This summer, people are drinking alcohol-based punches in many of the hippest bars and cocktail lounges in the country. That punches have become bestsellers is hardly surprising. They’re gorgeous-looking drinks renown for being ridiculously delicious. What’s ironic about their skyrocketing popularity is that punch bowl drinks are as old as our Republic and one of the oldest, most basic forms of libations.
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 now 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,” he says. “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.”
“I think punches are another phase of the cocktail renaissance, another evolutionary step in making the old new again,” says Brian Miller, bartender extraordinaire formerly at New York City’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.”
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, follow the formula of combining sweet, citrus, spice, water and spirit.
“Today, classic punch recipes are undergoing the same interpretative process as have classic cocktails 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.”
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 thinks the initial step is finding the appropriate glassware for the job. He recommends searching on eBay or scouring local secondhand stores for punch bowls, ladles and cups.
“I prefer the look and functionality of punch bowls with built-in pedestal,” he says. “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.”
Yuri Kato, publisher of CocktailTimes.com and author of the recently published book, “Japanese Cocktails,” thinks punches make great on-premise promotions for bars. For President’s Day, 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.
She 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.”
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 potentially will over-dilute the punch. Victoria D’amato-Moran often 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 to keep the drink cold without it becoming 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 Jello mold, fill it with water, mint leaves and an assortment of fresh berries and place it in the freezer overnight,” she says. “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.”
Regarding how to go about developing a punch drink for your bar, Pogash recommends beginning with a classic recipe and going from there. For example, at two of his locations, 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 Moet & Chandon Champagne.
At his other venues, he markets the Prohibition Punch in communal bowls, substituting the passion fruit juice with Appleton VX Rum-infused passion fruit tea.
“The response has been tremendous,” he says. “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.”
Belle of the Ball Punch
Specialty of Victoria D’amato-Moran.
24 ounces 10 Cane Rum
16 ounces Mount Gay Extra Old
3 ounces Navan Vanilla Cognac
16 ounces pineapple juice
16 ounces mango juice
8 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
4 ounces lime juice
4 ounces passion fruit syrup
1 tablespoon grapefruit bitters
Mix ingredients together and serve with an ice ring. Garnish the punch with orchids. Passion fruit syrup is made with equal passion fruit puree and simple syrup. Punch will fill a 4-quart punch bowl including ice ring. Ice ring can be prepared in a Jello mold with purified water, mint leaves and berries, then placed in freezer for 24 hours.
Specialty of Yuri Kato.
4 ounces Tequila Corrido Cristalino Tequila
2 ounces Combier Liqueur d’Orange
4 ounces grapefruit juice
1 lime, thinly sliced
8 cucumber slices
8 grapefruit slices
3 ounces club soda
Mix ingredients together and serve with ice. Garnish with lime, cucumber and grapefruit slices.
Specialty of Jeffrey Morganthaler, Clyde Common, Portland, Ore.
4 750-ml bottles Bourbon
1 750-ml bottle Créme de Cassis
2 750-ml bottles dry sparkling wine
1 ounce Angostura bitters
12 ounces simple syrup
48 ounces fresh lemon juice
48 ounces ginger beer
Mix ingredients together and serve with ice blocks frozen with lemon slices.
The Bookmarks Cocktail
Specialty of Jonathan Pogash, Hospitality Holdings, New York City, N.Y.
2 ounces passion fruit tea-infused Appleton VX Rum**
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
3/4 ounce pineapple juice
3/4 ounce cranberry juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Topped with Moët & Chandon Champagne
Shake all ingredients, except for the Champagne, with ice and strain over more ice into a tall pilsner glass. Top with the Champagne and garnish with an orange wheel and cherry.
**Note: Passion fruit tea infused rum: For every 750-ml bottle of rum, use two passion fruit tea bags. Add ingredients to an airtight container. Allow mixture to infuse for 15 minutes, remove tea bags and re-bottle.
Great Scott Punch
Specialty of Kim Haasarud, consultant with Liquid Architecture, Phoenix, Ariz.
5 parts Knob Creek Bourbon
2 parts St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
4 parts rich citrus simple syrup **
12 parts water
Combine all of the ingredients and strain out the peels. Pour into a large punch bowl.
** Note: To make rich citrus simple syrup, peel three lemons and one orange for every 3 cups of sugar being used, approximately. Muddle the peels in the sugar until the sugar becomes damp and rich with the oils from the fruit. Add the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Planter's Punch Berry Cup
Specialty of Kathy Casey, owner/Kathy Casey Food Studios – Liquid Kitchen, Seattle, Wash.
1 ounce 10 Cane Rum
3/4 ounce Sailor Jerry Ruma