Spend much time reading old cocktail guides and you’ll find a commonly called-for ingredient: Swedish Punsch (sometimes written as Swedish Punch). Ask your local liquor store for a bottle and you’re bound to get a head-scratch. Swedish Punsch went the way of the dodo during Prohibition.
So, what is Swedish Punsch? It’s something akin to a spiced rum, highly sweetened, and watered down to liqueur levels. Traditionally made from arrack (another long-dormant spirit), anyone producing it today is likely using rum or cheap grain alcohol as the base spirit. Why Swedish? Because it was hugely popular in Sweden in the late 1700s and 1800s, to the point where they’d sing songs about it.
On a recent trip to Sweden, I happened upon some Swedish Punsch, right there in the flesh. Why, it even had a Swedish flag on the bottle, so I must be getting the authentic, real deal, right? Well, lo and behold, Carlshamns Flaggpunsch is made not in Sweden but in Finland. In fact, all the Swedish Punsch brands on the shelves were made in Finland, which appears to be the sole place on earth traditional Swedish Punsch is made (save, of course, for upstarts like Haus Alpenz, which are reintroducing it to the masses).
As with any liqueur, Swedish Punsch recipes vary greatly, of course. Here’s a look at Carlshamns, one of the major players (if that exists) in the world of Punsch, and how its liqueur comes across.
The nose is fairly sweet, rum-like, with notes of banana, pineapple, and some coconut. An earthiness comes across if you breathe deeply, driven by spices that come across relatively subtle on the nose. The palate is sweet and lemony, with a touch of licorice-candy anise plus cardamom notes that give it an Eastern vibe. The sweetness here is deft, not overdone — almost like mildly sweetened iced tea — with a stronger lemon character emerging again on the back end. This helps make the finish particularly clean and refreshing.
Carlshamns is quite lively — altogether a lot like a sweet rum cocktail — and drinks pretty nicely on its own, and I can easily see how it’d be a fun companion to many cocktails, a nice alternative to triple sec or other sweetening agents.
Can’t find the stuff? Serious Eats shows you how to make your own!
B+ / $18