Canada’s most prominent contribution to the history of mixology is the Bloody Caesar, a Clamato-fueled variation on the Bloody Mary discovered, or at least popularized, by bartender Walter Chell at the Calgary Inn in Alberta.
In addition, there’s the Canadian Cocktail offered by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin in his 1916 “Recipes for Mixed Drinks”: orange Curaçao, dashed with Jamaican rum and lemon juice. That one made it into the iconic “Savoy Cocktail Book,” so some people have actually heard of it.
Beyond that, there was a Toronto with whisky and Fernet-Branca, and a Vancouver with gin, dry vermouth and Benedictine, both of which had a bit of traction back in the 1930s, and we can’t forget the still-omnipresent (in Canada, anyway) Rye and Ginger. Not a poor tipple in the bunch, yet none of them could really be said to stand in the top rank of mixed drinks—although I like a Caesar or three every now and then, and that Vancouver ain’t bad.
Reaching further into the dark backward of time, however, we pull out one Canadian—or perhaps “Canadian”—elixir that is not only delicious but also fits perfectly with the low-key, sensible charm of our northern neighbor, all without using obvious gimmicks like splashing maple syrup everywhere.
That drink is Canadian Punch, a strong, simple and ridiculously tasty potion that appears in both Jerry Thomas’ seminal 1862 “The Bon Vivant’s Companion” and the 1869 "Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual" published by Jesse Haney & Co., respectively the first and second extant cocktail books in America.
I don’t know what its actual connection to Canada is, if any. (It may, for all we know, have been christened after the Canadian River, which flows southeast from Colorado and ends up somewhere in Oklahoma.) But a bowl of Canadian Punch has such a pleasant, though firm, way of massaging a group of strangers into a party with a purpose (i.e. to drink more Canadian Punch) that I have to believe it’s genuine.
- 16 ounces rye whiskey
- 8 ounces Smith & Cross traditional Jamaica rum
- 3 lemons, sliced thinly
- 1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into half-inch rings
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 5 cups water
- 1 quart-sized ice block (fill a quart bowl with water and freeze overnight)
- Garnish: grated nutmeg
Serves about 24.
Combine the whiskey, rum, and lemon and pineapple slices in a punch bowl and let stand for at least 3 hours (overnight is best).
Dissolve the sugar in the water and stir into the whiskey mixture.
Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
To serve, slide the ice block into the bowl and grate about a quarter of a whole nutmeg over the top.
Ladle 3-ounce servings into punch cups.