Punches: Making the Communal Bowls Work
The Eye-Catching Drinks are Rising in Popularity, Boosting Sales and Keeping Patrons Happy
Our crack staff of trendinistas reports alcohol-based punches are being consumed with fervor in the hippest bars and cocktail lounges in the country. That punches have become bestsellers is hardly surprising; they’re gorgeous-looking drinks renowned for being equally as delicious as they are aesthetically appealing. What’s ironic about their skyrocketing popularity is that punch bowl drinks are as old as our Republic and one of the most basic forms of libations.
“I think punches are another phase of the cocktail renaissance, another evolutionary step in making the old new again,” says Brian Miller, bartender extraordinaire at New York’s Death & Company. “I’ve served and imbibed many a punch, and they have every quality necessary for long-term success. They bring people together in a shared moment and inspire conviviality. Who doesn’t like drinking out of bowls? Dogs do it all the time,” he quips.
As the director of cocktail development for some of Manhattan’s most fashionable joints, including The Campbell Apartment, The World Bar and the newly opened Empire Room in the Empire State Building, Jonathan Pogash works with punch drinks on a nightly basis.
“When guests see the people at the table next to them drinking a gigantic drink out of a communal glass bowl, they immediately follow suit and order one of their own. In addition to being irresistibly appealing, punches also have a great deal of perceived value. You get more drink for the money. A single-serving punch might actually be two drinks in one, as is the case with our Prohibition Punch (pictured at left).”
So what are these drinks? Some are presented in large bowls with a gaggle of long straws, while others are prepared individually and served in tall, iced glasses. Drinks expert and historian David Wondrich says punches, regardless of how involved their recipes may be, all follow the formula of combining sweet, citrus, spice, water and spirit.
“Today classic punch recipes are undergoing the same interpretative process as classic cocktails have over the past several years,” observes Kathy Casey, celebrity chef, author and international drinks consultant. “Traditionally, punches containing alcohol are made with wine, brandy or rum, blended with sugar, lemon (citrus) and tea or spices. After that, let creativity and good taste rule.”
Yuri Kato, publisher of CocktailTimes.com and author of the recently published book Japanese Cocktails, thinks punches make great on-premise promotions for bars. On President’s Day or the Fourth of July, for example, she suggests tantalizing guests with Martha Washington’s Rum Punch, a 200-year-old classic that features a blend of white and dark rum, orange Curaçao, fresh lemon and orange juice, spices and water.
Where to Start
Jeffrey Morgenthaler has had considerable firsthand experience marketing punches. A master mixologist and the bar manager of Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., Morgenthaler says the initial step is finding the appropriate glassware for the job. He recommends searching on eBay or scouring local second-hand stores for punch bowls, ladles and cups.
“I prefer the look and functionality of punch bowls with built-in pedestals. They just look more presentable on a table. From a practicality standpoint, I advise only using sturdy glass punch bowls at a bar. Expensive, high-end glassware has its place, but that place typically isn’t a high-volume bar or cocktail lounge. As for special handling and care, I just treat them with the same care I use with all our glassware.”
One operational concern is how to keep these large drinks from becoming warm as they sit on the table. Adding scoops of ice is an option, but one that often over-dilutes the punch. Victoria D’Amato-Moran prepares a smaller version of whatever punch she’s promoting and freezes the drink in ice trays the night before. She then adds some of those cubes to the punch bowl, keeping the drink cold but not too watery.
A seasoned mixologist with what amounts to a post-graduate degree on the subject, D’Amato-Moran also advises employing a tactic her mother taught her: “She would take a copper Jell-O mold, fill it with water, mint leaves and an assortment of fresh berries and place it in the freezer overnight. The next day it’s submerged into a punch bowl and keeps the drink icy cold with a minimum amount of dilution. It works like a charm.”
Kato also offers this piece of advice: “If you’re making a punch for a group of people who will consume the punch right away, I don’t think covering a punch bowl is necessary, but if your bar is serving punch all day, I’d definitely put some sort of a cover on the punch bowl. I personally wouldn’t order a punch that’s sitting on the bar for hours.”
Regarding how to go about developing a punch drink for your bar, Pogash recommends beginning with a classic recipe and updating it for your clientele. For example, at The Campbell Apartment and The Empire Room, Pogash promotes an upscale version of the Prohibition Punch in single servings, which he describes as a fantasized Planter’s Punch with added passion fruit juice and Moët & Chandon Champagne ($16). It’s been a profitable venture because, he explains, “it’s so popular, it just becomes one of those drinks that allows for profit. We sell so many of them every day.”
At his other venues, the Prohibition Punch recipe substitutes the passion fruit juice with passion fruit tea-infused Appleton VX Rum. “The response has been tremendous. Guests return time and time again just to drink our punches and to brag to their friends that these are some of the best drinks they’ve encountered in a while.”
And that, my friends, sums up why punch drinks have become a bankable trend. NCB
Thirsty for More?
Looking for some field-tested punch recipes? The mixologists featured in this article have given us their best. Check out these punch recipes here.