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 pleasant here, 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 acceptable 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). .

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.