Arrack Punch – Recipe from Jerry Tomas’ ‘Bon Vivants Companion’

IN making rack punch, you ought to put two glasses (wineglasses) of rum to three of arrack. A good deal of sugar is required; but sweetening, after all, must be left to taste. Lemons and limes are also matter of palate, but two lemons are enough for the above quantity; put then an equal quantity of water — i.e., not five but six to allow for the lemon juice, and you have a very pretty three tumblers of punch.

Arrack is a distillate found in the Indian sub-continent literally worlds apart from the European anise flavoured Arak. Arrack is also one of the oldest spirits in the world and predates vodka in Poland and whiskey in the UK. There is a belief that production of these later spirits was learnt from Asian production of arrack.

The Arrack we have at Goat comes from Sri Lanka and is made from the sap from unopened coconut palm flowers. Toddy tappers move from palm top to palm top on ropes looking like a forest of tightrope walkers tapping the liquid from the flowers a little like how you harvest maple syrup, with a single tree yielding up to 2 litres per day. This sap is loaded with natural yeasts and sugar so readily ferments and is then distilled. This is quite a niche Asian product and found its way into Europe as merchant ships stopped off on the way to and from the spice islands in Malaysia and Indonesia centuries ago to replenish their dwindling booze stocks on board for the long journey. I like weird spirits, and this is damn good. We initially had it in the building for a punch we served in the Chelsea Prayer Room, but people get scared off from drinks with strange spirits inside so selling it is a bit of an uphill battle.

Its interesting to see that it was so globally popular that it made its way to the US, which in the 1800’s was a far cry away from sweltering Sri Lanka. And ‘Rack Punch’ was huge, being punch of choice in many a punch house spread all over the known world.

Reducing JT’s recipe, it’s basically a daiquiri, a mix of rum and arrack, then sugar and citrus to taste, I decided to crown it with a little nutmeg as a nod to those initial merchantmen from the British East India company on there way to the nutmeg islands who loaded up on arrack on every voyage out to the far east. It’s a very nice drink, and I think something I might start plying daiquiri drinkers with.