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Get tipsy with 400 years of Southern booze history in Southern Spirits

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Finally, City Paper contributor Robert Moss has managed to marry his love of booze and his love of history into one single tome — 'Southern Spirits: Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the American South.' Moss's latest book explores everything from madeira to rum, punch to peach brandy. And of course, being the big drinkers that we are, we had to see an excerpt. Here's a sneak peek including one of 40 cocktail recipes in Moss's captivating look at how the South's drinking culture was created. Get your hands on a hard copy this weekend at his book signing at Edmund's Oast.

Charleston Light Dragoon Punch

Just up the coast from Savannah, the Charleston Light Dragoons had a signature punch of their own, and its potent formula achieved its own measure of infamy. Founded in 1791, the Light Dragoons were an elite cavalry unit composed of some of the city's wealthiest residents. The unit had served in the Civil War as Company K of the Fourth Regiment South Carolina Cavalry and saw considerable action. It was right after the Civil War that they first concocted the punch that became the signature of their gatherings.

Many different recipes for Charleston Light Dragoon Punch have been published over the years. The ingredients they all share are whiskey, rum, sugar, lemons, sparkling water, cherries, and ice. Brandy appears in some recipes but not others, as does tea, raspberry cordial, pineapple, oranges, and ginger ale. The earliest version I've been able to find appeared in an odd volume called Favorite Food of Famous Folk (1900), which was compiled by, of all people, the Ladies of the Guild of St. James Parish Church in Pewee Valley, Kentucky. Sarah Barnwell Elliott, a Savannah-born novelist and women's rights advocate, contributed the recipe for Charleston Light Dragoon Punch. Her note accompanying the recipe says simply, "I send you the best punch recipe that I know ... it comes from Charleston, S.C., where they know a good deal about such delightful things."

A few years later, another version was published in a volume called Famous Old Receipts Used for a Hundred Years or More in the Kitchens of the North and South (1908). The author notes that he secured the recipe "through the kindness of Mr. Louis F. Sloan, who now concocts it for all the functions the Dragoons have." Sloan, a cotton broker and commercial merchant, was the unit's designated punch maker in the early 1900s. A good four decades later, John Laurens contributed his version of Charleston Light Dragoon punch to the Junior League's volume Charleston Receipts (1950), and since it's a classic Charleston cookbook that has never been out of print, that recipe has received the widest circulation in recent years.

The ingredients in Sarah Barnwell Elliott's version are similar to those in the Chatham Artillery Punch, starting with a quart each of whiskey, rum, and French brandy along with lemon juice and sugar. To this, though, Elliott adds black tea, maraschino cherries, and, instead of Champagne, it gets its fizziness from Apollinaris water and ginger ale. The Sloan version is a little simpler, with no brandy, tea, or ginger ale. It calls for a whole lot of whiskey (1½ gallons) and a touch of Jamaican rum (just ½ pint), cut 194 Southern Spirits with sugar and lemon juice, plus maraschino cherries, sliced pineapple, and a small tumbler of raspberry cordial for flavoring. Instead of sugar, the 1950 version from John Laurens gets its sweetness from a combination of grenadine, curaçao, and raspberry syrups, and he adds a dose of green tea and orange juice to the mix.

Of the three, the version published in Famous Old Receipts, being attributed directly to Louis Sloan, seems closest to the source, but each version has interesting ingredients that aspiring punch makers could try.

The recipe below is based on Sloan's, with a few mixing details borrowed from John Laurens's version in Charleston Receipts.

Pre-Prohibition Charleston Light Dragoon Punch
Serves 28

5 lemons
½ pound Demerara or
Turbinado sugar
1 cup water
1½ liters rye whiskey (Rittenhouse bottled in bond would do nicely)
250 milliliters (¹⁄³ bottle)
Jamaican rum (such as Appleton V/X)
1 small (10 ounce) jar maraschino cherries
1 can (14 ounce) sliced pineapple
4 ounces raspberry cordial
1½ liters Apollinaris or other sparkling water

Juice the lemons and strain to remove the pulp. Combine the lemon juice, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, remove pan from heat, and allow to cool. Pour lemon and syrup mixture into a large jug or similar container, then add the whiskey, rum, cherries, pineapple, and raspberry cordial, stirring constantly as you add each ingredient to ensure they blend properly. Allow to rest refrigerated at least four days before use, stirring it periodically.

At serving time, place a large block of ice (which you can make by filling a large pan like a loaf pan with water and freezing) in a punch bowl, pour over the punch stock, and add the sparking water. Stir to blend and, if you like, garnish by floating a few very thin slices of lemon on the surface.

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