While they’re now mostly relegated to juice boxes and a handful of specialized bars, punches were once the undisputed king of the party drink. While they’re making a comeback (because let’s face it, when you’re entertaining, punch is incredibly convenient) punches had been replaced by the cocktail culture of the 1950s.
The origins of punch are a little more far-flung and exotic than you might think. The word “punch” is actually taken from Sanskrit and means “five”—in reference to the number of ingredients the beverage originally contained (typically alcohol, lemon, sugar, water and spice). So how did this Indian concoction find its way to the dancehalls and gatherings of our forefathers? Like so many other proud drinking traditions, of course it was British sailors.
During the 17th century, the journey by sea from England to India was a long one, and naturally, sailors like to drink. The problem was, that by the time they’d reach India, their beer would often be rancid (sorry IPA fans, the hop/preservative thing is mostly a myth). So what was a thirsty sailor to do? Appropriate a native drink and add rum, naturally. The citric acid was an excellent preservative, and this new mix was capable of making the journey. Punch found its way to England, and from there on to the rest of Europe and the American colonies. Large punch bowls became the norm at just about every social gathering, with nonalcoholic varieties gradually appearing for kids and teetotalers.
Slowly though, punch’s popularity began to fade. In England, Queen Victoria was not a fan of spirits, and they eventually fell out of favor. In the US, the variety (and higher proof) of cocktails elbowed punches out of the limelight. But thanks to the hard work and diligent research of some wonderful bartenders today, everything old is new again, and punches are enjoying a bit of a renaissance. And if you want to mix one up for your next holiday gathering, we suggest this recipe from our New York Whiskey Guardian Joe Nelson.
1 part ANGEL'S ENVY
1 part sparkling wine
1/2 part Lillet Rose
1/4 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 part fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 part club soda
Mix all ingredients in a punch bowl, float cutie oranges on the surface of the punch. Serve over ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.