The first time I made Mississippi Punch was in 2009. I came across the recipe and mixed it up without much consideration for the brands or spirits. I really liked the recipe, but failed to record it. I tried ordering it at a bar in Memphis and was treated to an outstanding mixture of Couvroisier, Oronoco, and Maker’s Mark. But when I tried to reproduce the recipe with the same ingredients, I just couldn’t get it exactly right. I let it go for awhile. In the summer of 2011, I rediscovered it, needing a break from the Tiki recipes I had been working on, but still wanting something that tasted like summer. I started with the Memphis recipe but it still failed me. I decided I would record my brand combinations until I got the recipe exactly right (for my taste buds).
I am using the David Wondrich adaptation of the recipe which calls for only 4 oz of liquor (allegedly, the original recipe could be intrepreted to call for 8 oz).
2 oz Congnac
1 oz Bourbon
1 oz Rum
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 tsp superfine sugar (or using 1/2 oz simple syrup)
7/29/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Old Grand Dad 114, and Wray & Nephew Overproof White Jamaican Rum. My goal with this project was to start with something extreme and overproof spirits seemed like the way to go. The freshness of the Jamaican rum overpowered the other two spirits. It’s possible, however, that such was the intention, but it didn’t work for me, at least not in this combination. The sugar and lemon stayed in the background, where they belong, but I felt the spirits lacked the balance intended in the original recipe.
7/30/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier Exclusif, 10 Cane Rum (Trinidad) and Knob Creek Bourbon. The spirits seemed to be in much better balance. Each could be individually tasted on the tongue but this particular recipe seemed burdoned by the lemon and sugar. I think it needed to be sweeter (disclaimer: I am naturally sweet toothed). I could’ve been a little heavy on the lemon (maybe as much as 3/4 oz) but the drink definitely was more enjoyable than the 7/29/11 batch. I am concluding that the Trinidad rum brought the drink into balance, but I would like to try the same recipe with a rougher Bourbon. I might even consider a sweeter Trinidad rum (like Zaya) in the next batch. I will also switch to muddling the lemons quarters instead of squeezing and using sugar instead of syrup.
7/31/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Zaya Grand Reserve 12 year (Trinidad), and Old Grand Dad 114. Muddling the lemons with a Demerara sugar cube was definitely the way to go, even with having lost some measuring accuracy (I used one half a small ripe lemon – I would guess it yeilded just under an ounce). The flavor of Demerara, lemon and Cognac come strong at the beginning of the drink. The rum picks up the middle and the drink finishes with a slight after taste of Bourbon. Not sure that the Old Granddad was the best choice in this combination. I selected it because Steven (Memphis bartender) had suggested that two sweet liquors needed something rough to balance the drink (hence his choice for Maker’s Mark). The Zaya is a very sweet rum, almost a blackstrap or Demerara flavor and Courvoisier is pretty neutral. I think for my next iteration, I want to swap out the OGD114 for Buffalo Trace.
8/1/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Zaya, and Buffalo Trace. Switching to the Buffalo definitely makes a difference in the drink’s finish. In some ways, we’ve taken a step backward. This is closer to the 7/30 iteration, but I definitely can taste a hallowness at about the 66% mark. Not sure if that’s the end of the rum or the beginning of the bourbon. Unfortunately, I think this means we need to switch the rum. After some poking around on the web, I found Wondrich’s Esquire article that specifically mentions dark rum. Therefore, the right combination to try next is Goslings (not quite Jamaican, but back in that direction) with the Buffalo.
8/2/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Goslings (Bermuda) and Buffalo Trace. Still not as good as the 7/30 combination and the problem still seems to be found somewhere between the rum and the bourbon. Realizing it’s completely inappropriate to change two variables at once, I have a feeling that Smith & Cross Jamaican might go well with the Kirkland Signature Single Barrel Bourbon. The Costco brand is a rougher version of the Knob Creek which may have been the ingredient to keep in the 7/30 recipe. I am beginning to think of this project as a double-elimination tournament bracket. I’ll have to work on that concept. I also decided that with 5 iterations, this entry was ready for publication. I will continue to update and republish the post as the project continues.
8/3/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Smith & Cross (Jamaica), and Kirkland Signature Single Barrel Bourbon. Another change based on the 8/2 recipe is that I added two Demerara sugar cubes when muddling the lemons. I think this is just about perfect. It’s actually better after the ice has had some time to catch up. It’s a bit more Jamaican than I would like, but the flavor tastes as historically accurate as I can surmise from what little I’ve read on the subject. The Kirkland Signature Bourbon is perfect for this recipe. It has the assertion I was seeking when I moved to Old Granddad but still mixes well with the others. I would imagine that moving to an Appleton Estates just might perfect the drink. However, I am not about to allow this post to end without even considering switching brands of Cognac. I am already pretty certain that good Cognac won’t help me here. But I do think I will give Pierre Ferrand a try. I will start with the 20 year, but I would really like to try again with their new bottling of 1840, if for no other reason than its historical significance. But for now, perhaps just one at a time.
8/5/11: Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Appleton Estates 12 year, and Kirkland Signature Single Barrel. Okay, I expected this to be the end-all be-all. It’s not bad, but the Appleton 12 year is simply too light. So much so, I would argue, that the Bourbon is interfering with the Cognac. The rum flavor seems to be almost completely missing. Yes, I can taste it, but only as a complement to the Bourbon. It no longer bridges the Cognac and Whiskey. I am actually considering trying the Brazilian rum (Oronoco), which is sweeter than the Jamaican. After the initial tastes, I added a sprig of mint on the advice of my wife (who tasted it with some Wrigley’s in her mouth). I must say the mint sprint was meant for the drink and complements far better than Raspberries, which was Mr. Wondrich’s suggestion. I may need to add that to the recipe (but all tastes will continue without it, first).
8/6/2011: Recipe made with Courvoisier Exclusif, Ononoco, and Kirkland Signature. The Bourbon definitely stands out in this mixture, whereas the other two blend seamlessly. I am practically back to my 7/30 recipe, but I must say that this particular combination has been the best so far. Now that the first two ingredients are blending well, I may have to try moving back to Knob Creek (or one of the other premium Bourbons) to bring the drink into complete balance.
8/7/2011: Recipe made with Courvoisier Exclusif, Oronoco, and Knob Creek 9 year. Not being one to keep focused and only change one variable at a time in my experiments, I made some modifications to the preparation process. I peeled the lemon before juicing it. I also dropped the Demerara sugar in exchange for pure cane rough cut raw brown sugar cubes. I mixed the peels and cubes until some oils were extracted. Then I added the juice of the lemon and finished the dissolution process of the sugar. The drink was the best I’ve ever experienced. I think I got it. But what’s interesting is that I don’t think it had anything to do with the premium brands of liquor. I think it was all about process. I immediately tested this theory by altering the ingredients and keeping the process. Version 2 included Courvoisier VS, Appleton Estates White Rum, and Maker’s Mark. It would be dishonest to say this was as good as the first, but it was definitely better than many of the other combinations tried and certainly a valid combination as a standard fare cocktail. Though I prefer the sweetness given by the Oronoco, this likely tastes truer to the original recipe.
8/8/2011: Okay, maybe one more contiguous day. Recipe made with Pierre Ferrand 20, Flor de Cana 21, and Woodford Reserve. This is a good drink, but the individual elements compete too much, as would be expected with too many high-end brands in the same drink. As the same time, it seems silly to use one premium with two midgrades. But I said I would do it. In all fairness, it’s really just the Pierre Ferrand that’s causing the problem. It’s taste is dryer than the Courvoisier and dominates over the rum to conflict directly with the Bourbon. I think I could bring back the Exclusif or just the VS and the Nicaraguan rum would do just dandy. Not exactly sure where the Woodford fits in. I don’t feel like I can taste it at all. Maybe it would make a good substitute for either the Knob Creek or the Maker’s from the 8/7 recipes.
8/16/2011: Well, it turns out I might have been missing the most obvious answer. Recipe made with Courvoisier VS, Appleton Estates Dark Rum, and Maker’s Mark. However, the differentiating factor that I hadn’t even considered was the lemon. It turns out, my good friends at Costco Wholesale have found someone in New Zealand that grows Meyer Lemons. That means Meyer Lemons will now be available at Christmas and in August. Very exciting, but back to the punch. When made with the Meyer Lemon, with or without the oleo-saccharum, this is the perfect combination. The Meyer Lemon is just the right balance of sweet and sour. I made a second version with Appleton White and Woodford Reserve for my wife. I think it was even better. After an eight day break, I am certainly once again excited for the experimentation opportunities now afforded me by the Meyer Lemons.