Cocktails and retro-speakeasies may be the current drinking trend but to be really cutting edge, try Punch. Not the sticky sweet bowls of ginger ale and juice garnished with day-glo sherbet or the undergraduate blend made in a garbage can, but a balanced, and even historic blend of sweet, sour, and strong.
Punch began with Arrack blended by British traders of the East India Company, was refined by the British Navy with lemons and sugar, and adapted by American colonial drinkers, with George Washington using it to beguile voters on election day.
Punch began to lose its role as a form of “secular communion” in the 19th century. Industrialization changed our sense of time, our ability to communicate, and the expectations of socially appropriate behavior. Other “subtle and incremental strains” that made punch less popular included central heating, improvements in distilling (no need to hide raw spirits under sugar and citrus), and a global economy that brought more drinking choices.
Eventually, the cocktail would come to rule and punch would be degraded into a lollipop-sweet drink garnished with twee bits of sticky fruit and fluorescent sherbets. That’s where the second part of Wondrich’s book comes in—advice on how to make a proper punch. Unlike a single cocktail, a bowl of punch requires commitment and a theory. The theory in short is balance—no one element or flavor should lead and don’t forget the role of pungent spice. Altogether, Wondrich writes, a punch should be “moreish,” that is you want to drink more.
So set aside the cliche New Year’s champagne and blend a bowl of historic punch. You can start with a simple tea punch and venture into milk punches and concoctions like United Service Punch, Glasgow Punch, or Ruby Punch, equally good, writes Wondrich, hot or cold.
And if you can’t let go of the undergraduate state of mind, try Punch Jelly, also known a Jell-o shots. But beware, as noted in the 1862 recipe, it is likely to render you “somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after dinner.”