TheLiterateLush: Punch Drunk

Recipe of the Week - Week 4

Brandy Milk Punch

While the etymology of “Punch Drunk” may come from the pugilistic arts, it also describes a condition in which I have been recently finding myself. I LOVE punch, and I owe that love to two people: Kevin Burke and David Wondrich. Kevin, the maestro of Colt & Gray, and David Wondrich, the Bard of Booze and author of such seminal works as Imbibe and Punch, both owe my liver an apology. Actually, they don’t. I owe them undying loyalty for arousing in me a love of punch and the delights it can bring. Whether an old-timey Brandy Milk Punch or a contemporary compound like the “Bombay Government Punch”, Punch is something that just makes for good times. Punch has come far down a long road, from the predecessor of the cocktail and a way to make the ardent spirits of early drinking somewhat more palateable, to the (sorry, Anheuser-Busch) “sure sign of a good time”. Punch signals conviviality, friendship, comraderie and considerable good cheer. But why? Well, first of all it’s freaking delicious. And second, the best punches MUST be compounded on a somewhat large scale (frequently 2 quarts or more at a time), demanding a crowd to help consume the batch, lest one finds  him or herself engaged in an involuntary bout of digestive pyrotechnics the next morning, or executing a close inspection of the floor with one’s face in the nearer-term.

Havana Club

Havana Club, by kentwang on Flickr

There are countless punches that can be herein discussed. But I would like to discuss just one, as it has been recently occupying a large amount of my time: Planter’s Punch. Rum is a new fascination for me. You see, friends, I’m a total snob about lots of things: varietal correctness, proper glassware, ending sentences with prepositions. And Rum has become something about which I am justafiably curious. Throughout the Carribean and south into the Antilles, Grenadines and all the way to French Guyana, marvelous distilleries abound. Beyond the usual names, now more associated with a brand than a product, lie dozens of incredible distilleries. From Jamaica comes Smith & Cross and Wray & Nephew, on Cuba the Havana Club distillery (producers of one of my favorite slightly illegal products), Guyana is home to a particular passion of mine, Demerrara rum. Distilled in Guyana itself, but most often shipped abroad for ageing and blending, the house of Lemon, Hart & Sons is still producing magnificent over-proof rums. Hell, even within the United States you’ll find Oregon-based distillery House Spirits produces an immaculate rum of Hawaiian Turbinado sugar and molasses from the island of Barbados. And let us all not forget the geekiest of things: Rhum Agricole, the southernmost French AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protege, or protected area of origin) in the World and a product of delightful complexity and nuance.


The raw ingredients

But on to the Punch. Planter’s Punch is not so much one cocktail, but a canon of Rum punches, all based on the same rough recipe, but including various proportions of ingredients, usually Rum, Lime, Simple Syrup, Curacao and Angostura bitters. The first known print reference to this delightful concoction dates to 1908: the August 8th edition of The New York Times. Planter’s Punch owes its early popularity to Jamaica, most notably Kingston and the vast plantations  of sugarcane working doggedly to sate the world’s desire for sweetness. Planter’s Punch is designed to be sweet yet balanced, smooth yet strong. It is a drink that comes around to get you on the back end, and get you it does. I can’t help but wish that as I drink my punch, I would find myself magically delivered to the veranda of a vast, elegant home, clad in linen and sitting beneath fans spinning nearly off of their housings, trying in vain to beat back the oppressive summer heat. But the cool drink in my hand, the sunset-orange glow and round flavor do more than the fan could ever hope, as I watch the sun plunge to the sea.

My formula for Planter’s Punch is as follows:

  • 4 oz. good dark rum (Lemon, Hart & Sons Demerrara is my first choice, Smith & Cross is delightful, as is House Spirits)
  • 2 oz. good white rum (Wray & Nephew, Cruzan or Havana Club if you can find it)
  • 2 oz. Curacao (triple sec works fine, Cointreau is better)
  • 6 oz. Pineapple juice (fresh)
  • 4 oz. Orange juice (fresh)
  • 1 oz. Lime juice (fresh)
  • 1 oz. Lemon juice (fresh)
  • 1.5 oz. Grenadine (homemade if you have the patience)
  • 5 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Soda water to adjust strength

-Mix all the ingredients well in a pitcher and chill with ice, preferably large chunks so as not to dilute the Punch too much.

-Taste before you add the soda, it is meant to lighten and enliven, as well as to help moderate the strength, especially if you’ve used entirely over-proof rums.

There you have it, my favorite of all Punches. Hope you find enjoyment and respite in it.

Happy Drinking!

About Kelly Wooldridge

A sommelier, barman, writer, lecturer, nerd. Kelly works as the sommelier, beverage director and bar manager at Trillium in Denver's Ballpark District, he is also an Adjunct Instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. An Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Kelly has dedicated his life to wine-related nerdery. And of course he also doles out advice and guidance to wine collectors in Colorado and elsewhere under the aegis (and isn't that an awesome word?) of VinCierge, a consultancy based in Denver. Sometimes he rides a bike, but most times you can find him wherever you see Denver's most beloved FrankenFord, Goldie, our wino's trusty Hoopty.

  • Kevin Burke

    You sir, will always make better punches than I. Anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure needs to sit at this man’s bar, and have him make you a punch. Preferably on a Sunday morning when it’s a steal on the Brunch Menu at Colt & Gray.