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There is a large and interesting category of mixed beverages which, technically speaking, do not count as cocktails but which, I think, fall within our fun-loving and bibulous purview. These are the punches. We’ve talked about them before.

I like punch for it’s ability to be delicious while requiring almost none of my time once the party has started. I also like it because, properly made, it is just unreasonably, satisfyingly delicious. I am making some this evening to set out in the shop during our End Cuts Event tomorrow, so please do stop in for a cup, if you are in the neighborhood.

I would like to say up front that, apart from some practical experience, the sole source of my punch knowledge has been David Wondrich’s book, Punch. Yes, it is an entire book about punch, but Wondrich is a fine narrator and writes like an old friend. I recommend it if this echoes up your alley.

Blackwood’s Hot [or not] Whisky Punch

1 bottle Scotch (suggest McClellan’s Single Malt)
Peel of One Lemon
2 oz Demarara Sugar
1 Quart boiling water

Make an oleo-saccharum of the lemon peel and sugar, let it sit for at an hour, then add to it about a cup of the boiling water to dissolve. Dump in the whisky. Ideally, let it all mingle overnight. Before serving, add the rest of the boiling water (or to taste) and serve hot.

Okay, I know. But this is way easier than it looks. Seriously. Oleo-saccharum is (atrociously bad) latin for “sugar oil,” referencing the oil in citrus peel; the same oils we express over martinis, manhattans etc. Peel the lemon with a regular old veggie peeler, taking as little white pith as possible, then combine the peels in a bowl with the sugar. Demarara is a raw-style sugar great for it’s fuller flavor and, in this case, for its big, chunky grains. Use a muddler or a spoon to mash the sugar into the lemon skins—the manly version of exfoliation, this—and after you feel you’ve punctured all the little oil-sacs in the skins, cover the bowl and let it all sit for an hour or more on the counter. You will be floored by the amount of oil the sugar extracts in this timeframe. Welcome to flavor country. This process is standard in a ton of punches, so get your practice in.

This punch, like a good chili, tastes better the next day. Alcohol, water, sugar, etc. all extract different flavors at different rates so, if you can, give it time to mature overnight then strain out the lemon peels and water it down until you reach easy quaff-ability. I like a smoky scotch in this punch, but it doesn’t have to be an amazing one. McClellan’s is about $25 and drinkable. Perfect. Feel free to try other brown liquor.
I don’t dilute it until I’m ready to serve, mostly because it takes up less space that way. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks at least. I serve it from a crock-pot to keep it warm and pour it into little tea-cups, but use what you’ve got. If you want to serve it cold go ahead — I’d add a little more water to it in this case.

So how do you know when it’s good to go? I let this inform my mixing: punch is not a cocktail, and the wealthy Brits of old weren’t trying to replicate a frat party panty-dropper. Rather, they were accustomed to drinking French wines — Burgundy and Bordeaux — full flavored but not aggressive, interesting but quaffable. Aim for easy to drink. A good cocktail is like live theater. A good punch is like a pleasant memory: not a drama before your eyes but a soothing presence in the back of your mind as you sip and socialize. Nice and easy.

Drink Well.


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