Cocktails, like food and fashion, are seasonal. While a properly made margarita, with fresh lime and quality tequila, is delightful and refreshing on a hot summer day, downing one while watching the snow fall, doesn’t have quite the same effect. Unfortunately for tequila lovers, many of the popular agave elixirs are warm-weather fare. While it’s true that a glass of complex, aged tequila can be a cultivated sipper on a frigid winter’s eve, a cocktail like the tequila sunrise, screams for a balmy beachside chair rather than a cozy seat by the fireplace.
Dan Searing, a partner in Columbia Heights cocktail bar Room 11, has broken tequila out of its summer rut with his Conquistador Punch. I had the pleasure of sampling Searing’s chilly concoction at the Museum of the American’s Cocktail’s December holiday party. The recipe is also included in his book “The Punch Bowl – 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry.”
Searing’s original creation of lime, orange, tequila and sherry, plays up the fresh citrus fruits of winter. The stars of this cocktail are clementines, the cute little oranges that start popping up in produce aisles in mid-December. Often referred to as “Christmas oranges,” these petit fruits pack a burst of concentrated orange flavor.
During the colder months, punches forged from traditional brown spirits, such as brandy, whiskey and rum are popular refreshers. These wood-aged spirits, impart a spicy warming element to drinks.
Conquistador punch takes advantage of reposado tequila, a spirit that has been aged up to a month in oak barrels, along with sherry, a Spanish wine that is fortified with brandy to give this beverage a refined spicy profile. Searing describes his creation as having “spice and sweetness, but a citrusy tartness as well.”
The key to the drink’s robust flavor is Searing’s homemade-made clementine syrup. While most cocktails add a portion of plain simple syrup as a sweetener, Searing takes it up a notch by making his syrup from Demerara sugar, which has a darker, richer flavor and then soaking it overnight in the grated zest from two clementines. This custom syrup imparts a full-bodied, powerful orange smack.
The name Conquistador Punch comes from the multicultural ingredients. Tequila is from Mexico, and sherry is from Spain. Searing says the punch was born out of a blend of the elements from two cultures. “As we all know the Spanish came and tried to conquer the native people of Mexico, and it didn’t quite work,” he said. “Mexican culture is derived from the blending of Spanish and native influence. It’s obviously a unique culture as a result.” And Searing has obviously created a special libation from these influences.
Dan Searing’s “Conquistador Punch”
1 750-ml bottle of Corzo Reposado Tequila
1 375-ml bottle of Pedro Ximénez Sherry
1 ½ cups lime juice (about 12 limes)
1 ½ cups clementine juice (about 12 clementines)
1 cup clementine zest syrup ()
1 ice block
2 clementines, peeled, cut into small, coin shapes
Combine all liquid ingredients in a large pitcher, adding the clementine syrup last and to taste. Chill thoroughly. When ready to serve, place the ice block in a punch bowl and pour the punch over it.
() Clementine Zest Syrup:
Zest from two clementines
1-cup cold simple syrup (1 part water, 1 part sugar – heat until dissolved, chill)
Use a microplane grater to remove the zest from the two clementines. Add the zest to the cold simple syrup. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours. Strain out the zest. Refrigerate any unused syrup.
Ingredients to make Conquistador punch may be purchased at Dixie Liquor located at 3429 M Street, NW, in Georgetown. Readers may sample this drink or purchase Searing’s book at Room 11 3234 11th Street, NW, in Columbia Heights.