronger in 1862 than 1935, Thomas’s confection would have been less potent. But the bigger flavour of the 1862 whisky might have evened the difference, for the taste anyway.
Two ways to pick a fight. Take your pick.