Nothing enhances a signature drink like having a story to tell about it. Often, the story involves a sense of place, historical lore or local legends. Here are a few examples.
Serving Southern heirloom punch in Chicago: You don’t have to live in the South to experience cocktails in the Southern tradition. At Big Jones in Chicago, Chef Paul Fehribach’s menu features Southern heirloom cuisine. The cocktail menu includes two vintage punches. One of them, Chatham Artillery Punch ($10), is a recipe adapted from Southern food and beverage writer Eugene Walter (1921-1998), via a Savannah socialite. It combines the flavors of citrus, green tea, rum, bourbon, brandy, gin, white wine and champagne.
As Fehribach tells it, his first taste of Chatham Artillery Punch was at a Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, served from a large cedar tub in a batch mixed by cocktail historian David Wondrich. “After reading The Happy Table of Eugene Walter, a collection of many of his recipes for entertaining,” Fehribach says, “I came across his receipt for the same punch, which he received by way of a Savannah Socialite named Henrietta Waring. The origins of the punch are murky, but by the late 19th century it was quite famous, especially for being the very libation that knocked Admiral Dewey out cold during his 1890s visit to Savannah.”
Fehribach’s modifications to Eugene Walter’s drink recipe include using anejo rum in place of dark rum, and oleo-saccharum (sugared citrus oil) rather than steeping whole juiced lemons. Fehribach also suggests using Muscadine or Scuppernong white wine that is not too sweet.
“Be careful when serving this punch,” Fehribach adds. “Its potency is legendary and it will live up to its reputation.”
Toasting the Blue Ridge Mountains: At Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville, NC, Chef Brian Sonoskus offers new Southern cuisine and adds a culinary twist to North Carolina traditional food and drink. The restaurant spotlights three Bloody Marys—The Moonshine Mary, the Tupelo Honey Scratch-Made Bloody Mary and the Queen Mary. For the latter variation on the classic cocktail, Sonoskus uses roasted yellow tomatoes and moonshine to reflect the heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Queen Mary ($14) is a 20-ounce extravaganza that might double as an appetizer with lemon, lime, pickled okra, pimento cheese-stuffed olives, grilled shrimp, maple pepper bacon, celery and pickled jalapeno garnishes.
Blending brandy and fruit in New Orleans: Regional and seasonal cocktails at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans include the Belle Epoque ($13) ratafia cocktail made with an infusion of brandy and fruit. Traditional ratafia recipes call for adding fruit to a stone crock, then covering it with brandy and allowing it to steep for at least six months. Sommelier Matthew W. Allen says in plantation country, ratafia was made with seasonal fruits. After the Civil War, when ingredients were scarce, Louisiana fruits of choice included Mayhaw berries, muscadine grapes, Anna apples, local persimmons and berries.
Chef John Folse notes, “We always use local fruits and traditional recipes when making our ratafia at R’evolution.”