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Punch Drunk

I wanted to write a few words about my experiments with Punch. As the tagline suggests, Summit Sips is about exploring the mysteries of mixology. Whether or not you like the word "mixology", I don't advocate consumption of alcoholic beverages to get "drunk". I see it more as a culinary pursuit to find a balance of flavors and to pair ingredients in unique (or sometimes classic) ways. Semantics aside, there's always the benefit of five o'clock refreshment, and sometimes the goal is to lubricate the social gears of a party to stimulate mingling and conversation. In any case, Punch is a great way to explore exotic flavor combinations.

Punch is a borrowed word from the Hindi panch which itself came from the Persian word paantch meaning five, to represent the five typical ingredients in this early beverage: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and tea or spices. It was brought back to Britain from India in the early 1600s. In fact, punch is arguably one of the first mixed alcoholic drinks to enjoy widespread popularity. Before the American cocktail came on the scene, punch was king.

It's actually pretty easy to make a punch so potent that it goes just a little too far. Case in point was my own Summit Sips Punch for Grand Old Day. If you wanted to enjoy more than one glass, you had to plan to stay awhile—it really packed a p--, er, I mean, it really packed a wallop! Although I was reproducing a riff on a historic recipe, you can probably guess that the more booze you add, the stronger it gets. However, the harder point to master is achieving good balance, and with punch, that can be tricky when you are combining so many ingredients. Of course, I'm not talking about making "garbage can punch" from your college party days where everyone brings fruit and booze to be dumped into a huge vat for mass consumption. Nor is this about mixing up a batch of Tahitian Treat and pouring in some rum and Sprite. No, we will make a respectable punch—one you can mix for a single guest or something you can build in larger batches to serve at a formal gathering or a dinner party. But how can we ensure a result that's reasonably strong, balanced, and delicious?

Fortunately, there's a memorable little rhyme that can help. It comes from the August 8, 1908 edition of the New York Times which contained an article with the recipe for Planter's Punch, but the basic framework of ingredients works for just about anything:

One of sour,
Two of sweet,
Three of strong,
Four of weak.

The idea is that you take a standard measure of say, an ounce, and apply this rhyme formula to build your punch. "One of sour" represents one measure of a souring agent such as lime or lemon juice. The "sweet" is some kind of sugar syrup, liqueur or other sweetener. "Strong" refers to the spirit you choose. It could be rum, whiskey, brandy, vodka—it's up to you. Finally, the weak ingredient is meant to be juice or sparkling water, but it can also be champagne or tea for added dimension and spice. In other words, if you follow the rhyme and select ingredients you like, you should end up with a very delicious result.

Here's an example I whipped up this evening:

Punch
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
.5 oz homemade grenadine
1.5 oz gin
1 oz jasmine tea
1 oz orange juice
pinch nutmeg

Pour all ingredients into a shaker. Add ice. Shake to chill and pour everything into a tall glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

I used a standard measure of one-half ounce. Fractional amounts can be a little harder to follow, but here goes: The first .5 oz is the sour, in this case, lemon juice. Then, the next full ounce is my sweet. I used a mixture of .5 oz Luxardo and .5 oz grenadine. Then comes 3 parts strong, and for my punch it was 1.5 oz of gin. Finally, I added 4 parts weak which was a combination of jasmine tea and orange juice. I sprinkled a little nutmeg (you can never go wrong with nutmeg) and garnished with mint.

This just demonstrates that you can use anything you have open or available to make a delicious punch on the spot. The Luxardo was still hanging around from the Aviation the other day, and so was the gin. The other ingredients were literally leftovers or items I knew I had in the refrigerator. And the taste? Fantastic. I recommend using the half ounce measure to play with this formula. You only use 1.5 ounces of hard liquor which is what you would normally put into a cocktail, so you can experiment without a lot of waste and have a reasonable expectation of how much alcohol you are consuming.

Do you want to make a huge batch for a party? Use a bigger standard measure. Pre-mix your punch and chill it before serving. Add cold sparkling ingredients just before guests arrive. Try making giant ice chunks embedded with frozen fruit. The large ice will melt slowly and the beautiful fruit pieces will decorate the punch bowl. Did you create a punch masterpiece? Let me know in the comments below!

5 comments to Punch Drunk

  • Scott

    Never looked closely enough at Punch recipies to realize there was a common ratio...so thanks for the lesson!

    Having only made one punch in the past (Philly Fish House..a big hit twice) I wanted to make up another punch for a party I am attending later today...

    I was inspired by an article about the Jack Rose...looked in Joy Of Mixology and was encouraged to experiment with the "red liquid" portion of the drink and turn this into a bottled punch i could bring to a party and shake to chill on arrival..

    I came up with two variation, both good, we'll see how they fly...

    lime juice/creme de cassis/ version 1. Laird's Applejack version 22. Laird's Bottled in Bond/white pomegranate tea (the pom to retain the connection to a Jack Rose since no grenadine) (1:2:3:4)

    one is sweeter, and one is like a tart apple

    shaken to chill; i felt the drink needed the texture of the bubbles...
    curious to see how they fly...

    scott

  • Scott, these sound great! Please post a followup and let us know how they were received at the party.

  • Scott

    both were well received...some liked the sweet, some liked the more tart apple one...
    I think the Applejack version allowed the cassis and pom flavors to come thru more, the BiB Apple brandy version was more like a fresh fall tart apple off the tree...both were felt to be "quite refreshing", perfect for the end of summer/beginning of fall...the weather out here played its part too, cool and dry sunny day...perfect!

    do try and let me know what YOU think...

  • Scott,
    I like the idea you had about translating a cocktail like the Jack Rose into a punch. Plenty of drinks we think of as classics are really just punches anyway. I was going to make one of these tonight, but I was thiinking all I needed was pomegranate juice. I reread your comment and realized I don't have any idea where to find white pomegranate tea! Is that a commercial product, or would I have to make it?

  • scott

    Grocery store in with the bagged teas....we had evolution brand in the house. Twinnnings does now make a black pom tea as well.

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