Cocktails in O.C.: 320 Main’s Jason Schiffer Punches Up Fall Flavors

In a Tastemakers Q&A in the October Orange Coast, Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main in Seal Beach, shares a bit of his cocktail erudition and philosophy—and believe me, it’s merely the tip of an iceberg of knowledge. (Not online; a digi copy can be easily purchased by clicking here.) I asked him about cocktail punch, something I’d been pondering, wondering if this retro delight was getting any traction in the world of craft bartending. I love the idea of a more communal cocktail experience, but I admit that my interest may have been further piqued by my thrift-score punch bowl set, complete and in original box, waiting to see action.

Schiffer happened to have made a punch for a recent Bartender’s Cabinet meeting, and he was happy to give me the recipe. Bartender’s Cabinet is the organization of Orange County cocktail professionals he co-founded, which meets to share knowledge and just generally further the craft-cocktail cause. He named this perfect-for-fall concoction Manna-Hatta Punch, using the Native American word for Manhattan Island to reflect its colonial flavor profile, as well as the bourbon it shares with the classic Manhattan cocktail. Hard cider, hibiscus-infused grenadine, and crabapple shrub—a super-value-added simple syrup—also figure in the mix.

Well, Manna-Hatta Punch was a huge hit when I rolled it out at Sunday brunch. I thought we’d daintily taste from my (complete set of 12) punch cups, and then, as happens at foodist gatherings, give detailed opinions. Tastes turned immediately into second (and third) servings, and analysis from the normally only-too-happy-to-expound group can be summed up with a succinct, unanimous DELICIOUS. I’d thought the quantity of lemon juice might render it overacidic, but no—great cocktails are as much alchemy as anything, and the punch was tangy and smooth, and not too bourbon-y, for having all that bourbon in there. It’s got apple aroma from the cider and the shrub, and the cider is so dry that with the lemon juice, the whole isn’t really sweet. It’s sort of like a light Manhattan, without the  cloyingness of sweet vermouth. Beautiful garnet color, too. Bartending mastermind Schiffer really hit the sweet spot with Manna-Hatta.

It should be noted that the recipe, with its component preps, is probably not for the casual cook. It’s not difficult, but does require a bit of commitment. The crabapple shrub base takes the longest, requiring a couple of days’ maceration (with occasional stirring). The hibiscus grenadine is also made ahead, and both hold perfectly in the refrigerator.

Crabapples can be found at specialty and some larger regular supermarkets, and many Middle Eastern stores. Hibiscus flowers are easy to find at natural-foods stores, at Savory Spice Shop in Corona del Mar, and in Mexican markets, as flor de Jamaica.

With everything ready, the punch goes together super fast. Which is fortunate—you and your guests will be ready for Round 2 before you know it.

Jason Schiffer’s Manna-Hatta Punch

2 cups fresh lemon Juice
3/4 cup Crabapple Shrub (recipe follows)
3/4 cup Hibiscus Grenadine (recipe follows)
3 cups Hirsch bourbon
2 cups Crispin hard apple cider
Large block of ice

In large pitcher, combine lemon juice, crabapple shrub, hibiscus grenadine, bourbon, and hard cider. Taste and adjust proportions as desired. Pour over large block of ice in punch bowl.

Crabapple Shrub

Peels of 3 lemons (yellow part only)

1 pound crabapples, roughly chopped

2 cups pure cane sugar (C&H brand works)

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Start shrub two or more days before making punch. Mix lemon peels, crabapples, and sugar in non-reactive container and muddle a few minutes with muddler or large wooden spoon. Cover and allow to sit for 2 days (or longer), stirring occasionally.

After 2 days, strain, and add water to bring volume to 1-1/2 cups if necessary. Stir in cider vinegar.

Hibiscus Grenadine

3 cups dried hibiscus flowers

2 cups pomegranate juice

2 cups pure cane sugar

Macerate hibiscus flowers in pomegranate juice for 4 hours. Strain, and add additional juice to make 2 cups (flowers will have absorbed some liquid). Combine infusion with sugar, stir or shake until dissolved.

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