As always with our Drink the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl to give away this month.
As Dave Wondrich points out in the introduction to Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, one of the finest virtues of a bowl of punch is the slow addition of water through the melting of ice. The melting ice creates a party drink that becomes less intoxicating as the party progresses, solving one of the issues that has confounded hostesses for ages: keeping the party convivial without a spare bedroom full of drunken guests at the end of the night.
That, of course, is just one of the happy benefits of punch. It is easy, economical for large gatherings, requires little-to-no bartending experience or special equipment, and tastes great. So great, in fact, that it can be hard to recognize just how booze-laden a great punch is—a glass of the American Orange Punch, for example, tastes suspiciously like a glass of orange-spiked sweet tea...despite the fact that it is almost wholly composed of cognac, rum and sugar.
The recipes in Punch date their origin to well before Prohibition, so the base spirits in the recipes tend to be brown: whiskey, cognac, and rum. There are also punches that use gin or wine but, by and large, expect to have some brown spirits in your flowing bowl. The rich flavor of those spirits blend beautifully with the flavors of citrus and spice that are essential to a delicious bowl of punch. After reading a great deal of Wondrich's excellent writing about cocktails, I have come to trust his taste in mixed drinks and the American Orange Punch, which he adapted from an original recipe by Jerry "Professor" Thomas, is no exception. The ingredients and preparation are simple but the return in flavor is tremendous.
Wondrich recommends preparing the oleo-saccharum at least an hour before mixing the punch—the longer the orange peel is allowed to blend with the sugar, the more pronounced the flavor will be in the final punch. Fortunately most of the prep time is inactive, so once that hour is up the bowl comes together easily.
Because there is such a large proportion of liquor in the mix, use the best quality spirits you can afford. A younger cognac like Pierre Ferrand Ambre (10-year) is absolutely lovely in this recipe, but be sure you use a brandy with some age on it; Wondrich recommends a Jamaica rum here, and I achieved delicious results with a 50/50 blend of Plantation Barbados 5-Year and Wray & Nephew White Overproof rums.
And don't skimp on the ice in this punch. It is, after all, the host's best friend.
About the author: Marleigh Riggins Miller writes and photographs for SLOSHED!, a website about cocktails, spirits, home bartending, and entertaining.
- 4 oranges (preferably organic)
- 3/4 pound light raw sugar
- 56 ounces boiling water
- 8 ounces porter beer
- 12 to 16 ounces brandy
- 12 to 16 ounces Jamaican rum
- optional: 1 ounce curaçao, noyaux, or maraschino liqueur
Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove the peel from two of the oranges. Try to remove only the orange peel and not the white pith, as that will impart a bitter taste to the punch.
Place the peels and sugar in a heatproof bowl and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, but preferably a full hour.
Juice all of the oranges. Add the juice and boiling water to the sugar and peels. Allow to infuse for 30 minutes.
Strain the orange mixture into a punch bowl and add the porter and liquors. Sample and adjust with water or sugar to taste.
To serve, add a large chunk of ice to the bowl and provide cubed ice for individual glasses, or add cubed ice to the bowl. The larger the piece of ice in the punch bowl, the slower it will melt. Ladle punch into glasses and enjoy!