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First things first. The punch that I will be referring to in this week’s column has nothing in common with that bathtub in college you used to fill with the cheapest available vodka or rum and then mixed with anything from grape juice to Five Alive. Let’s be honest for a moment here: That kind of punch has played its role. We have all had it and made some questionable moral decisions afterwards. You haven’t lived until you have tried a real punch, however, and so as we head into the season to be jolly, I want to offer some punch recipes for your sipping pleasure. Before I list the recipes, I have included some facts on the drink for those asking: “If punch isn’t a garbage can filled with neutral grain alcohol and Sunny Delight, what the hell is it?” 

What is punch exactly?
Long before there was the mixed drink known as a cocktail, there was punch — a delightful “flowing bowl” of fine spirits mixed with teas, sugars, spices and citruses, to name a few of the most common ingredients added to the base alcohol. It would be served as a convivial drink. Sharing a bowl of punch was festive and a bonding experience for the imbibers. In short, punch has always been, and still is, a drink meant for sharing.

Where does punch come from?
The name punch derives from the Hindu word panch, which means “five” and refers to the number of ingredients commonly used in the recipes. The drink itself, however, is said to have been the tipple of the British East India Company. I believe this is a fitting conclusion as it was made with ingredients from their journeys. Punch is a truly international drink.

What are these five ingredients you speak of?
The way that I remember the basic formula of a punch recipe is:

  • Sour (usually citrus)
  • Sweet (most often sugar)
  • Strong (the good stuff, your spirit)
  • Weak (tea, for example)
  • Spice (nutmeg is one of the most common ones used)

Here are some great punch recipes for you to try. Note that I have listed the measurements as parts so that you can increase the recipe as needed to suit the size of their party or punch bowl.
The Punch With A History: The Fish House Punch
The Fish House Punch was invented in 1732 at the Schuylkill Fishing Company and is said to be a recipe enjoyed by George & Martha Washington. Note: Contributing Editor Matt Rodbard served this at Thanksgiving 2011. It was certainly boozier than Thanksgiving 2012.

1 part lemon juice
1 part simple syrup
4 parts Smith & Cross Rum 
2 parts Cognac Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula
1/2 part peach brandy
1/2 part Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 parts freshly made green tea 
2 parts Champagne (I know that Champagne isn’t technically a spice but I don’t hear anyone complaining)

Build all ingredients into a punch bowl, add ice and serve with a ladle into punch cups.

The Punch That I Created: The Horse and Carriage Punch
By Simon Ford

2 parts Plymouth Gin
1 1/2 parts St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur 
2 parts chamomile tea
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part Cointreau
1/4 part honey syrup 
2 parts Perrier-Jouët Champagne
The peel of 5 oranges and 5 lemons
Fine white sugar

Muddle orange and lemon peels with fine sugar in a punch bowl. Add ingredients and ice and top with chilled Champagne. Garnish with orange and lemon wheels (and elderberries where available.

A Good Friend’s Punch: The Royal Bloodline Punch
By Nick Strangeway [read our interview]

4 parts Beefeater Gin
2 parts sweet vermouth 
1 part crème de framboise
5 parts blood orange juice
2 parts blood orange sherbet*
1 bottle of Champagne

Build ingredients into a punch bowl, add ice and top with chilled champagne. Garnish with blood orange slices and fresh raspberries. 

*To make the blood orange sherbert, zest five blood oranges into a pan and squeeze in their juice. Add 15 tablespoons of sugar and slowly heat until sugar has dissolved. Make sure not to let boil. Once done, leave for 30 minutes to cool and then strain through a fine sieve.

And 5 Final Tips For Crafting A Very Good Punch

1. Make big ice
Tupperware containers are great for this purpose. Large ice will melt slower into the punch so that it will not get watered down so quickly.

2. Decorate your ice with garnishes
Add some slices of fruit before you freeze the water in the Tupperware, making the large block of ice more colorful and attractive.

3. Invest in a nice punch bowl and ladle
Remember that it’s all about doing it properly.

4. Tea cups are great vessels in which to serve punch
Call grandma, or your favorite British friend.

5. Buy this book
Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by James Beard Award–winning writer David Wondrich. It is easily the best writing on the subject that you can find.

More Drink Ford Tough columns on Food Republic: