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Mastering the Peachtree Punch With Martin Cate

In “Masters of Tiki,” we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Martin Cate on the dark-era Trader Vic classic, the Peachtree Punch.

The 1970s were not a great decade for tiki. It was then that the nuanced, layered recipes of the midcentury began their inevitable slide towards the insipid concoctions that would come to be known as “boat drinks.” The Peachtree Punch was created in 1971.

“This is from the bad part of tiki,” says Martin Cate of the recipe that debuted on the opening menu at Trader Vic’s Atlanta location. As a former Trader Vic’s bartender (he worked at the San Francisco location for a short period in the early 2000s), Cate is intimately familiar with the Peachtree Punch, a drink that was hugely popular at the time of its creation and remains relatively so today. “I hated making these,” says Cate, “so I said ‘I’m going to beat this drink.’” 

As one of the first contemporary bartenders to apply the craft cocktail principles of quality ingredients and diligent technique to the tiki template, Cate rejiggered the recipe one ingredient at a time. Where the original calls for canned peach halves, Cate opts for fresh. “I thought about how to engineer this so it has a little more appeal to it,” he says, “leave the skin on because there’s a lot of great acidity in the skin that you don’t want to lose.” Cate amplifies this effect with the addition of lemon juice. “It gives it a little more acid for balance because it never had that,” he says. 

The orange juice component remains much the same, around three ounces, but Cate insists on it being freshly squeezed. Similarly, natural flavored peach liqueur, from Mathilde or Combier, stands in for schnapps, while housemade coconut cream, which includes a measure of salt, takes the place of the corn syrup-laden store-bought examples. “You’ve got a little extra salinity to help boost the flavors,” he explains. As the base, a lightly aged, blended rum along the lines of Plantation 3 Star or Real McCoy 3 Year, offers a stronger backbone to the recipe than the “relatively forgettable” young rum of the original.

In combining all of these ingredients, Cate and the Smuggler’s Cove team toyed with the idea of creating a frozen version, before ultimately settling on flash blending the ingredients with a measure of crushed ice. “The original drink is done in a blender, so we did try it frozen and I just thought it wasn’t as satisfying,” he says. “It tasted much better muddled and flash blended.”

For brightness and the desired mouthfeel, Cate adds a small amount of sparkling water (“Just so it doesn’t taste too leaden”), while the finishing touch comes courtesy of “lots and lots of fresh nutmeg.”

For Cate, the Peachtree Punch 2.0 represents the rescuing of “a fundamentally good idea—that peach and coconut are nice together,” he says. “It’s sort of like… reclaiming a demon.” 

Mastering the Peachtree Punch

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