Friday Happy Hour: How to Make a Knockout Punch

I’m going to let you guys in on a big secret about cocktail bars: we love batching. Got a delicious drink recipe that calls for half a dozen esoteric spirits and liqueurs? Great! Do I want to run up and down my bar trying to find them when I’m getting crushed during Saturday dinner service? About as much as you want to wait ten minutes for that drink. So we batch ahead of time. Like everyone else in the industry, I’ve got mixed feelings about batching. But sometimes it’s not just necessary, it’s preferred. And by that I’m talking about punches.

Punches are a host’s best friend. Easy to serve, better prepared ahead of time, and taste great; proper punch will earn you some serious colonial-era cocktail cred (maybe not that important to everyone… but check out Benjamin Franklin’s punch recipe). Try a punch at your next party and you will forever sing the praises of batching.

My recipes always follow the same format: 750 ml spirits, 375 fortified wine, 1000 ml tea, 250 ml citrus juice, 250 ml sugar, and 250 ml water. That’s roughly equal to one bottle of hooch, half a bottle of fortified wine, a pot of tea, a cup of citrus, a cup of sugar, and a cup of water. As far as actual ingredients goes, I’m a stickler for tradition (when it suits me) so I like to use colonial-era ingredients like applejack and maderia, two of the most consumed alcoholic beverages during foundation of our nation. Other than that, it’s dealer’s choice. Similar to boozy nogs, punches can take a mixture of multiple spirits; bourbon, rye, rum, brandy, genever, it will all blend in the end. You can even do a vodka-based punch. The ladies of LUPEC served one up at the Repeal Day Ball and it was so delicious, I was ready to cry witchcraft. Generally though, I avoid using vodka in my punches because we can’t all have skills like its creator, The Passenger‘s Alex Bookless. The exception being zubrowka; bison grass-infused vodka, that is. Mixed with apple cider, manzanilla sherry, and chamomile tea, a zubrowka punch is a beautiful thing. But that’s another post.

Final punch pro tips: don’t get fancy with the spirits, go fancy with the other ingredients. You could whip up an amazing blend of peated Islay whisky, infused gin, and a fine French brandy into a masterpiece, but I’d rather use a $25 bottle of brandy and save my money for a good quality pu-erh than mix with premium spirits. Show your chops with the other ingredients, that’s the best place to get fancy. I like to use infused sugars; they’re easy to make, sound fancy, and go a long way. Not to mention they’re a great way to preserve “fresh” flavors like fruits, citrus, and even herbs (sounds crazy, herb sugar, I know).

Since you’re going to have to juice a lot of lemons to get 250 ml of lemon juice, why not zest them first and make lemon sugar? Waste not want not, after all. To make an infused sugar, simply immerse your infusion material (citrus zest, vanilla beans, etc) into a vessel and fill with sugar. Let it rest for a few days and adjust the ratios to taste. It will add another layer of complexity to your punch and impress your friends and enemies. My go to is half and half lemon-infused sugar and vanilla-infused sugar. One of the coolest mixology tricks I’ve ever seen is lemon + vanilla = a subtle, floral phantom orange flavor. We could just add orange, but making it out of thin air is way more fun.

If you need any inspiration for your holiday punches, check out the punch du jour at 2 Birds 1 Stone or Dan Searing‘s new book (which has a great title). Adam Bernbach mixes up some masterful stuff in one of the most beautiful punch bowls I’ve ever seen at 2 Birds and Dan, of DC Craft Bartender’s Guild and Room 11 fame, is up there with David Wondrich as premier punch authority.

Paul Allen

While having only recently relocated to DC, Paul has been a long time fan of DC’s cocktail culture. In his short career he has tended bar for GQ, Bombay Sapphire, Campari, and Nikka Whisky in London. Currently you can find him behind the stick at Firefly. When not working, he’s likely vociferously advocating for the DC Craft Bartender’s Guild or trying to brew the perfect cup of tea. Though he misses his native Rhode Island’s beaches and beautiful fall weather, Paul is proud to live, work, and–most importantly–drink in DC.


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