With the festive season in full swing, you may find yourself gathering up friends, colleagues or family for an evening of socializing in your home. But unless you have a fully stocked bar in your house where you’d like to spend all evening making drinks for everyone, there is a stress-free way to provide your guests with drinks: The Punch! All you need is some ingredients, ice and a big vessel to serve your concoction from and you can sit back, relax and enjoy your night.
So where did it all start? Nobody can say precisely when, where or by whom punch was invented. What we do know is that there is a close connection to the British navy and their voyages to the spice-rich regions of Asia in the 16th century. In 1632, the word punch makes its debut in the written records of history. The definition of punch came a few years later: spirits, watered down to a drinkable strength, soured with citrus juice, sweetened with sugar and spiced with whatever was handy. The name punch most likely comes from the Hindi word for five (panch) and punch did generally have five ingredients.
You're only limited by your imagination
Nothing unites a gang of new and old friends like a shared task, be it painting your living room wall or cleaning up a park, or simply getting to the bottom of a bowl of punch. There are countless recipes for punch and you’re really only limited by your imagination. But how do you prepare a perfect bowl of punch? How to produce a refreshing, balanced and sophisticated mixture of ingredients everyone will love? Here’s five tips to get you started.
1: The spirits
While you can make punch out of any liquor, the most successful ones tend to call for the old-fashioned, complex, full-of-flavour variety: cognac; rich rums, genever, things of that kind. No matter where the alcohol is from though, it should be full-flavoured, high-proof and of good quality as it will have to stand up to a lot of dilution. As a general rule, the spirits will make up around 5-6 parts of the total volume of the punch.
You can use any type of sweetener that takes your fancy. You could use cane sugar, honey, date syrup or use a liqueur as the sweet part of the punch. To make a sugar syrup that will easily dissolve with the rest of your ingredients: use 2 parts sugar and add to this 1 part water. Transfer to a pot and gently warm through (do not boil) until all sugar has dissolved. Transfer to a clean bottle and it will keep for months. The sugar part will make up 2-3 parts of the total volume of the punch (according to taste).
The sour element is the essence of punch. So, add lemon or lime juice, grapefruit juice or any seasonal citrus as fresh as you can squeeze it. The citrus part will make up 2-3 parts of the total volume of the punch (according to taste).
Use enough. Punch is not a cocktail; you’re meant to have multiple small cups as you chat with your friends, which means it should be about the strength of sherry (between 15-17% abv). Instead of water, you can also use fruit juices, tea or sodas to help dilute your punch. Oh, and there’s ice, too: a large block of ice will keep your punch cool without melting too quickly. To make a large block of ice at home, use a silicone baking pan, fill with water and freeze overnight. The water part will make up around 2 parts of the total volume of the punch.
Don’t overdo it; you want people to taste the punch, not the spice. You can grate some fresh nutmeg over the top of the bowl, add some cinnamon sticks or star anise to the bowl or use a few dashes of cocktail bitters to taste.
All you need now is a good sized bowl to assemble your punch, some cups and a ladle to serve it to your guests. Here’s one of our favourite recipes:
The spice route
5 parts Bols Genever
2 ½ parts Bols Crème de cassis
½ part sugar syrup
1 ½ part fresh lemon juice
1 ½ parts fresh lime juice
3 parts ginger beer (Old Jamaica)
Pour into a large bowl with a big block of ice. Garnish with a few cinnamon sticks, star anise and peels of a lemon.