Dickensian Cognac Punch: The Smoking Bishop
“A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!” – Final chapter, Ebenezer Scrooge talking to Bob Cratchit. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
SMOKING BISHOP PUNCH
Push the cloves into the cut orange and grapefruit wheels and place into a pot. Add all remaining ingredients except for the Courvoisier cognac, bringing the mixture to a low simmer being careful not to boil. Grate in the nutmeg to your taste and leave for 3-5 minutes to infuse. Remove from the heat and pour into a fresh and ambient punch bowl stirring in the Courvoisier cognac last to lower the temperature and minimise spirit evaporation. Serve in insulated mugs or cups with cloved orange and grapefruit slices.
First published by Chapman & Hall of London on 17 December 1843, A Christmas Carol swiftly rose to acclaim rekindling the yuletide spirit of all of Victorian England. Yet Christmas wasn’t the only spirit warming the hearts during the Victorian era.
Unbeknownst to most, Punch (aka The Flowing Bowl) is the first and longest standing mixology tradition in social history, dating back to the early 1600s and the sailors who frequented the East Indies as part of the spice trade. Cocktails however arrived late on the drinking agenda only beginning in earnest at the turn of the 19th century.
Victorian London therefore, was at the heart of the Punch revolution and no one more notable an ambassador than Charles Dickens. So much so that a number of books have been written in sole dedication to his love of punch – see, Convivial Dickens. The drinks of Dickens and his time. Hewett & Axton, 1926.
It was at the tender age of 58 that Charles Dickens died at his home in Gad’s Hill Place near London, leaving behind (amongst other things) a collection of more than 2160 bottles of wines, cordials, spirits and liqueurs used in creating his famous punches. Amongst this vast collection of Iberian, French and even Australian wines, was spirits covering whiskies, rums, fruit liqueurs, genever, and bitters with the single largest number of any spirit awarded to French brandy. The exact copy of this collection was recorded in his cellar manifest as follows;
- “18 doz. pale brandy (F. Courvoisier)”
- “Over 10 doz. dark Hennessy brandy, 10 years old”
One of the most popular punches of the Dickensian Era was the “Bishop”, commonly served hot or “smoking” to help beat back the cold English nights. An original Bishop recipe written in 1836 by Dick Humelbergius Secundus (his real name), credited the drink to the Holy Cardinals who would frequent the halls of Oxford College and whose rich coats resembled the deep reds of the punch by the same name.
In 1862, Jerry Thomas and Christian Schultz published their own recipe along with the following optional variations;
- Archbishop – substituting the Claret for Port
- Cardinal – substituting the Claret for Champagne
- Pope – substituting Claret for Burgundy