Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Mixology, Vol. 13; Batavia Arrack & Swedish Punsch

Posted on: July 23, 2010

We’ve written before about the omnipresence of rum and other cane distillates among sailors as they spread their colonial ambitions to tropical areas around the globe from Cuba to Brazil to the Malay peninsula and Indonesia.  Usually, as far as cocktail history is concerned, these creations involved rum from the West Indies or New England (which was, despite its Puritan origins, an area long-known for its rum production).  But it wasn’t just the Western Hemisphere that got in on the game; a staple of classic pre-Prohibition cocktails was a spirit made from fermented cane sugar and Javanese red rice known as Batavia Arrack (after the colonial name of Jakarta).  First traded by the Dutch East India Company, Batavia Arrack was, until recently, unavailable in the US and the classic cocktails that called for it went unmade.  Given your correspondent’s Dutch-Indonesian ancestry, experimentation with this spirit was compelling for a variety of reasons… despite the Times’s style magazine’s write-up of the spirit as a trendy must-have. Ugg.

Sipped neat, Batavia Arrak is a bit harsh and funky, with pronounced malt and smoke aromas.  It finds its best expression and application, not on its own, but in a punch formulated by Swedish sailors that became the national drink of the land of Volvo and Ikea: Swedish Caloric Punsch.  Given the unexplained and rapidly metastasizing popularity of Swedish crime fiction these days, not to mention the country’s dubious past contributions to global culture, we’ve got to agree with famous travel guide Baedeker that one of the best things about Sweden is the punschThere are commercial versions available, but it’s more fun to make your own.

Homemade Swedish Punsch

180 mL of Batavia Arrack

100 mL of very strong, black tea

135 g of sugar (raw or turbinado sugar works well)

zest of a lemon

ground or cracked cardamom pods, nutmeg, cloves, etc.

Mix all together in a jar, let sit for two days; strain through coffee filter into a clean bottle or jar.

Once you’ve made a batch of punsch, you can make a variety of different cocktails, but so far our favorite is…

Devil’s Leap Cocktail

1 oz. light rum

1 oz. Swedish punsch

1 oz. applejack

Stir in an iced mixing glass; strain into chilled cocktail glass.

While some spirits, e.g. Scotch or bourbon, are the product of distinct local traditions, the fascination of other cocktails, for example those made with Swedish Punsch, is how they materialize otherwise abstract historical and economic forces that have operated globally for centuries.  In this case a bewildering combination of: indigenous tropical ingredients that once defined exotic, enterprising Dutch traders, distillation techniques borrowed from medieval Arabic medicine, Swedish sailors, and late-Nineteenth century American tastes and drinking habits.  Also, you can get a nice buzz.

Drink up,


1 Response to "Frontier Mixology, Vol. 13; Batavia Arrack & Swedish Punsch"

Hmm… the Swedish punsch seems to kick a punch…I do prefer the Swedish tradition of shots…pure vodka or peppermint schanpps,(or similar) ice cold… drowned right before dinner…skål!

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