Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Holiday Punch: Booze, Fruit, Socks, Nylons, And A Dash Of Battle Dirt

The brisk winds and cool temperatures sweeping across Atlanta today reminded me that only a few weeks remain to brew up a delicious Savannah tradition for the coming holidays. I'm sure the old money - and new money wannabes - have already set aside a batch for Christmas, New Year's Eve , and Twelfth Night gatherings. Of course the batch were talking about is Chatham Artillery Punch, by far the city's most historic and memorable beverage.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the so comfortable but long-gone Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf only it was better. Much better. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than enjoying one cup of this wonderful drink among family, friends and colleagues.

I'm sure the ingredients varied over the years depending on what was at hand but the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, Although a 2006 Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch that year we're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week, but one month is better. Careful sampling is permitted to insure the fermentation process is working. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice - anything smaller will dilute the punch -  add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. here is a point - say after two months - at which the punch becomes a lightly fruited rumtopf, a perfect topping for ice cream or bundt. To be honest, I suspect using it in Old Savannah as something other than a beverage would be a sacrilege.

Regardless of how you plan to enjoy Chatham Artillery Punch, know that your expense and anticipation will be rewarded. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

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