Getting Punchy: The Resurging Popularity of Punch

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

Once upon a time, if you wanted a drink that was short, strong and solid, you didn't reach for the cocktail shaker—those hadn't been invented yet—but rather, for the punch ladle. Dating to at least the early 17th-century and likely originating in India or nearby trade routes, punch was, for centuries, the primary delivery vehicle for an array of distilled spirits, especially those made from sugar cane, such as the fledgling rum or the exotic Batavia arrack.

Then, punch was gone; mostly, anyway, supplanted by the stronger, faster, easier to prepare cocktail. In the early 1800s, punch was everywhere; by the close of that century, it was the stuff of special celebrations, but no longer the reliable, everyday tipple it once was.

Now, as the taste for classic cocktails continues to develop, punch seems to be returning. Chow recently noted the appearance of punch at mixology temples such as Death & Co. in New York, and at Jardiniere in San Francisco. Last week, organizers of the annual Tales of the Cocktail celebration announced that the official cocktail of the 2008 event would be the Punch and Judy, an original punch created by Hendricks gin brand champion Charlotte Voisey; and earlier this week, the food editor for the New Orleans Times Picayune featured several recipes for punches and punch ingredients presented by Chris Hannah, bartender at Arnaud's French 75 bar.

These aren't the sickly sweet concoctions fizzed with 7-Up that I recall my parents making for parties back in the '70s. These punches tend to recall the classic punch composition, featuring a strong, flavorful spirit; citrus juice; a sweetener and some spice; and enough water or ice to make the mixture easy to drink.

While punches can be more time-consuming to prepare than simply opening a bottle of wine or preparing rounds of cocktails, it brings more to a gathering than simply alcoholic vigor. Do you make punches for any of your get-togethers? Care to share your favorites in the comments section?