In the summer, make punch instead of cocktails. OR: The 5 best ever punch recipes using a list of 7 hacks to you'll regret not knowing until, seriously, is this how people title things these days?

My friend Jenny had a complicated pregnancy.  She had twins a few years back and I think that is complicated enough.  I don’t know anything about childbirth, so what she did was twice as complicated as what was already a mystery to me.   A doctor or nurse had stamped her chart “elderly,” to let other caregivers know about her potential problems and seemingly, to embarrass her.  But these callous rubber stamps aside, after a few close calls and 3 years, she has a couple lil’ heathy toddlers.  However, because of the complications during birth, we had to have her baby shower in a hospital.

Few hospitals are set up for banquet service.  I’m sure the ER in Monaco has an excellent wine list and vending machines that serve tasting menus but even those posh medical monuments aren’t set up for parties.  When tapped to bring drinks to the maternity ward, I knew that bespoke cocktails draws too much attention from the nurse station— this is a job for punch.

 The kids turned out fine, this is my take on Jenny's Christmas card proving as much. Only bad parents have kids that are fine sitting on giant red stranger's lap.

The kids turned out fine, this is my take on Jenny's Christmas card proving as much. Only bad parents have kids that are fine sitting on giant red stranger's lap.

I smuggled 2 Coleman jugs into Jenny's baby shower.  These were slightly more discrete that a huge punch bowl and silver ladle.  Both of these punches were non-alcoholic (at my wife's request) but I also brought a flask, that was well shared.  Which on a side note, share your flask or don't bring one.  I'll discuss more about how to make N/A punches at the end of this, but for now let's discuss transporting your summer punch.  Because if summer BBQs and maternity wards have but 1 thing in common, it's that it's dumb to set up a big bar at them— just make a punch and get back to horse shoes.

The tricky thing about punch is that it has yet to enjoy the elevated transformation that most cocktails have.  Your average Old Fashioned or Martini have come miles in the past few years.  And though guys like David Wondrich and Dan Searing have drowned us in punch recipes, most barfolk don’t get a lot of opportunities to hone their punch skills.  But as I said before. when making drinks for a group of 40 in the corner of the maternity ward, that giant baroque crystal dome and matching ladle aren’t the right choice. The Coleman jug is your friend on this mission.  The 2 gallon Coleman jug specifically, is the best $20 you can spend on your entertainment arsenal.  The 1 or 2 gallon Coleman jug is a dispenser for punch, keeps punch cold and is also a jumbo sized cocktail shaker if you are strong enough.  I call this brand out by name not because I’m their shill, but because I have a soft spot for high functioning, durable yet value priced American made goods.  Typing that sentence put a tear in my eye.  That's one of the many reasons the Coleman jug is the most important accessory for 4th of July celebrations. 

 



Basic Punch Recipes for the 4th


Template for Punch

This template yields 106 oz of punch, use the remaining 22 oz to adjust for sweetness, strength or acidity. 1 gallon of ice and 1 gallon of punch will fit perfectly in a 2 gallon Coleman jug.  Always chill all ingredients before mixing the punch.  Also, almost any punch benefits from tossing a fistful of mint it the jug and shaking just enough to bruise it.  However, for a smarter person, not needing to prove their masculinity, I think I'm describing a woman, the same effect can be achieved by rolling the jug and letting the ice bruise the herbs.  Perhaps not as fun as shaking a 22 lb cooler over your head, but this offers a less, "stupid" way to get the job done.

  •  1 bottle spirit
  • up to 50 oz of a wine or a weak or subtle flavor

  • at least 13 oz acid, sour or something tart

  • at least 13 oz sweet, simple syrup or liqueur

  • about 6 oz some crazy flavor AKA "spice"

Independence Punch

Rye, applejack and bourbon are the American spirits.  Very spicy rye, the kind that hurts to sip, it great in punch.  This punch is a simple sour, but if you are looking to give it more depth, cut back on the apple juice and blend in dry Madeira— one of George Washington's favorites.

  • 1 botte Rye

  • 50 oz apple juice

  • 13 oz lemon juice

  • 13 oz Benedictine

  • 30 dashes Angostura


Steuben Punch

Just because gay pride was last week, that's not a reason to stop celebrating it for the 4th of July. This German punch is inspired by Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben who helped win the American Revolutionary War by creating the "Blue Book" for military training (still used today), promoting health and hygiene, (poor hygiene was as deadly as bullets) and using superior military tactics.  Also, he was a gay dude.

If you want to mature this punch, seek out unsweetened cranberry juice to beef up the acidity and remember that each dash of Peychaud's added removes sweetness.


 Lafayette Punch

Continuing the 4th can an international celebration, let's include Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.  Lafayette has a few lifetimes of achievements, but one of those lives was used in aid of American independence. When he returned to what became America in 1825, celebrants ate themselves to death at feasts in his honor— this punch is more restrained.

  • 1 bottle Cassis

  • 2 bottles sparkling wine

  • 13 oz pineapple juice

  • 13 oz Green Chartreuse

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

This is a punch that gets a lot better when shaken up with a bunch of mint in the jug.  Also, pineapple gomme syrup is great in punch to replace the pineapple juice.

Pirate Punch

Well, I had to work rum in there somehow.  Though the golden age of piracy was over by the revolutionary war, pirates would be a consistent presence in America's development be they adversaries in the Barbary wars or or allies like Jean Lafitte helping in the war or 1812.  Romanticizing pirates is part if America's history too.

  • 1 bottle Jamaican Rum

  • 40 oz strong spiced tea

  • 13 oz lime juice

  • 1 bottle orange liqueur

  • 6 oz grapefruit juice

Generally speaking, in the world of orange liqueurs, the more money you spend the better product you get.  The cheap stuff isn't even fit for pirates.

 

 


Punch Ratios for 1 Gallon

makes 106 oz of punch, allows for 22 oz to adjust strong/sweet/ sour ratio

The standard punch ratio

Above I pointed out that this template offers 22 oz of room to fix the punch.  That is extremely important because punches are full of variables.  Sparkling wine for example ranges from bone dry to manicure shop sweet.  Not all liqueurs have the same level of sweetness and few quality liqueurs are as sweet as simple syrup.  And most importantly, citrus flavors tend to take over punches.

 The commonly accepted rule for punch is to use 75% of the acidity that you'd use for a cocktail.  

So, the 22 ounce of cushion to "fix" your punch allows for you to add almost 1 whole bottle of sprit, or as I'd prefer, a liqueur.  It allows you to fix a punch that went too sweet from the juice/weak component having too much sugar. And, it allows you to fix a punch that has been sitting for a while that might have changing flavors.  If you think that your recipe is pretty solid but needs just a little body, don't add sugar, just top it with a beer: a little bubbles, a little savory adds just the right touch to finish punches.

N/A Punch Template

water, perhaps sparkling or flaovred takes the place of spirit

Non-alcoholic ingredients are great for all punches

When I worked under Kathy Casey, doing beverage consulting and menu development, I think the hands down most important thing she taught me was:

Don’t try to get all of the sweetness for your cocktails from liqueurs.

Even though in the template above I suggested that you could do this, you should know that buttressing liqueurs with simple syrup makes cocktails and punches better. This is something that I somewhat knew but didn’t have the discipline to make dogma.  Mastering non-alcoholic sweeteners, will make all of your cocktails and punches better— it will also stretch the usefulness of liqueurs and the budget for your punches. N/A Punch ingredients fall into 5 categories: water, sweetener, acid, weak and spice.  For alcoholic punches, the 5th category would swap “water” for “spirit,” but remember, most bottles of spirits are actually bottles for 40% alcohol and 60% water.*  And in case the trivia had missed you, the word “punch” has it’s origin in sanskrit word: पञ्च  “pañc” meaning “five.” While punches aren’t limited to 5 ingredients, good punches with use their ingredients to address the flavors: spirit, sour, sweet, weak and spice.

To add flavor without alcohol, these are my favorite ways to stretch my dollar.  Also, when you are making those maternity ward drinks, this is how you avoid something tasting just like hummingbird nectar.

Herbs

Herbs have bitter oils that help balance sweetness, bruise them in a punch bowl, pitcher or shake them in a jug.  I don't recommend making syrups out of herbs, it deadens the aroma.

Real Juice

Punches are a great opportunity to use juices that you wouldn't normally have a glass of; apricot, papaya, pineapple-coconut blend all come to mind.  Cloying alone, when cut with acidity and blended with other flavors these are great.  I have always appreciated the Santa Cruz brand.

D'arbo Syrups

Many companies make high quality fruit syrups, I love D'arbo because of their lack of preservatives and their use of mature flavors.  They make an excellent, inexpensive cassis and elderflower syrup for about $10 a bottle.

small hands food

Everything that small hands foods does is as good as is gets.  Everything they make, make every cocktail better.  For punches, using gomme syrups will improve the body and palate of the drink.

B G Reynolds

These tiki syrups are bold.  When liqueurs and subtle ingredients can get lost, B G Reynolds will standout and add structure to a long drink. 

Tippleman's Syrups

Odd flavors that add depth to punches, Tippleman's is all natural and throws a curve at the flavor you'd be expecting.

Scrappy's Bitters

I said "Angostura & Peychaud's" earlier but I did so for you, not for me.  I mentioned them because they are easy to find, but I pretty much always use, organic, quality and fresh Scrappy's Bitters.  All of them are great and bitters maker everything better.

Flavored Water

From just infusing cucumbers into water to La Croix, topping punches with a touch of "not sugar" flavor is always helpful.


Ooof, really running out of steam and I need to get back to my own punch preparations so there is only one more tip to offer

USE BIG ICE

When making punch, you could buy a bag of chipped ice from the gas station.  And, frankly, it's a rule of mine that you should bring a bag of ice to every party weather asked to or not, but your punch deserves better than the gas station's finest.  About a week before I plan to make a punch, I use insulated coffee mugs and deli containers to make big ice chunks in the freezer.  This is based on techniques that I learned from Camper English's exhaustive ice research. Also, freezing your own ice at home allows you to freeze fruit, herbs or plastic dinosaurs into the ice for those occasions upon which you are using a glass or transparent drink dispenser.  Alright, I'm off to go buy plastic dinosaurs. Celebrate well, drink independent beer, make great punch and if you are going to play with fireworks, I'm sure my brother-in-law, the ER doctor will tell me about it on Juy 5th.