DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Swedish Punsch

Prohibition did more than inspire an HBO gangster drama about how Steve Buscemi is rich and sleeps with showgirls while people get shot. Making booze illegal changed the way America drank, banishing a lot of popular ingredients to obscurity. One of the cocktail casualties was Swedish Punsch, a liqueur made with citrus, spices, rum, and a southeastern Asian liquor made with sugar cane and red rice called Batavia Arrack.

Swedish Punsch started as a grog to make sailors shut up during spice-hunting trips for the Swedish East India Company, but it soon became the hot thing for fancy rich people to drink because consuming imported things showed everyone how fancy and rich they were.

Being neither rich nor fancy (nor Swedish, for that matter), I hadn't tried Swedish Punsch until last year, when I asked a trusted bartender to surprise me and he slid a Diki Diki my way. It's a simple, three-ingredient cocktail made with Calvados (1 1/2 ounces), Swedish Punsch (half an ounce) and fresh grapefruit juice (3/4 ounce), but it had such an unusual flavor that I had to have another. It was sweet without being too sweet and had surprising savory and spicy notes. That complexity came from the Swedish Punsch.

What's Available to Buy?

Kronen Swedish Punsch is now available in the States for about $35, but this is a recent development. If your liquor store is the type to carry obscure ingredients, you can pick it up locally. However, most people will have to order it online. If you want to order from Europe at a higher price (or if you have a foreign friend willing to grab some for you), there's also Carlshamns Flaggpunsch, Cederlunds Caloric, and Facile Punsch.

Why DIY?

Originally, Swedish Punsch was a DIY endeavor—punch is just mixing a bunch of ingredients together, after all. Making your own is really embracing the true sea-faring adventurer nature of Swedish Punsch. If you live in the US and want to buy Swedish Punsch, you pretty much have only one choice: Kronen, which can be tricky to track down. And, at the risk of offending hardcore Swedish Punsch enthusiasts, it's just not something most people will use that often. So in addition to the fun of brewing up your own Swedish sailor grog, DIY is more practical than dropping 35 bucks on a hard-to-find ingredient.

The problem with DIY Swedish Punsch is that the main ingredient, Batavia Arrack, is just as hard to get a hold of as pre-made Swedish Punsch. If the only reason you're buying arrack is to make punsch, then you might as well just buy Swedish Punsch. In fact, the same importer that brings Kronen Swedish Punsch to the States also distributes Batavia Arrack van Oosten (aka The One Kind of Arrack You'll Find in the US). There are other uses for Arrack, though, such as The Defend Arrack, the St. Bruno Swizzle, and the Batavia Arrack Flip made with Cynar and Batavia Arrack.

But if you can't or don't want to buy that bottle of Batavia Arrack, fear not. I wouldn't be writing this post if I hadn't found a way to make a delicious DIY Swedish Punsch. I found that cachaça is a truly satisfying replacement for the traditional arrack-rum mixture—and cachaça's a lot easier to track down. As you may recall, cachaça is a Brazilian spirit made with fermented and distilled sugarcane juice, and it has the funkiness with sweet undertones that gives Swedish Punsch its unique taste. If you're a purist who will get the vapors from making a recipe that isn't 100% authentic, you can make this recipe with a combination of 1 part Batavia arrack and 1 part Jamaican gold rum instead of cachaça. As far as the spices go, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, green tea, and black tea are all fair game.

Use It!

Diki Diki is the drink that introduced me to Swedish Punsch, and it's by far the best cocktail I've ever had using this liqueur. But the traditional way to drink Swedish Punsch is warmed and served alongside pea soup. That didn't exactly catch on here in the States, but you can sip punsch straight—over ice or warmed (add a little lemon juice or a few lemon slices, if you like things tart like I do).

On a cold day, you can make a Swedish Hot Buttered Rum by mixing about 2 ounces of punsch with 1 tablespoon of Hot Buttered Rum Batter and then topping with hot water.

If you really want to use your Swedish Punsch to its full potential, flip through the Savoy Cocktail Book or Barflies and Cocktails to find out how this ingredient was used before Prohibition made it all but disappear. You'll find complicated little numbers like the Welcome Stranger made with gin, brandy, grenadine, and orange juice or the simpler Biffy Cocktail, which is equal parts Swedish Punsch, lemon juice, and gin. In the spirit of these classics is the Modern Cocktail No. 2, which is similar to the Welcome Stranger only with scotch and absinthe for a smokier, more herbal drink.