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Punch and Rum — the Doctor Cocktail

Doctor Cocktail (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The hallmark ingredient of the Doctor Cocktail is Swedish Punch, a liqueur that tastes very much like a sweetened Jamaican rum, with caramel, molasses and plenty of leathery “hogo” at the forefront, and faint notes of smoke, spice and fruit.

That hogo—the pecular earthiness often found in Jamaican rums—comes as no surprise: the Punch’s main component is Batavia-Arrack, an Indonesian rice and sugar cane rum famous for its heavy flavors. (Arrack is also the primary spirit that fueled the Punch bowls of 17th- and 18th-century Europe and England.)

The earliest reference to the Doctor Cocktail is Hugo Ensslin’s, from his 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ensslin’s recipe, just a jigger of Cedarlund’s Swedish Punch and the juice of a lime, is crudely simple—a proto-Doctor, perhaps—and suggests that he didn’t put a lot of thought into it, but tossed off perhaps as a promotion for Cedarlund.

Robert Vermeire evolved the formula as the “Doctor’s Cocktail” in 1922. Calling for “Caloric Punch” (a term often used in early recipes to specify what is now almost universally called Swedish Punch), Vermeire dropped the heavy portion of lime in favor the lighter flavors of lemon and orange, and the modern version of the cocktail began to take shape.

The most important evolution of the Doctor appeared after Prohibition, when Frank Meier added rum to the mix. In his Artistry of Mixing Drinks (1936), he describes the Doctor Cocktail as equal parts Swedish Punch and Bacardi, with a teaspoon each of lemon and orange.

The Doctor Cocktail, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The Doctor Cocktail

If Meier hadn’t done it, “Trader Vic” Bergeron almost certainly would have; in fact, the Doctor acquired its fully modern form thanks to Bergeron, who did what seemed to come naturally to him—he substituted a dose of dark Jamaican rum for the lighter Bacardi.

In his 1947 Bartenders Guide, Bergeron records it thus:

Doctor Cocktail

  • 1½ oz Swedish Punch (Kronan Swedish Punsch)
  • ¾ oz  Jamaican Rum (Smith & Cross, Myers’s)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp orange juice
Shake well with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Variations: Substitute the juice of ½ lime for lemon and orange juice. Equal parts rum and Swedish Punch may be used.

…and, as Ensslin admonishes us, “serve very cold.”

The Smith & Cross rum is an excellent choice for the Doctor; it has a similar flavor profile to the Swedish Punch, and its elevated ABV helps it stand up to the Punch’s assertiveness. Less hogo-laden, but very pleasant in this drink, are Myers’s and Appleton 12.

I’ve seen recipes that take Bergeron up on his suggested substitution of lime for the lemon and orange. Lime makes an OK Doctor, but I prefer to stay with the lemon-orange plan—the flavors blend more smoothly with the softer juices, and offer a refreshing alternative to the standard rum-and-lime combination.

Kronan (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.As far as I know, Kronan is the only Swedish Punch (or “Punsch,” as they prefer to spell it) commercially available in the US. It only recently became available in my region; my pleasure in finding it in my liquor store is the thing that inspired me to try the Doctor in the first place.

But if your local supplier doesn’t have it, you’re still not out of luck. It turns out to be pretty easy to make the Punch yourself—if you have access to Batavia-Arrack (it comes from Haus Alpenz, the same outfit that imports Kronan). There is a well-regarded recipe for a version of Swedish Punch at Eric Ellestad’s SavoyStomp; it makes a large pot of punch, but is easily scaled to size.

The Doctor serves as a fine reminder that it pays to experiment. In this case, the drink evolved from rudimentary and clunky to elegant and lush. Instead of the rum-and-lime cliché, it is a sophisticated combination of flavors that doesn’t follow the expected course.


20 Responses to “Punch and Rum — the Doctor Cocktail”

  1. beyondanomie

    This sounds right up my street, and not just because it matches my profession. The flavours all sound excellent together. I have a feeling that I’ve seen a swedish punch sold somewhere here, but it sounded so outlandish that I never thought to try it.

    Reply
  2. mylatinnotebook

    Sounds like the ideal summer drink! The Swedish Punch might be a challenge to get around my parts.

    Incidentally, I thought of your blog the other day when reading a NYT article by Jacques Pepin on Julia Child. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/15/dining/jacques-pepin-recalls-friendship-with-julia-child.html?pagewanted=all). In it, he recalls a trip to Julia’s house and having Paul Child make what Pepin called ‘a reverse Manhattan:’ “It is made mostly with sweet red vermouth, a wedge of lime or lemon and a couple of tablespoons of bourbon. ”

    Not quite sure where the reverse comes in though….

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      The idea that someone would think of me and my blog as they read an article in the NYT—especially an article by and about two of my favorite inspirations—is something that takes me quite aback. It stopped me cold as I read through these comments. Very uplifting, thank you for letting me know.

      As for the “reverse” Manhattan, I would say it comes from switching the roles of the whiskey and vermouth. It’s normally served as a bit of vermouth in lots of whiskey; Paul Child’s was a bit of whiskey in lots of vermouth. I love the traditional Manhattan, but I’ll have to give this “reversed” version a try.

      Thanks!

      Reply
      • mylatinnotebook

        I hope that’s ‘stopped me cold’ in a good way? Just a testimony to how much I enjoy the blog, especially on those days when there is nothing I would like more than to be sitting in the upstairs restaurant in St Pancras Station (London), sipping a Thursday or Friday late afternoon cocktail (usually vodka martini for me)after work with husband/friends/colleagues, but can’t. ‘Cold Glass’ provides me with a magical virtual cocktail hour.

        Regarding RM, don’t know if I could stand all that vermouth myself, and manhattans remind me (in a good way) of lunches when I was a kid with my grandmother and her friends, definitely not Sex and the City!

        Reply
        • Doug Ford

          A “magical virtual cocktail hour,” I like the idea. I prefer the non-virtual type, but what a pleasant concept.

          Now, about your grandmother—Manhattans for lunch? I think I would have liked your grandmother very much.

  3. theboolion

    I didn’t realise Punsch was ‘Hogo’. That’s my favourite flavour these days.Love agricole, and my Cachaca is one fo the cheapest bottles I own, and also one of the tastiest. Gotta get me some Punsch and whip up a Doctor Ccoktail.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      I didn’t realize it, either, so my first sip on bringing it home was quite a revelation. I imagine you’ll enjoy the Doctor.

      Reply
  4. putneyfarm

    A tasty drink…we got some Swedish Punch a while back and this was one of the first drinks we tried. Great photo and glassware…Do you mind telling us where you got the glass?

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photo. Alas! that I’m no help with the glass—it came from a local antiques and collectibles shop, so I don’t even know the name of the maker.

      Reply
  5. Krister Nynabb

    Interesting. Punsch has fallen out of flavour in mainstream Swedish society, but is still big at formal dinners at the oldest universities and engineering schools. There it is served ice cold to accompany very strong drip coffee. While waiting to be served the guest sings a song in anticipation.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Krister— that’s a fascinating account, and suggests that Punsch has become more of a passé, perhaps nostalgic, formal ritual among the Swedes, rather than a mainstream refreshment? It reminds me that many of the great punches had their origin in large social gatherings, and particularly as “regimental” punches; Chatham Artillery Punch is one of the famous ones that I should write up one of these days.

      Thank you for adding the video to your comment. In addition to being both enlightening and entertaining, it also has the honor of being the first video posted at Cold Glass!

      Reply
  6. scot

    So, I decided to try a comparison between your version of the Doctor Cocktail and that of the version i have come to know from the my cocktail books. The “Vintage Cocktail..” book version i have come to love over the past months has that dryness and booziness I love. However, the version you posted intrigued me. Partly because I had a bowl of oranges.

    The major difference i found in your lemon and orange vs. lime version is a mellow and sweet taste compared to the version i’m used to. While i do like your version, i have to say it comes across as almost a “diet” version of the punsch/rum/lime version i’m used to. Ironically much sweeter, but also less intense.

    Swedish punsch has a very dry and strong overpowering taste that may turn off those new to the world of craft cocktails, but those who have fumbled around making cocktails at home may have already acquired a taste for it’s distinctive and unmistakeable flavor.

    While this version is delicious and maybe more suitable for some, the lime version really brings out the taste of the punsch AND the rum (i go back and forth with Meyers dark and Smith & Cross, depending on where I am and which cabinet I am fishing out of…)

    just my humble opinion…

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      First off: my apologies, Scot, for overlooking your comment for two (!) months.

      I think it’s really fun that you went to the effort to compare this recipe to your favorite from Vintage Cocktails. There was nothing for it, of course, but to duplicate your experiment—someone has to do the dirty work.

      (For those who haven’t read Ted Haigh’s Vintage Cocktails, the recipe he recommends is: 2 parts Jamaican rum to one part Punch and one part lime juice, garnished with a lime twist.)

      The results were thought provoking. I hadn’t had a Doctor for a while, so I came to it relatively fresh. On this review, the original recipe (above) seems very sweet—almost as though Trader Vic had reversed the Swedish Punch and the rum in his recipe. No way to know, I guess; some recipes emphasize the Punch, some don’t.

      So I also did the experiment that you almost certainly tried: I made two Doctors according to the Haigh formula, one with the original lime portion, and the other substituting lemon and orange. The results were much as you described: the lime version was bright and aggressive, sort of a Daiquiri with something in it; the lemon/orange version was a bit softer, a bit more lush, with the flavors of the Punch coming forward a bit more recognizably.

      Perhaps my tastes have changed, or perhaps I’m more of a rum lover than I was when I originally wrote that article. Whatever the cause, I consider both of the rum-dominated versions superior.

      I sense a return visit from the Doctor coming on…

      Thanks for commenting, and for starting me down this learning path again.

      Reply
  7. scotro72

    Isn’t it funny how tastes change…i have since been trying to perfect my Dr Cocktail recipe. What I liked a year ago and posted on my blog doesn’t do it for me now. I have since been back and forth between Smith & Cross, Meyers, and El Dorado 5 as well as Kronan. Carlshamms Flaggpunsch (which I bought back from the UK this summer) and my own homemade versions of SP, which have varied in degrees of success. Only the Aviation commands such attention from me in the quest for perfection. Love your blog and make every drink as you post it and often refer to your “back issues” when I’m looking to have some fun…
    Happy Holidays

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      I think evolution of taste is one of the most educational aspects of cocktailing. I often find, as you have, that when I go back to a drink that I haven’t made for a while, that I change it from the finely tuned proportions that I published. It’s usually centered around my sense of sweet and sour, but sometimes it has as much to do with the spirits themselves. And sometimes the changes are bigger yet—when I started this blog, I was mostly a gin guy; it turns out that now I’m a whiskey and rum guy. Self-discovery never ends, I guess.

      I’m delighted that Cold Glass is useful; thanks for letting me know. (And now you’ve reminded me that I want to try my hand at making Swedish Punsch.)

      Reply
  8. Alex Orr

    I may have to try your variation. I just made this using Ted Haigh’s recipe in “Vintage Spirits” and was a bit letdown. 2:1:1 ratio of rum:punsch:lime juice yields a drink that is far to lime dominant and actually manages to lose a good deal of the charms of both the punsch and rum. It’s not awful, and actually becomes a bit better as it warms somewhat, but I think your recipe sounds better.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      I agree about the lime, it can be pretty aggressive. I think of this as a rum (!) drink, and a light touch with citrus is well advised. You characterize it well, that this drink is about rum and Swedish Punsch. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      Reply

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