Being the resident cocktail nerd in my family means that at holiday gatherings, you will inevitably find me stuck behind a bar, mixing drinks to order. While I am happy to share my love of cocktails during the holidays, I rarely get the opportunity to mingle or just relax. This holiday I aim to change that, but I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of beverages served to my guests. Enter party punch queen, Naomi Schimek, who reigns as Beverage Director at The Spare Room in Hollywood, a gamers’ paradise with a two-lane bowling alley inside the bar. Patrons are encouraged to enjoy a bowl of punch while they take in a game of chess, cards, or backgammon, depending on their fancy.
A 20-year veteran behind the bar, Naomi suggests a Cognac punch with Darjeeling tea and persimmon. The persimmons give the punch a lovely fall color and create a delicious autumnal pair with the light dusting of cinnamon atop. Punches have many layers of flavor that emanate from the bitterness of the tea and citrus rinds to the sweetness of the fruit juices, and are further accentuated by the delicate honey of Cognac. Naomi chose Cognac Park as her Cognac, “a young spirit of exceptional quality made by Distillerie Tessendier et Fils in the heart of Cognac, France. This particular marque highlights the style of its house: elegance with pure character. Very fruity, bright cognac with luminous honey color.” If you are in Los Angeles, you can purchase Cognac Park at K&L Wine Merchants on Sunset and Vine. And if this particular brand is not available, any Cognac will do.
If you choose, this particular punch is lovely with chilled champagne added before garnishing. If you are very busy preparing a large Thanksgiving dinner, you can certainly make the base one or two days in advance and refrigerate until ready to serve.
You can also make your own punch ice blocks at home: Fill a round quart-sized Tupperware with distilled water, lock the lid on to keep out other aromas and place your freezer overnight. The persimmon garnish sits right on top of the ice mold for a beautiful presentation.
by Naomi Schimek (The Spare Room)
Serves 8-12 people
.75 cups sugar
1 whole rind red organic grapefruit
1 whole rind organic lemon
16 oz. strong Darjeeling tea, cooled
10 oz. fresh-pressed persimmon juice
6 oz. grapefruit juice
4 oz. lemon juice
8 drops best quality vanilla extract
2 dashes Dram Citrus Bitters
16 oz. Cognac Park V.S.
fresh cinnamon stick
1 persimmon, sliced horizontally
Muddle the grapefruit and lemon rinds into the sugar and set aside for 30 minutes so the sugar may extract the essential oils from the citrus peels. (Here are some tips for making an oleo saccharum or my 6 second version on Vine.) Reserve the fruit for juicing. Then add the tea and stir to dissolve sugar. Add the next six ingredients and, using a large cobbler or airtight plastic container, shake to emulsify. Serve in a medium sized punchbowl over a block of ice and stir for a few minutes to dilute and chill.
Garnish with persimmon slices and fresh grated cinnamon.
I’ll leave you with a few parting words from the father of mixology, Jerry Thomas:
“[Punch] is a very agreeable refreshment on a cold night, but should be used in moderation; the strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.”
So, should you be quadrilling this Thanksgiving, be sure to tipple carefully.