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The crowd-pleasing beverage enjoys a spike in popularity.
By Katie Loeb


hen most of us think of punch, we think of that overly sweetened beverage that we tried to spike at prom or were forced to drink at family reunions and anniversary parties. But there’s a long and illustrious history behind this complex beverage that is quite



far removed from the harmless non-alcoholic drink we tend to think of these days. Punch was the first cocktail based on distilled spirits to gain wide popularity with the masses. Long before martinis and margaritas were created, punch was the libation of choice of both pirates and patriots, of proper ladies and sailors. It was available at virtually every social function from the late 17th to the mid-19th century.

ed as early as 1682. It was not only a popular drink by this time but also an essential beverage at any sophisticated social affair.

The common belief is that British sailors came across punch in 16th-century India, where it was already a popular beverage. The word “punch” is allegedly derived from the Hindustani word “panch,” the Sanskrit “panchan” and/or the Persian word “panj”—each of which means “five”—the number of ingredients necessary for a proper punch. The standard equation for punch was one Sour, one Sweet, one Strong, one Weak and one Bitter. Conveniently, the raw materials for this were readily available in the colonial outposts of southern Asia: Sour provided by citrus fruits, Sweet by cane sugar, Strong

The standard equation for a punch was one Sour, one Sweet, one Strong, one Weak and one Bitter.
by Arrack (a catchall Arabic term for liquor), Weak with water or beer, and Bitter by a bitter aperitif or brewed tea. An alternative history and etymology might be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which points out that in the 17th century, punch was pronounced “poonch.” If this were the case, then its origin from an Indian source seems unlikely. In English references, the number of ingredients doesn’t seem to have been fixed at any point either, which casts doubt that it gave rise to the origin of the name. Early references to the word show that punch was particularly a seaman’s drink and suggests that the name originated not in India but on the long journey to India, and may have been a sailor’s shortening of “puncheon.” The punch in this version of history is a hot beverage, good for a cold, wet sea voyage, and is composed of wine or spirits with heated water, milk or tea and flavored with sugar, lemon and some spices or cordial. According to David Wondrich, cocktail expert and historian, the first reference to punch in English history would be from 1632, in a letter found in the India Office records, in which one R. Adams writes to T. Colley, an English merchant based near Madras, “I am very glad you have so good compani to be with all as Mr. Cartwright, I hop you will keep good house together and drincke punch by no allowanc.” And while the original ingredients and source may be unknown, it’s certain that punch made its way to the American colonies long before the states united and threw off their British oppressors. References to punch in letters, menus, and government documents are record-

Early mixologists and practitioners of punch were duly proud and protective of their original recipes. The care given to the alchemy of preparations is apparent in the detailed and poetic instructions sent by Samuel Mather (son of Puritanical minister and Salem witch persecutor Cotton Mather) along with a box of lemons, to his friend Sir Harry Frankland in 1757. “You know from Eastern India came The skill of making punch as did the name. And as the name consists of letters five, By five ingredients is it kept alive. To purest water sugar must be joined, With these the grateful acid is combined. Some any sours they get contented use, But men of taste do that from Tagus choose. When now these three are mixed with care Then added be of spirit a small share. And that you may the drink quite perfect see, Atop the musky nut must grated be.” Interestingly, the “small share” of spirits of the temperance-minded Mather’s recipe was not an instruction adhered to by most New Englanders, or indeed by most anyone mixing up a punch back then. Early punch recipes often packed quite the alcoholic wallop. The musky nut referred to is nutmeg. Spices and herbs were often an integral part of punch recipes, and helped to mask the bite of what was most often quite a high-octane beverage, made with distilled spirits of questionable flavor and certain throat-scorching potential. Punch fell out of favor as industrialization and better distilling technologies made it less necessary to mask spirits with additional ingredients to make them palatable. By the 19th century, the once popular “flowing bowl” was replaced with quicker methods of getting one’s drink on than sitting around a tavern for several hours of ladling communal libation out of a large receptacle. Punch became relegated to making appearances at holidays and ceremonies. Prohibition was the final nail in the coffin. Thankfully, as interest in “old-school” pre-Prohibition-era cocktails has made a comeback, so has punch. Punch service is now available in high-end cocktail bars around the country as well as in London. Nowadays, punch can be made from any number of ingredients, and the flavor is far more important than the strength. There’s no easier way to serve a crowd, no expensive, fully stocked bar is required, you don’t need to hire a bartender and you don’t need to serve each guest. They help themselves! Whether made for a festive occasion like a casual backyard barbeque or brunch, or as an elegant start to a dinner party, a finely crafted punch is a great way to show off your

sophistication and perhaps even use that beautiful heirloom punchbowl you’ve had carefully packed away. So pass the ladle and (with apologies to Prince) party like it’s 1799! Cheers! ❏ Katie Loeb is the chief mixologist for the Oyster House in Center City. She is a regular contributor to Inside. 4 bottles dry white wine Place the peaches in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Over this pour the Madeira wine and let stand for 6 to 8 hours, refrigerated. Place the ice block in a punch bowl, stir the fruit and Madeira mixture well and pour over the ice. Pour over the white wine and let stand at least 1⁄2 hour before serving. Yields about 30 punch cups. ••• This is my own adaptation of Spain’s favorite punch recipe. For an elegant brunch alternative, substitute 3 bottles of sparkling wine or cava for the white wine and omit club soda. To keep from going flat, assemble one pitcher at a time. Add one cup of the simple syrup/brandy/orange liqueur mixture to a pitcher along with the fruit, then add one bottle of sparkling wine. White (or Sparkling) Sangria Sangria Fruit 4 oranges, sliced into small wedges 4 pears, cut into small cubes 4 Granny Smith apples, cut into small cubes 1 cup simple syrup* 1 cup Triple Sec 3 ⁄4 cup brandy Macerate fruit pieces in syrup, triple sec and brandy (at least four hours and preferably overnight). Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. When finished, fruit should be a bit “soupy” from the juices being drawn out. *Equal amounts water and sugar boiled for 5 to 7 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved and syrup thickens slightly. Cool completely. Sangria 8 ounces plain simple syrup 10 ounces Spanish brandy 6 ounces Torres Gran Orange liqueur, Cointreau or Grand Marnier 3 well-chilled 750 ml bottles dry white wine Club soda Mix simple syrup, brandy and orange liqueur in a large container. Keep refrigerated until serving. Add wine just before serving. This is the base wine for the sangria. To serve, ladle 6 to 8 ounces of fruit and juices into a large pitcher. Fill with base wine until almost full. Top with 4 ounces of club soda and stir to combine. Ladle a small amount of fruit into ice-filled wine glasses. Pour sangria over fruit and serve. ••• This punch is served at Death & Co., one of Manhattan’s hippest classic cocktail bars. It’s named after the old British slang term for gin. Don’t let the infused vermouth scare you—it’s a cinch to make and really makes the punch special, according to its creator. Mother’s Ruin Punch (courtesy of Philip Ward) 1 ⁄2 cup granulated sugar

Here are a few of Katie ‘s favorite recipes:
Fish House Punch, a historic local favorite originally created in 1848 by Mr. Shippen Willing of Philadelphia, to celebrate the occasion of allowing the ladies to attend the annual holiday party of the State Fishing and Social Club of Pennsylvania. 3 cups fresh lemon juice or, for a sweeter punch, 11⁄2 cups each lemon and orange juice 2 cups superfine sugar 3 cups brandy 2 cups peach brandy or apricot brandy 3 cups Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda dark rum or spiced rum (I prefer Sailor Jerry’s) 2 cups strong tea* 2 cups club soda Ice mold** Chill all ingredients well before mixing. Sweeten the lemon juice with the superfine sugar until dissolved. Pour the lemon mixture into a punch bowl. Stir in the brandies, rum and tea. Add the club soda last, just before serving. Float an ice mold and, if desired, citrus and/or peach slices. Makes about 30 servings. *Tip: Brewing a greater number of tea leaves or tea bags for a shorter time produces a less bitter and tannic tea. **Ice molds can be created by freezing water in a clean half-gallon milk or juice container with the spout end cut off. Clear ice can be achieved by boiling the water and allowing it to cool before molding. Smaller ice molds can be created in quart- or pint-sized plastic deli containers. If you feel like channeling your Inner Martha, fresh fruit slices, edible flowers or fresh herbs can be placed down the sides of the containers and “glued” in place with sugar syrup, as the container is filled and frozen in stages to keep the decorative touches beautifully suspended in the ice. Unmold by quickly wrapping a hot towel around the container or dipping gently into a warm sink. ••• This elegant Madeira-and-wine based punch would be a lovely brunch or luncheon starter. German Madeira, Fruit and Wine Punch (courtesy of international wine writer Daniel Rogov) 8 ripe peaches, unpeeled and sliced 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 2 cups Madeira wine 1 large block of ice



⁄4 cup club soda 11⁄2 cups gin (Plymouth gin is recommended) 11⁄2 cups fresh grapefruit juice 3 ⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice 3 ⁄4 cup tea-infused sweet vermouth* 11⁄2 cups Champagne Grapefruit slices for garnish

In a sturdy pitcher, stir the sugar with the club soda until dissolved. Stir in the gin, grapefruit and lemon juices and sweet vermouth and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour. Transfer the punch to a large bowl. Gently stir in the Champagne and float the grapefruit slices on top. Serve in punch glasses over ice. Tea-infused sweet vermouth 1 (750 ml) bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth Heaping 1⁄4 cup loose-leaf cinnamon-spiced tea (or 6 cinnamon spiced teabags) Pour the vermouth into a pitcher. Add the tea and set aside for 11⁄2 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the infused vermouth through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter and funnel the vermouth back into the bottle. Refrigerate until ready to use. The vermouth will keep, refrigerated, for one month. This should be enough for four batches of punch. ••• This punch is for a BIG crowd. It’s named for the Chatham Artillery of Savannah, a militia that was originally formed in 1786. It has a beautiful rosy hue in the glass, and is seductively delicious and deadly. This is the punch that supposedly knocked out Admiral Schley when he visited Savannah in 1899 after the Spanish War. The original recipe calls for Catawba wine, which is quite hard to come by, so the white zinfandel stands in nicely. Chatham Artillery Punch (adapted from Imbibe! by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff [Perigree]) 3 ⁄4 cup granulated sugar (or more to taste) Peel of 3 lemons, removed with a vegetable peeler 1 pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved 2 cups fresh lemon juice 1 ⁄2 cup orange juice 3 ⁄4 cup pineapple juice 1 cup strong green tea 1 ⁄2 gallon (8 cups) white zinfandel 2 cups rye whiskey 2 cups St. Croix rum 2 (750 ml) bottles chilled Champagne or dry sparkling wine Muddle lemon peels into the sugar at the bottom of a large (at least two-gallon) airtight container. Add strawberries and pineapple and mash with a potato masher until well incorporated. Add juices and stir until sugar is dissolved and well incorporated. Sweeten to taste if not sweet enough, then strain out the fruit bits, cover and refrigerate. This is known as the stock, and it improves with age. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator and shouldn’t be served before being aged for at least two days. When ready to assemble the punch, add 4 cups of the stock to a punch bowl. Top with half a bottle of chilled Champagne, stir and add a large block of ice. Strawberry slices and thin pineapple rings can be floated for garnish, if desired.