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I preach the magic of punch

October 27, 2013 by Russ

I was recently given the awesome opportunity lately to help out a gathering of awesome people, more formerly known as the TEDx Columbia SC team and their speakers for this year’s event.  I can’t tell you who was in attendance, since the announcement about who is speaking has not been announced, but I can tell you that I’m very excited for this year’s event.

Since I had previously mixed drinks for many of the team members for the event, I was asked to ‘tend bar'(I hesitate to say I was bartending, since it was just a table where the beer, wine, champagne, and water were hanging out).  But that was something anyone could have done to help out.  My contribution came in the form of punch.

But this was not to be the kind of punch that comes to many people’s minds, with bottles of booze, soda, and tooth-withering sucrose neon-colored ingredients.  Oh no, not here.  I drew my recipe forth from cocktail historian David Wondrich’s wonderful book, Punch.  As with his earlier book, Imbibe, Wondrich tells the rich history of punch (which predates cocktails by centuries!) and provides recipes with context and modern-day options for how to make them.  In the case of Punch, the correct verb is ‘compounding’ punch… and I discovered that I do enjoy compounding it.

I chose a recipe out of this awesome book called Regent’s Punch, and it is so named  because the recipe is attributed to King George IV.  Yeah, I went and made a 200+ year-old recipe for an unsuspecting group of Columbia’s movers and shakers.  In the interest of full disclosure I did quickly print out a placard  with the ingredients and a brief summary of the story, since I knew that sampling something unknown would be just cause for hesitation.  Note: there are TONS of variation on this recipe (as is to be expected with something as popular and aged as this punch is), but that link just above is the same from Punch that I followed.  The magic that makes this work (in my humble opinion) is the oleo-saccharum, which is a beautiful elixir made from the zests of citrus (the very outer peel with no pith) muddled in sugar and left to sit.  The sugar and muddling releases the oils from the peels and becomes this bewitchingly oily, sugary miracle that is the heart and soul of many great punch recipes. 

It came out a lovely golden color, and despite Elyn’s hesitations (and  a few of my own), it was quickly devoured by the guests.  I’d like to think it was the story and the intrigue that sold them on trying it, and not my insistence and classy hat.  That punch was well worth the day-ahead of prep, and I am still thrilled that so many people gave it a chance and loved it.



  1. Kyra says:

    I imagine punch in a bowl & a cocktail in an individual glass, but I assume glassware isn’t the official definitive difference?

  2. Russ says:

    It is a valid assertion that punch and cocktail share many similarities, but the key differences lie in purpose. The flowing bowl pre-dates the earliest cocktails by centuries, but not for lack of ingredients. People of the Golden Age of Punch could have had cocktails (albeit warm ones; ice was scarce), but wanted to separate themselves from the “Bawd” and “swearing Porters” and “drunken Carr-men” by imbibing something (and I’ll just quote Punch! yet again), “that one could drink without losing social status – something fit for, as the satire put it, “Sots of Quality”. Being less liquor-forward and, honestly, more like wine, punch requiring such extensive cost and preparation, sought “…in the process restoring some of the nobility that the industrial process of distillation has brutally stripped away.” I can’t put it any better than David Wondrich.

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