The holidays are stressful times with trying to travel home, buy presents and deal with dear Aunt Ada. If you’re hosting, then you also need to worry about the food and beverages. For most families, this means some type of alcoholic beverage.
Sure, you can stick to wine and beer, but many people like a bit of variety in their beverage options. You can let Uncle Fred (who’s trying to avoid Ada) raid your liquor cabinet and make highballs that drain about three-fifths of your gin stock. Or, you can make your own holiday punch that keeps the guests happy and you from constantly making cocktails all night (and that also keeps your guests away from your liquor cabinet).
History of Punches
David Wondrich, renown cocktail historian and author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, has traced punches back to the 1600s. English sailors on long voyages didn’t have a lot of potable water, and they really didn’t mind drinking wine and beer as a replacement. Wondrich says that sailors had an allotment of nearly 10 pints of beer a day.
Beer, however, tends to go bad when exposed to heat, which is what happens when the sailors reached the tropics. Instead of drinking bad beer, they created punches from local Indian and Indonesian ingredients. So the boozy punch was born and is still enjoyed today.
Easy Punches to Try at Home
Punches “feed” a lot of people, which make them perfect for nearly any party. And they’re fun to make. For your first attempt at mixing punches, it’s best to stick to some easy and classic punches that are sure to please nearly everyone in your crowd.
Fish House Punch
Fish House Punch is truly a classic. According to cocktail historians, the Fish House Punch was originally created at a Philadelphia club called the State in Schuylkill Fishing Corporation back in 1732. While the punch has “fish” in the title, it tastes nothing like fish – nor should you drink like one when imbibing this drink. It’s tasty, but also quite strong.
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups lemon juice
- 8 cups dark rum
- 4 cups cognac
- 4 ounces peach brandy
In a large punch bowl, mix the sugar in about 1-2 cups of water, and let the sugar dissolve. Add the lemon juice. Now, add all of the spirits and the rest of the water. Add a large block of ice. Finally, let the punch cool for approximately 1 hour.
(Source Bobby Flay)
Rum Punch was a drink of choice for colonial Americans since they were already familiar with Caribbean rum. Plus, they didn’t have refrigeration, which meant that fruit went bad fast. What better way to extend the life of than fruit that to mix up a tasty and boozy summertime punch?
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 cups grenadine syrup
- 2 cups Jamaican white rum
- 1 cup light rum
- 2 cups fresh pineapple juice
- 2 cups fresh orange juice
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg, optional
- Orange slices, for garnish
- Pineapple slices, for garnish
In a large punch bowl, combine all ingredients. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with orange or pineapple slices.
Wondrich has also traced the history of this little gem. The Pisco Punch has its roots at the Bank Exchange Bar in San Francisco during the height of the gold rush. The bar was founded in the mid-1850s, and it immediately became the go-to bar for many San Franciscans. Pisco was introduced by people from both Peru and Chile, seeking to strike it rich. The bar went out of business, but the drink remains.
- 1 Pineapple
- 8 ounces Gum Syrup
- 2 cups water
- 10 ounces lime juice
- 24 ounces Pisco
Cut pineapple into squares. Soak in gum syrup overnight. The next day, mix water, lemon juice, gum syrup and Pisco in a large punch bowl. Chill in the refrigerator for about one hour. Add ice to a glass, and ladle punch into the cup. Add pineapple square for garnish. Individuals may add gum syrup or lemon juice for additional flavor.
Where to Try a Few Punches
If you’re looking for some inspiration before you take the dive into making your own, Punch Bowl Social (65 Broadway) and Ace (501 East 17th Avenue) have some of the best punches in town. At Punch Bowl Social, gather up your friends, and dig into the “Trace of Peach Punch” and “Paper Tiger Punch”. At Ace, you definitely shouldn’t miss the “Loe Brow” and the house-carbonated and bottled “Jop Jop”.