Sometime it involves buying and reading reference material. In this case, there is only one book [Wings of Cherubs by Guillermo Toro-Lira]. In addition to the book, there is an article. There are, of course, many websites, however most of what is online also traces back to the article I link to below.
When someone writes a book with a sub-title like "The Saga of the Rediscovery of Pisco Punch, Old San Francisco's Mystery Drink", you know they aren't going to be making any money - that it was a labor of love. But at the same time, what student of cocktails could resist the lure of knowing the true recipe, long sought, often copied, never equaled.
There are not too many books or articles like this - the cocktail equivalent of a "who-dunnit". There is the story of the search for The Zombie Recipe by Beach Bum (Jeff) Berry in his book "Sippin Safari", the rediscovery of the Seybold Cocktail recipe, and this.
The book itself is fun - I've posted a longish review on Amazon dot com and a slightly more technical one on the Chanticleer Society - so no need to go into that here, but there are a few points that interest me.
- Recipe Format: There are three pages that explain how to make the punch, clearly laid out with lots of photographs. To me it looks just like a bar set-up from a Tiki-bar - the recipe for the bartender is “this many ounces from bottle one, and this many ounces from bottle two, etc.” Then there is the recipe for bottle 1, the recipes for bottles two, three, four, and five. "Mix one part of bottle #3 with two parts of bottle #4 and one part of fresh lime juice." This is the way you do it when you don't want your bar staff to know your recipes, lest they go to work for your competitor across the street. I'll have to go back and read the book again to see if this format is historic or supplied by the author.
- Duelling recipes: the author gives a list of reasons why he believes it is likely that the the “John Lannes” recipe revealed (published) in Bronson's 1973 “Secrets of the Pisco Punch Revealed” article is not likely to have been the famous, authentic recipe, but a competitor's best attempt to copy the real article. Based on the arguments on paper and reading both recipes, I lean to the Cherub recipe, but I think we'll have to make them both and see! They differ in that Lannes calls for lemon, Cherubs for lime, the ratios of ingredients differ, and the Cherubs recipe has a more detailed method of preparation. The Lannes recipes is somewhat vague on quantities, whereas the Cherub recipe is much more precise.
- Secret Ingredients: While discussions of secret ingredients on the internet center on 'gum arabic' which Bronson believed to have been the missing link, the author reveals that there was another ingredient. There is a reasoned but entirely speculative discussion of what the ‘secret ingredient’ actually might have been which is highly entertaining.
Secret? What secret!
well, come to the party, and maybe we'll spill the beans - don't you know there is no such thing as a secret in a morehouse?
(At least, not for long!)