The Jerry Thomas Experiment: Sweet Berry Wine!
Every week, we tackle the weirdest recipe we can find in Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide. Turns out they did things differently back then.
We were drawn to this week’s subject, the Non-Such Punch, by its unusual month-long aging time. We couldn’t fathom what a month in glass would do to this Sangria variant, but we were ready to learn. In typical 19th century usage, “non-such” refers to something unique or one-of-a-kind. “One-of-a-kind,” of course, is not synonymous with “good.”
The recipe for Non-Such Punch is similar to Claret Cup Punch, an archaic English Sangria variant that adds sherry and has its fruit strained out before serving.
While Brother Thomas often provides florid descriptions of preparation styles and service suggestions, his instructions for Non-Such punch are strikingly minimalist. Most of it, in fact, is summed up in a single word, “take,” along with the ingredient list. As in...
Take 6 bottles of claret, 6 bottles of soda-water, 1 bottle of brandy, 1 bottle of sherry, ½ pint of green tea, juice of three lemons, ½ of a pineapple cut up in small pieces.
We took “take” in this instance to mean “mix together in a large receptacle. The rest of the recipe is short and sweet...
Sweeten with white sugar to taste. Strain and bottle immediately. Keep for one month before using. Ice before serving.
Simple enough. Claret is a general term for Bordeaux wine. Soda water is readily obtainable. For brandy we used Pierre Ferrand Grand Cru Cognac. We went with Lustau Amontillado “Los Arcos’ Extra Dry Reserve for our sherry, hoping its bright, honeyed acidic notes would cut what we guessed would be a very sweet punch.
Then we added a pint of Genmaicha (a Japanese green tea which contains toasted rice to gives it a malty finish), along with three lemons and half a cut-up pineapple.
We were the proud owners of a giant purple tub of punch with a vividly sweet, violet-tinged aroma.
We knew it was supposed to sit and age, but we couldn’t resist a taste. After waking from our diabetic comas, we resolved that this punch needed no additional sugar. Instead, we put our faith in JT that time in the bottle would magically transform this weak sweet-berry-wine into something vaguely palatable.
After straining our syrupy concoction and decanting it into swing-top, sealable glass bottles, we hid them under a desk. We worried somewhat that the punch might go through a secondary fermentation and explode from the pressure, sending glass shrapnel into our unsuspecting shins. This is simply the kind of anxiety one must learn to tolerate if one wishes to participate in the Jerry Thomas Experiment.
30 days later, a calendar reminder shook us from our reverie. It was time to plumb the mysteries of Non-Such Punch. We donned safety glasses in case the pressure inside proved overwhelming, lodged a thumb under the wire of one of the swing-tops and pushed, wincing in fear of our impending doom.
It might have been the most underwhelming moment of the Jerry Thomas Experiment thus far. Our initial sighs of relief quickly decayed into disappointment. No one prays for a disaster, but they sure do make good stories.
After the non-eventful opening, we poured out some liquid. No signs of mold or contamination—so far so good. Time to take a sip.
It was still liquid candy. The only difference from when we bottled the stuff was that it had lost its fizz. The lack of change makes sense, as we didn’t add any yeast to stimulate fermentation, and glass is inert and does not impart any additional flavors to whatever is put in it (precisely the reason it is used for storing finished liquor).
But there is a place for everything in this big beautiful cocktail world of ours (well, almost everything). Though some might consider it blasphemy, we decided that Jerry Thomas must have made a typo. We’re convinced he didn’t actually mean to name this stuff Non-Such Punch. He meant to call it Non-Such Syrup. After all, it is unlike any syrup we have ever had.
While we constructed several cocktails with it, our favorite was the Some-Such Cooler, which features Non-Such Syrup, lemon juice, fresh slices of muddled cucumber, Amontillado sherry, a few hefty dashes of bitters, topped with bone-dry sparkling wine. Poured over a giant ice cube, it’s an utterly delightful, entirely sui generis quaff.