A ubiquitous presence in bar menus, Planter’s Punch comes laced with as much history as flavour

Every other day, I get a press note announcing the entry of a new brand of international spirit in the Indian market. And I often catch myself saying, “Not bad!” Often I end up browsing the Net to see what cocktails can be fashioned out of them.

My thrill and curiosity (more thrill than curiosity) has a past, and I am sure it is shared by many among you who turned 18 in the ’90s and didn’t mind a nip of an ‘adult’ drink. Remember how utterly predictable used to be the cocktail lists at our bars those days? Martini, Screw Driver, Bloody Mary, Planter’s Punch and Margarita would more or less complete it. This was largely because most spirits and mixes necessary to concoct many other cocktails were hard to come by.

Now, times have transformed, and I frequently find myself grinning a greedy grin while running my eyes through the long cocktail list at bars around Delhi. But I would still say, classics are classics. Don’t their taste, colour, and also the stories behind their creation somehow make a case for them — and you hear yourself telling the waiter, “A Martini please.”

This week, I hear myself say, “A Planter’s Punch for me please.”

I am at 1911, the gorgeous bar of The Imperial hotel in Delhi, surrounded by prized memorabilia from the Raj history. Bartender Pradeep Srivastava is already behind the counter, all set to mix me a Planter’s Punch. And I am eagerly waiting, even as Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Punjab gives me an intent look from a gold-rimmed photo frame.

I see Pradeep filling a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. He then pours into it 30 ml white rum, 30 ml dark rum and then 30 ml each of pineapple juice and orange juice, plus 15 ml of grenadine syrup. He gives the liquid mix a vigorous shake like a pro. The blend is thereafter carefully strained into a highball glass, pre-garnished with a slice of orange, a juicy cherry on a stick stuck to it. The look is so endearingly (and familiarly so!) orange. The dark rum Pradeep uses is Old Monk, so the colour you get is orange with zig zag strands of rich brown. The sips, to your liking, have the distinguished taste of grenadine and also the powerful aroma of Old Monk.

“Grenadine is basically pomegranate syrup, it is the soul of this cocktail. This makes it a fruity summer punch,” says Pradeep, satisfied with his creation. The technicalities of pouring one ingredient after the other and in the right amount, he points out, are “vital to make the drink authentic.” Worldwide, there are eight popular types of Planter’s Punch including varieties like Savannah Planter’s Punch and Creole Planter’s Punch, and also Jamaican Planter’s Punch, named after its place of birth, Jamaica.

The 1911 bar’s cocktail list doesn’t have any of these, but Pradeep quickly adds that they have Saffron (Rs.750 before taxes), a kind of Planter’s Punch with a twist. He also talks about the bar’s popular signature dish Chak De Phatte (Rs.1050 before taxes). “It has eight kinds of spirits, served in a balloon glass in Patiala style, lethal,” he says with a wide grin. Just the other day, he served it to a guest who wanted to try out a signature dish from the bar.

“She saw the quantity, asked me how much time she should take to finish it. I said, 40 minutes; she took over an hour. When I saw her leaving the bar, she had light steps,” he says.

With Planter’s Punch, you don’t run a Patiala style risk. This 1878 vintage, as per its first recipe noted in Jamaica, only demands from you four measured steps — half rum, half orange juice, a dash of lemon juice, shake and strain. And you hear yourself say, “It’s worth it.”