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You may talk of brisk Claret, sing Praises of Sherry,
Speak well of old Hock, Mum, Cider and Perry;
But you must drink Punch if you mean to be Merry.*
I grew up in a punch drinking family. Granted the stuff my family ladles out each Christmas is of the non-alcoholic variety—rainbow sherbert, gingerale, maybe some fruit and lots of ice. I had a glass yesterday, and even though many a boozy version have passed over these lips, this tame variety still says “party” to me. It is bubbly, colorful, and pretty tasty. And something about sharing a drink from a communal bowl seems especially appropriate for a holiday celebration, doesn’t it?
What is it about a giant bowl of fruited and sugared booze? For me, there is something nostalgic, comfortable and epic about it. Maybe it’s because as long as I can remember a punch bowl meant our special Christmas libation? Or because people have been enjoying this kind of communal drink since the 17th century? Or maybe it’s the seemingly endless variations of recipes—ranging from the very simple 2-3 ingredient variety to recipes with 10-15 ingredients?
Punch changed the way we drink. Its origins probably lie with 17th century sailors who had run out of beer or wine and were left with only brandy or some other spirit that was too much to drink on its own. To their booze they added some sugar, maybe a little water and some citrus (which had the added bonus of protecting against scurvy) and punch was born. The popularity of these mixtures catapulted distilled spirits out of the realm of medicine and into the public drinking consciousness, eventually opening the door for those other alcoholic mixtures we call cocktails. So, yes, punch changed the way we drink.
If you want to learn more about the history of punch read David Wondrich’s new book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Since the book’s launch party at Drink about a month ago, I have joined the ranks of punch loving Bostonians. Check out this book for a fascinating and entertaining history of punch; and my friends at Dudekicker share a great interview with Wondrich.
So with the punch craze is in full start-up mode, I, of course, made a punch for my own holiday party last weekend (which was a pretty fun party, if I do say so myself). I know I am about the 1,00,000th person to give this sage party hosting advice, but one of the best things about serving punch is that you are then free to actually enjoy your party, instead of spending the evening mixing something for each guest. The most you have to do is lift the ladle or replenish ingredients.
I chose a recipe for Harvest Punch shared by The Boston Shaker. It was a huge hit! With easy, yet interesting, flavors like rye, St. Germain, apple cider and ginger beer it pleased the variety of palates at the party, cocktail enthusiast and neophyte alike.
2 cups Rye Whiskey (I prefer Old Overholt; delicious and inexpensive)
1 ½ cups St. Germain
2 cups apple cider
½ cup lemon juice
2 12 oz. cans of ginger beer (I like Barretts)
Jerry Thomas bitters, to taste (the recipe calls for Angostura, but I thought the autumnal flavors of the JT bitters worked well here)
Mix in a large punch bowl over an ice ring or large block of ice (I made one using a tupperware container). Garnish with diced apples.
The ingredients may change, but the essence of punch remains—making merry with delicious spirits in the company of friends and loved ones. Now that’s something to be grateful for this Christmas season. Cheers!
*18th century song Wondrich quotes in Punch