Punch is the perfect cocktail solution for holiday parties. It's a classy way to serve drinks all night without being stuck behind the bar. In fact, many of the cocktail classics you know and enjoy started as punches - a community endeavor into the world of inebriated bliss.

The word punch stems from the Hindu word panch, meaning five. There are five key elements of a classic punch: strong, sweet, sour, bitter and weak. Not every element needs to be present in a punch recipe, but you want to create a good balance among the ingredients you use. Strong ingredients include base spirits, such as rum, vodka, gin, scotch or whiskey. Sweet elements come from syrups, fruit juices or sugar. Sourness comes from citrus or other tart juices. You can add bitter flavors with aperitifs, amari (Italian herbal liqueurs), Aperol or, of course, bitters. The weakening agents calm the bite of your base spirits and include things like club soda, tonic water, tap water or sodas.

You can create your own combination of flavors. Or you can turn your favorite cocktail into a punch by multiplying the recipe proportions by your number of guests and adding an additional third. (You might want to round up, since most people drink a bit more during the holidays.)

Philadelphia Fish House Punch

Serves | 10 |

  • 1 lb sugar
  • 8 oz lemon juice
  • 28 oz water
  • 6 oz Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum
  • 3 oz Camus Cognac
  • 3 oz peach brandy
  • ½ oz Angostura bitters
  • sliced fruit and berries, for garnish

| Preparation | In large container, dissolve sugar in the lemon juice and water. Add remaining ingredients. Stir and refrigerate for 2 hours. When ready to serve, place a large ice cube in a punch bowl and pour in punch. Garnish with sliced fruit and berries.


Lake Bluff Punch

Serves | 10 |

  • 12 oz North Shore Vodka
  • 12 oz papaya juice**
  • 9 oz lemon juice
  • 18 oz brewed hibiscus tea
  • 5 oz Luxardo Amaro Abano
  • 15 oz simple syrup
  • grated nutmeg and cinnamon

| Preparation | In large container, combine all ingredients. Stir and refrigerate for 2 hours. When ready to serve, place a large ice cube* in a punch bowl and pour in punch. Garnish with grated nutmeg and cinnamon.

*To make a single, large ice cube, fill a quart container with water, leaving about 2 fingers' room at the top. Freeze overnight. Filtered water will be less cloudy, but tap water works just as well.

**I recommend Ceres papaya juice, which can be found at Global Foods Market in Kirkwood.


The Path to Punch

Although the word for punch comes from India, there are no references to making punches for gatherings or celebrations in Indian history or culture. Punch is definitely a European creation. In the waning years of the 1490s, European sailors traversed the globe in search of new passages to the Far East. Along the way, they discovered citrus fruits and exotic herbs and spices. Distilled spirits were commonplace amongst these sailors. The idea of adding spices, herbs and citrus to wine or ales wasn't new. People drank mulled wine, for example, in England before punch existed. But once sailors' booze from back home ran out, they had to rely on local ingredients. Ingenuity, and the need to pass the time, gave birth to the fabulous drink called punch.

Matt Seiter is a co-founder of the United States Bartenders' Guild's St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG's MA program and a continuing educator for all desiring knowledge of the craft of mixology. He is a member of Drink Lab and is the creator of the Sanctuaria Cocktail Club.

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