I may have jumped the gun a bit with the assumption of Spring weather this week, but there's one beverage tradition that knows no season, and that glorious libation is Punch.
Punch: A Brief History
Long before the creation of the cocktail, alcohol was imbibed in the most archaic form- the filtered products of fermentation, such as mead, wine, and beer. The advent of distillation was a major innovation in the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Distilled spirits could be shipped in a lighter, more concentrated form, reducing the amount of cargo space needed on ships. The other large advantage was the lack of spoilage. This was before the invention of pasteurization, and beer and wine would easily spoil, if not consumed within a certain period of time. This long shelf life, combined with it's more compact form, made spirits favored among both the working class and the elite of the time, but especially those in the sailing profession.
The downside to all of this, is that spirits were also much more potent, and the effects of alcohol on health and civil behavior became apparent. Aqua vitae (water of life,) as it was referred, also began to be known as aqua mortis (water of death,) as quoted by the Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1584. Even with concerns about mortality and moral behavior, alcohol was still considered a much healthier choice than the contaminated water of the time. The people wanted their spirits, but long before science improved distillation techniques and purity, what could be done to make spirits, well, less spirituous?
In the early seventeenth century, spice was gold. Many traders and explorers made voyages to South East Asia and India in search of spices, sugar, citrus, and riches, inspired by the travels of Marco Polo and other early explorers.. The power of simple nutmeg was known throughout Europe, as well as the value of cloves, mace, peppercorn, and other spices. While these flavors weren't initially sought out for the application of punch, history has a way of always working alcohol into the mix. Tiring of rancid beer and wine, sailors on these voyages began dipping their hands into the spice supply on board. The resulting concoction was a symphony of flavor soon brought back to England. By the late seventeenth century, punch was served in taverns, homes, and anywhere else that was habitable. Punch had been born, and we couldn't be happier.
The flavors of punch were even brought with settlers to Colonial America. At most large functions, presidential inaugurations, and celebrations of all kind, punch was served in abundance. It is said the founding fathers indulged in a large bowl of punch at City Tavern in Philadelphia after signing the Declaration of Independence. Punch is a part of our DNA, and everyone should know how to put together a respectable bowl.
Named from the Sanskrit word meaning "five," punch consists of five main components:
-Spice or Tea
That's it? Yes, these are the ingredients in punch. Don't try to overthink things when creating your own unique punch recipes. When if comes to punch, what seems to be a simple combination can sometimes create complex layers of flavor.
The first thing to consider for your punch would be the number of guests you're planning to serve. I would recommend at least two five ounces servings per guest. This being said, it's your party!
Secondly, punch is traditionally made from rum or brandy, but most base spirits can find a home in the right punch. In our current market, full of spirits and liqueurs, the possibilities are endless.
- a large punch bowl
-a ladle for serving
-punch cups between 4 and 7 ounces. Too large of a punch cup can lead to over consumption.
-a vessel large enough to freeze an ice block for your punch
-Raw sugar (demerara or turbinado work well)
-White sugar (good for making oleo saccharum)
Seasoning (spice or tea)
-Flavorful Teas (Black Tea, Green Tea Hibiscus, Floral Teas)
-Fortified Wines (Port, Sherry, Vermouth, Madeira)
-Tropical Fruits (pineapple, passion fruit, mango)
The Hard Stuff (spirits)
-and anything else in the cabinet that finds a good home in your punch.
After you've finished constructing your punch, store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or until you're ready to serve. Ice should only be added to keep the punch cold and not for dilution.
For your punch ice, you should freeze a large block two days ahead of time. This way your punch won't become diluted too quickly.
Below are some punch recipes to use as a reference. Always bear in mind the balance of your punch. The only way to ensure a balance of sweetness to acidity is to taste.
Fish House Punch The State in Schuylkill, Philadelphia, 1732
1 cup White Sugar
Peels of 4 large lemons
4 cups Black Tea
1.25 cups Lemon Juice
3 cups Appleton Reserve Rum
.75 cups Smith & Cross Rum
2 cups Martell VSOP Cognac
.5 cups Peachstreet Distillers Aged Peach Brandy
Combine sugar and lemon peels in a bowl, stirring and muddling to release the oils until a syrupy paste is formed. This substance is called Oleo Saccharum and is the essence of a great punch.
Combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl, mixing together with a large spoon.
Refrigerate until the punch is ready to be served.
Insert a large block of ice and garnish with lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg.
St. Charles Punch St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, 1896
3 cups Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
4.5 cups Sandemans Ruby Port
.5 cups Rich Simple Syrup (2:1)
.5 cups Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
4.5 cups Lemon Juice
Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl.
Chill before serving.
Garnish with Orange slices, berries, and freshly grated nutmeg.
Honey Barrel Punch Brian Maxwell, 2017
4 cups Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon
2 ounces St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 tsp Orange Blossom Water
1 cup Honey Syrup (2:1)
1 cup Strawberry Shrub (recipe here)
2 Cups Grapefruit Juice
1.5 cups Lime Juice
4 Cups Black Tea
Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl.
Chill before serving.
Garnish with Strawberries and Clove-studded Lime wheels.
Touch of Evil Punch David Wondrich, 2015
2.5 cups Plymouth Gin
.5 cups Vida Mezcal
peels of 4 lemons
.75 cups sugar
.5 cups raspberries
.75 cups fresh lemon juice
4 cups sparkling water
One day before you plan to serve the punch, fill a 1-quart container with water and freeze to make an ice block. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest from the lemons in strips and place in a medium glass jar with the sugar. Seal and shake the jar to mix the sugar with the peels. Let stand in a warm place for 24 hours to infuse the sugar with the lemons' oils.
Add the raspberries to the glass jar and muddle with the peels and sugar until the berries are crushed. Pour in the lemon juice and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour the juice through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract their juices, and discard the solids. Stir in the gin and mezcal and refrigerate the punch until ready to serve.
To serve, pour the punch into a 1-gallon bowl and stir in the sparkling water. Unmold the ice block and add it to the punch. Garnish with lemon wheels and a grating of nutmeg.