don the beachcomber

Donga Punch

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Take On: Tonga Punch
Origin: Audubon, Fenway

You can’t order a craft cocktail at a Red Sox game, and for good reason.

Of course, New England sports fans don’t need any added help getting obliterated by the time “Sweet Caroline” detonates midway through the eighth inning. But when you’ve got two-hundred sweaty Sox fans waiting in line for a twenty dollar cup of alcohol, you can’t spend forever muddling, measuring, shaking, and straining each drink without getting a Papi-signed baseball thrown straight at your head.

For the bartenders at Audubon, a sleek, modern cocktail bar and kitchen on Beacon Street just blocks away from Fenway Park, not only is this a reality—it’s a challenge as regular as fruit flies.

“During baseball season, if you put something on the menu with a ton of ingredients, you can’t expect people to wait,” says Taylor Knight, who presided over Audubon’s stone, smoke-grey bartop last Wednesday. “There’s no shortage of spirits for us to play around with here, but you’ve got sixty people out there who don’t expect a drink to take twenty minutes.”

Sports bars everywhere have strong-armed this problem with sour mix, Jack-and-Cokes, scorpion bowls, and of course, buckets of Bud Light (cocktails are for chicks anyway, bro). Audubon’s bartenders can hustle plenty, but they’ve found ways to preserve a quality cocktail program while they’re at it. Their most innovative solution is to batch classic highball cocktails like the Paloma, a tequila-grapefruit drink that’s adored in Mexico, and carbonate and bottle them, thus removing the step of topping each drink with soda.

One day Taylor was looking to create a tiki-style drink for Audubon’s summer menu using the house-made grapefruit syrup they carbonate for the Paloma. He thought of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the cocktail historian who helped revive the mid-century tiki craze that gifted us with the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Jungle Bird, and other drinks best served in a pineapple. One of Berry’s greatest accomplishments was to decipher the closely guarded syrup recipes of Don the Beachcomber, the tiki guru whose 1930s Hollywood nightclub had stars like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin buzzed on Daiquiris and Planters Punches.

In his book Potions of the Caribbean, Berry unearths “Don’s Mix” as a combination of fresh grapefruit juice, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. Drawing inspiration from the two tiki legends, Taylor dreamed up a cocktail using the Paloma’s grapefruit syrup—which comes from both the juice and the peel—a house-made cinnamon syrup, lime juice, and a blend of rums.

“We never want to have eight Manhattan variations on the menu, even if they’re really good. We wanted something bigger and juicier,” says Taylor. “From there, it was just figuring out what rums to use.”

He ended up with two amber rums out of New England, Privateer and 8 Bells, and Old Monk, a darker rum from India that would bring out the vanilla notes included in Don’s Mix. The three rums are blended and put in a single bottle, which means you can order a serious, six-ingredient cocktail on game day without waiting six innings to have it made. Good thing—Taylor says it’s a pretty popular drink.

He named it the Donga Punch because, coincidentally, it ended up resembling a classic drink from another mid-century tiki master, Trader Vic. His was the Tonga Punch, and “Ton” rhymes with “Don,” or something like that. Truth be told, Taylor didn’t put much thought into it.

“When you name something quickly and it becomes popular, sometimes you really regret that name,” he says. “One day I realized Donga Punch kind of sounds like donkey punch.”

If you don’t already know what a donkey punch is, sorry—my research stops here.

. . .

Donga Punch
adapted from Audobon

1 1/2 oz rum blend (8 Bells, Privateer Amber, Old Monk)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit syrup **
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup ***

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and shake. Strain into lowball glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a little umbrella—it would make the beachbums proud.

** To make the grapefruit syrup, combine:

1500 gm sugar
600 gm fresh grapefruit juice
100 gm grapefruit peel
75 gm citric acid

Let it sit for a little less than a week, tasting occasionally. When it tastes ready, strain into a lidded container and refrigerate. It’s tiki time.

*** For the cinnamon syrup, combine:

25 gm cinnamon sticks
1 qt water
1 qt sugar (approx.)

Crack the cinnamon sticks and add to boiling water until they dissolve. Add sugar equal in amount to the final volume of the water and cinnamon, then stir until dissolved. Fall’s coming—why not put it in a cocktail?

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