The League, of late, has been on a roll. I’ve finally been on my game, and we’ve been meeting monthly. The formula remains the same: pick a category, or a theme, and a signature cocktail. A little education, a whole lot of fun.
This month was no exception. In the spirit of summer shindigs, we played with punches.
Our meeting came complete with reading material as well, and a little overview on the history of punches (more on that below).
Punches are a fantastic approach for a party. They keep you, the hostess, out of the kitchen or out from behind the bar, allowing you to do all the prep work ahead of time. And they certainly don’t need to be limited to whiskey cocktails (though as we all know, that’s my passion poison).
A LESSON IN PUNCH
Punch has a long, fascinating history–so much so, that the venerable Dave Wondrich himself devoted an entire book to it in 2010. Though there is actually some debate over the origins of the term, the most widely accepted theory is that punch comes from the Hindi word panch, meaning five. That’s because the basic recipe contains five key ingredients: something spirited, something sweet, something sour, something bitter, and water or tea.
I was lucky enough to sit through one of Dave’s lectures on the topic down at Tales of the Cocktail last month (for you amateurs, it’s a massive cocktail festival down in New Orleans–four days of beignets, pralines, parties, seminars, open containers, and most memorably, sweat). According to him, while punch may have its Indian origins, it gained popularity as a sailor’s drink in Europe. What’s interesting about that is that with its seafaring origins, it was a historically communal drink, where everyone onboard (from deckhand to captain) would delight in it together. That tradition is still regarded today, and that’s why it makes such a great party drink.
In honor of our five theme today, here are some of my favorite tricks and tips:
PRINCIPLES OF PUNCH
1) Serve it up in style. Invest in a few punch bowls from your local party store. They’re not all that expensive, and will come in handy. I use them as ice buckets during parties when I’m not serving the masses.
2) Get your ice right. Ice is perhaps the most critical ingredient when making punch. As with any drink, dilution is key. Too little and you’ll act like a sailor. Too much and you’ll be drinking a spritzer. With blocks, and larger cuts of ice, the slower the melt. For punches, the bigger the better. A wise man (the lovely and talented Todd Richman, corporate mixologist for Sidney Frank, and one of the dearest guys in the business who you can stalk and attest your love to here) once gave me the best ever ice-making tip. If you can’t get yourself custom ice (which I will not, this is, after all, a cocktail party and not a for-profit establishment), make your own. Fill large tupperware containers or bowls with warm water, and freeze the ice blocks yourself.
3) Pick you poison. Though I opted for a whiskey-based punch, great punches can be made from nearly every category of spirit. Historically, most punches were brandy and rum based, but pick what you have on-hand, or what you and your guests like.
4) Steal from the Greats. There are so many great resources out there to inspire your punches, including some really neat historic recipes. Take, for example, Martha Washington’s Rum Punch or Charles Dickens’ punch ritual. Nothing screams theme party more than a Martha Washington cue, am I right?
5) Add Gusto with Your Garnish. Lemon wheels, frozen berries, peaches, and cinnamon sticks all add pizzazz to you punch.
And Now, The Recipe I Used:
Summer Whiskey Punch
- 1 750 mL bottle Rye (I used (ri)1, one of Beam’s ryes) (about 3 cups)
- 2 cups Ginger Liqueur (I used Stirrings)
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- 2 cups orange juice
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1/8 cup cherry liqueur
- A few dashes of bitters
- Lemon wheels, for garnish
- Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl and mix to incorporate. Stir long enough for the sugar to dissolve.
- 15 minutes before serving, add a large block of ice to chill ingredients. Add lemon wheels for garnish and serve.
HAPPY SUMMER SIPPING!