Put the punch in Swedish Punsch
Updated: May 31, 2022
Swedish Punsch has always intrigued me. It’s basically a batched cocktail that adds next level complexity to a separate beloved cocktail recipe. Much of the work is done for you. Do yourself a favor and try Swedish Punch on its own at your earliest convenience.
But what is it?
Well, let’s start at the beginning. Any punch consists of five ingredients: spirit, sugar, citrus, spice/tea, and water.
If you would rather watch an informative video about Swedish Punsch, check out our YouTube channel, Teakwood Tavern:
History of Swedish Punsch
First, the Swedes became particularly smitten with the delightfully extravagant precursor to modern rum, Batavia Arrack. Batavia Arrack brings a complexity of rum flavors along with a fermented red rice funk from its original home of Indonesia. Batavia Arrack is the base spirit used in Swedish Punsch. If you'd like to learn more about this amazing product, please refer to our article on Batavia Arrack.
The Europeans batched beverages for their long ride home from Indonesia. The Swedish in particular mixed Batavia Arrack with demerara sugar, teas and spices from the Jakarta area and shipped this batched beverage home to Sweden.
This concoction was drunk in the early 1700s, just as the punch era was taking hold in other parts of the world, like England and the US. By 1733, the Swedish East India company began importing the red rice and sugarcane from Southeast Asia to start local production of Batavia Arrack. This increase in availability of a base spirit permitted the Swedish population to make their own punsch at home.
Soon a tradition of drinking the punch during or after a nice meal with a cigar began. Punch is often credited as the precursor of the cocktail, long before the Old Fashioned was created. Here’s a shout out to you, Ben Franklin, who is also known for his punch recipe.
By the 1840s, a Swedish wine merchant determined he could lease storage casks beneath the castle of Stockholm and bottle his version of punch to be sold. The prices of luxury items like sugar, spice, and citrus dropped around this time making the price of bottled punch affordable to the general population.
Many other producers followed suit, and punch became an integral part of Swedish tradition to the extent that the language was influenced. There are approximately 80 words derived from Punch, including a punschveranda, a porch designed specifically for the drinking of punch. Yes, please! Even today, special occasions in Sweden will usually be toasted with Punsch.
Swedish Punsch in cocktails
The pre-prohibition cocktail revolution arose from this abundance of worldly liquors thanks to our many immigrants. For example, in the mid-1800s, Swedish immigrants brought their version of punch to the United States. Soon after, cocktail books began referencing Swedish Punsch. There are over 50 recipes for pre-prohibition cocktails utilizing Swedish Punsch.
William Schmidt’s “Fancy Drinks and Popular Beverages” recommends mixing Swedish Punsch with seltzer or Rhine wine and dates back to 1896. Hugo Ensslin’s “Recipe for Mixed Drinks,” which was published in 1916, documented the Doctor Cocktail, a Daiquiri play. The distinguished Harry MacElhone featured many cocktails in his 1923 book, “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails,” including the Diki Diki cocktail. The famous 1930s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” also discusses Swedish Punsch.
Once prohibition hit, Swedish Punsch, like many wonderful spirits and liqueurs, was eliminated from American cocktail culture. Then, in 2012, the Swedish company Kronan brought Swedish Punsch back to the US.
Note: Kronan Swedish Punsch is made with a mix of Indonesian Batavia Arrack and and rum from Jamaica and Port Mourant in Guyana.
Swedish Punsch showcases flavors of allspice, cloves, anise, caramel, and dried citrus. Though it is sweeter than pure rum, the tannin from the baking spices balances it out.
I’ve found it works equally well with whiskeys and gins, which permits easy plays on Daiquiris, Old Fashioned, or Martinis. Try swapping out a portion of your base liquor for Swedish Punch to add a new layer of complexity, but keep in mind it is only 26% ABV.
Twelve Miles out
3/4 oz light rum
3/4 oz Swedish Punsch
3/4 oz Calvados (Apple brandy)
Add all ingredients into a Mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
This cocktail is adapted from the 1930 edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book, which has the drink shaken rather than stirred. Considering the lack of citrus, by today’s standard, it should be stirred.
Waldorf Cocktail #2
1.5 oz dry gin
1.5 oz Kronan Punsch
.5 oz lime juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime twist.
The Waldorf #2 is the second of two versions from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar. It was first recorded in the 1939 Café Royale book and then again in the 1955 United Kingdom Bartender’s book. Originally, the recipe called for 2 parts Swedish Punsch and 1 part gin, but modern day Swedish Punsch is thought to be sweeter than it was in the early 1900s.
If nothing else, feel inspired to drink some punch! Check out acclaimed cocktail historian David Wonrdich’s book, “Punch.” Or find some Batavia Arrack. The same importer who brings us Kronan Swedish Punsch, Haus Alpenz, also imports van Oosten Batavia Arrack.