The Price Tag of Shadwell: Arrack Punch

Christian Tenney

Submitted by Christian Tenney, Monticello Development Staff and Founder of Cocktails 101° Consulting

Peter Jefferson famously purchased Shadwell, the birthplace and early home of Thomas Jefferson, in 1736 from William Randolph for the price of “[his] biggest bowl of Arrack punch.” Today that might seem like a paltry sum for acquiring 200 acres of land. However, considering the fact that the necessary ingredients to seal the deal of this land purchase were imported at great cost from the “East Indies,” (not to mention the ambiguity of the punch bowl’s size which were known to reach up to 10+ gallons), the resulting exchange may have been a much better deal for William Randolph than it seems at first glance.

Punches first appear in writing in the early 1600s and were intimately associated with the eastern spice trade. There is uncertainty as to whether their widespread adoption stems first from the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) or the British East India Trading Company. The name is thought to derive from the Hindi word for five “panch,” since punches traditionally consisted of five types of ingredients: liquor, citrus, sugar, water, and spice. Arrack, a liquor produced in Indonesia and distilled from either fermented palm tree sap (known as toddy, and the namesake of another drink, the hot toddy) or a combination of sugar cane and red rice, was considered the height of epicurean imbibing. Lemons and limes shipped from tropical climates, and rare and costly spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, all added to the luxury associated with gathering around the punch bowl.

The following recipe would have brought a tear of joy to William Randolph’s eye, and is particularly well-suited for the holidays, which are prime punch season. It can be served either cold or hot, depending on your preference. As with all punches, you can sweeten or add more lemon juice to your personal taste, especially since hot punch may require additional sugar for balance.

Arrack Punch

  • 16 oz Batavia Arrack van Oosten
  • 4 oz Aged Jamaican Rum
  • 4 oz Cognac Brandy
  • 8 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 8 oz Demerara Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Loose Green Tea
  • 6 Green Cardamom Pods
  • 4 Lemon Peels
  • 2 Lemons Sliced
  • 1 Nutmeg
  • 64 oz Hot Water

Peel four of the lemons carefully so that they have as little of the white pith as possible. Combine the peels with the demerara sugar in a mixing bowl and muddle well with a muddler or wooden spoon to release the lemon oils into the sugar. Let sit covered for a half hour, then muddle again. Add the lemon juice to the peels and sugar, stirring until dissolved.

Bring the water to just below a boil. Toast the cardamom pods in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant, then crush to open the pods. Pour the near-boiling water onto the toasted cardamom and green tea in a pot off the heat and steep for 2 minutes. Strain out the tea leaves and cardamom, then pour the hot tea onto the lemon-sugar mixture and stir. Strain out the lemon peels.

Served Hot:

Return the tea-lemon-sugar mixture to a simmer and remove from the heat.  Stir in the arrack, rum, and Cognac. Grate half a nutmeg into the punch and add the sliced lemons.  Serve in punch cups or mugs that have been first rinsed in hot water to warm them.

Served Cold:

Let the tea-lemon-sugar mixture cool and stir in the arrack, rum, and Cognac.  Refrigerate for up to 4 hours until thoroughly chilled.  Pour the chilled punch into a punch bowl containing a large block of ice, or a pint of ice cubes. Grate half a nutmeg into the punch and stir.  Serve in punch cups with a lemon slice each.

Makes 3 quarts. Serves 8.

About Christian Tenney: Tenney has blended his background in historic preservation with his passion for cocktail culture into a side career. He has spoken extensively on the topic of liquid history at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Cedar Grove and has created custom cocktails for a wide clientele, educating about the finer points of historic drink-making. Tenney joined the Development team at Monticello in 2018 and founded Cocktails 101° Consulting in 2014.