Cohasset Punch: Chicago’s Own Cocktail

Cohasset is a small town on the coast of Massachusetts, not far from Boston. It can fairly be described as tiny, barely mustering a population of 7500 souls. So how did it come to be the namesake of one of Chicago's signature cocktails?

According to Eric Felten, the drink was created for Victorian-era actor William H. Crane by a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams. Crane was a very successful comedian and would throw lavish parties at his summer house in Cohasset. One year he brought Williams along with him to mix drinks, and it was there that he invented Cohasset Punch.

Williams brought the cocktail back to Chicago with him and began serving it in his bar on Lake Street. It caught on with customers and became one of the town's most popular tipples, a status it maintained until at least the mid-20th century.

CohassetSavvy businessman that he was, Williams kept the recipe secret. When he retired, he sold it to the owners of the Lardner Brothers saloon on West Madison Street. There the cocktail proved so popular that they billed themselves as "Home of Cohasset Punch" and even sold it in bottled form.

Admittedly, it doesn't sound like a delicious concoction. It's a mixture of rum, vermouth and lemon juice, sweetened with the syrup from a can of peaches. (Here's a recipe, circa 1917, from Tom Bullock's The Ideal Bartender. So much for keeping it a secret.)

In 1936, the Chicago Daily Tribune described it as "harmless looking, pleasant tasting." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, although it apparently had plenty of fans. I didn't mix any up to try — I'm not a fan of canned peaches, so we didn't have any in the house — but Felten did and he pronounced the end result "not bad" but "bland."

Through experimentation, he discovered that the drink was improved by reducing the amount of Vermouth and adding a touch of Grand Marnier, the Cognac-based orange liqueur. Here is his recipe:

 

Cohasset Punch
Courtesy of Eric Felten 

1 1/2 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 oz Syrup from Canned Peaches
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
2 Dashes Orange Bitters

Start by putting half a canned peach in the bottom of a saucer champagne glass; then half-fill the glass with shaved ice. Put all the liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass.

 

Recently, Professor Cocktail's Chicago Correspondent, Bob Montgomery, paid a visit to The Drawing Room, one of the city's finer eating and drinking establishments. He discovered there on the menu a drink he knew I'd be interested in: Cohasset Punch #2.

Created by bartender Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee), Cohasset Punch #2 is an updated — improved, I'd say — version of the original drink. Simonis' version still has rum, vermouth and lemon juice, but replaces the canned peach syrup with cinnamon syrup, a change that works very well. (You can see Mathias' recipe and watch a video of him making one here.)

Inspired by his creation, I did some tinkering on my own, playing around with it to find what would best suit my palate. Here's what I came up with:

 

Cohasset Punch #2

2 oz Pyrat XO Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

 

Cohasset_punch

It's a very tasty drink. Big thanks to Mathias and The Drawing Room!

Note: The reason I recommend using Pyrat XO Rum for this cocktail is because Pyrat is a dark rum with pronounced orange accents. You can substitute a different high quality dark rum, but in that case I'd advise adding some orange bitters to the mix. The orange flavor really helps bring it all together. For the Cinnamon Syrup, I used the Sonoma Syrup brand. They make excellent products, and I highly recommend them.

One thought on “Cohasset Punch: Chicago’s Own Cocktail

  1. I recently bought a bottle of Sonoma Olive Syrup, for making dirty martinis (probably my favorite cocktail). Haven’t tried it yet, but I’m glad to hear you recommend the brand.

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