Punch Drunk: Dos and don'ts for the best punch
Equal parts convenient and quaffable, punches are an easy way to sate the thirsty masses without getting stuck bartending all night. Recipes can range from light and cheery to spicy and brooding and can be adapted to suit just about any taste.
Far from the questionable collegiate mixture of whatever is laying around plus Everclear, real punch is a balanced mix of spirits, sugar, spice, water and citrus. It predates the cocktail by a good 200 years – probably invented by early 17th century English (or Dutch) colonial sailors out of necessity, according to David Wondrich in his book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Beer and wine were too heavy to haul and spoiled on the journey, so enterprising seamen substituted stronger, stable spirits, cut the swill with water and added sugar. Add citrus to combat scurvy and spice from the Indies, and voila: punch!
Today, recipes for this batchable social lubricant have evolved beyond the colonial basics, but the principles of communal imbibing and conviviality remain.
“Punches generally are not meant to be extremely boozy, but rather more refreshing and approachable with an interesting flavor that keeps you coming back for just one more,” said Keyan Still, Planter’s House bartender and St. Louis chapter president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild. “When I make punch, I like to keep the process fairly simple, focusing on garnishes and a fun key ingredient.”
Grab a bowl and some booze and test your sea legs with one of these recipes.
Break the mold
Ice rings, molds and blocks do more than keep things chilly; they sing as a garnish or provide a flavor boost to your punch. Here, nine do’s and don’ts from former Blood & Sand bartender Matt Osmoe to help the bowl stay cool for your punch party.
• Use creative containers like plastic storage ware, silicone molds, loaf pans or Bundt pans to make ice.
• Garnish with complementary flavors that will incorporate well as the ice melts into your punch, like berries and ginger for sweet punches.
• Use filtered or distilled water for clearer and better-tasting ice.
• Branch out from H2O. Try freezing lemonade for use in bright, gin-based punches, vermouth for botanical-noted tipples or some of your punch itself, if the ABV allows it.
• After freezing overnight, turn the mold upside-down and run under lukewarm water for a few seconds to release.
• Let your ice melt too fast. Chill the ingredients before mixing up a punch to preserve the freeze, or make and refrigerate a batch ahead of time (excluding any bubbles, which should be added right before serving).
• Make an ice block with a container that’s too big for your bowl, since the ice should be submerged in the punch.
• Use small herbs like thyme or dill as garnish – they’ll turn into unattractive floaties when the ice melts.
• Abuse the ingredients you use. Overripe or soft fruits like bananas don’t make a good ice garnish since they’ll fall apart and leave your punch cloudy.
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