Ahead of the race that stops a na­tion, DAMIEN WOOL­NOUGH talks to booze gu­rus about why the classic batch-mixed cock­tail is the toast of party sea­son and the se­cret weapon of home-en­ter­tain­ing.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday - Look­ing for punch recipes for sum­mer mer­ry­mak­ing? Head to de­li­

The re­vival of punch is giv­ing bar­tenders a rea­son to smile as cock­tails fi­nally join food and feel­ings as some­thing we’re en­cour­aged to share in pub­lic. Or­der a cos­mopoli­tan, a man­hat­tan or a mo­jito at a crowded bar and you’ll be greeted with a fixed grin, but pick punch and watch the sea­soned mixol­o­gist’s white-knuckle grip on the mud­dling stick re­lax.

“For the past few years bar­tenders have been push­ing it to the limit with drinks, so this is part of a re­turn to fo­cus­ing on key ingredients and sim­plic­ity,” says Peter Hol­lands, brand am­bas­sador for Bac­ardi-mar­tini Aus­tralia. “It also helps that it’s a drink that brings peo­ple to­gether. Shar­ing drinks is like shar­ing food.

“The real force driv­ing its pop­u­lar­ity is home-en­ter­tain­ing. No one wants to spend the whole party mak­ing drinks for guests, so punch is a sim­ple so­lu­tion.”

It’s the el­e­ment of ease that has Tai Tate, wine buyer for Syd­ney’s Uni­corn and Lans­downe ho­tels, cup in hand and on board. “I love punch be­cause I don’t like mak­ing things a mil­lion times,” Tate says. “You just keep fill­ing your cup.”

Self-pro­claimed con­nois­seurs might con­fuse punch with mem­o­ries of high-school con­coc­tions of su­per-sweet lemon­ade and left­over spir­its from their par­ents’ drinks cup­board, but the drink’s his­tory stretches well be­yond Gen-x and baby-boomer im­bibers.

Bri­tish sailors in the 17th cen­tury were the hip­sters of the high seas, wear­ing full-sleeve tat­toos and trav­el­ling to ex­otic lo­cales. While vis­it­ing In­dia and In­done­sia these ad­ven­tur­ers be­gan drink­ing punch as an al­ter­na­tive to warm beer in trop­i­cal cli­mates, cre­at­ing clever con­coc­tions with sou­venired spices.

The term ‘punch’ is be­lieved to come from the San­skrit word for five, ‘pan­cha’, re­fer­ring to the five ingredients re­quired. A punch should have some­thing sweet, sour, strong, spicy and weak.

“The term ‘punch’ could also come from ‘pun­cheon’, a word for a drink­ing ves­sel,” says Garth Fos­ter, brand am­bas­sador for Möet Hen­nessy. “Let’s face it, sailors were no­to­ri­ously il­lit­er­ate but at least they knew how to drink.”

Il­lit­er­acy might have some­thing to do with the recipe for a rum punch be­ing kept sim­ple enough for a rhyme that’s al­most as pop­u­lar in Bar­ba­dos as Ri­hanna. ‘One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak. A dash of bit­ters and a sprin­kle of spice. Serve well chilled with plenty of ice.’

When the drink was em­braced by the Bri­tish aris­toc­racy, things started to get com­pli­cated. The first de­gree of dif­fi­culty came with the in­tro­duc­tion of the mys­te­ri­ous-sound­ing shrub.

“A shrub is a con­cen­trated syrup that com­bines fruit, su­gar and vine­gar,” Tate says. “It can add com­plex­ity to a drink when used with deft mod­er­a­tion. Go heavy-handed, how­ever, and it will turn you into a winc­ing mess.”

Com­plex­ity is fine for a wine, but Hol­lands went straight to the top and dis­cov­ered the im­pres­sive-sound­ing shrub isn’t a nec­es­sary ad­di­tion to your punch shop­ping list.

“Just stick to the key ingredients,” Hol­lands says. “I checked with Dale De­groff, the man who pop­u­larised the cos­mopoli­tan and is con­sid­ered the god­fa­ther of mod­ern bar­tend­ing.

“Ac­cord­ing to De­groff, us­ing vine­gar in punch drinks is not the orig­i­nal way. Cit­rus was used in­stead. Sweet­ness can be added with a lemon or lime syrup.”

The pop­u­lar­ity of ex­pen­sive spices helped bring the aris­toc­racy on board, who were able to splash out on cloves, cin­na­mon and nut­meg, which all found their way into punch recipes.

For a sub­tler ap­proach, tea works as the weak com­po­nent of a punch recipe.

“Play around with dif­fer­ent teas,” Hol­lands says. “Just walk through a T2 store for in­spi­ra­tion. It’s what a lot of bar­tenders do for a cre­ative jump-start.”

Fos­ter sug­gests look­ing for the herba­ceous black teas.

An­other punch ac­ces­sory favoured by the aris­toc­racy was the punch­bowl. Dur­ing the stream­lined ’90s and noughties, kitsch punch­bowls were ob­jects of de­ri­sion, but in the 18th and 19th cen­turies the likes of Charles Dick­ens and Queen Vic­to­ria broke out the punch­bowl at par­ties.

A grand 226-kilo punch­bowl sits in The Royal Col­lec­tion, hav­ing been con­verted from a wine cooler by crafty Queen Vic­to­ria in 1842 for the chris­ten­ing of Prince Al­bert Ed­ward.

Fos­ter sug­gests some­thing less os­ten­ta­tious for sum­mer par­ties.

“You can just mix the ingredients in a gi­ant carafe and let peo­ple serve them­selves,” he says. “You don’t need a punch­bowl for it to be a punch.”

Hol­lands, how­ever, em­braces tra­di­tion. “I’m al­ways asked by peo­ple whether they should have a cock­tail sta­tion at their par­ties. That’s fine if your friends are well be­haved. Af­ter a drink my friends tend to get messy so a big bowl is an easy and prac­ti­cal op­tion.”

A gen­er­ous punch­bowl al­lows you to keep things cool by us­ing a gi­ant block of ice as the weak in­gre­di­ent of your punch. “Peo­ple pay at­ten­tion to the strong part of the recipe, the booze, but also need to think about the weak,” Hol­lands says.

“If you’re not keen on tea just freeze some wa­ter in a Tup­per­ware con­tainer overnight. This will en­sure that you have a cold, in­stead of wa­tery, drink through­out the night.”

Give tinned fruit a miss, but fresh cher­ries, herbs or slices of cit­rus work a treat as gar­nishes.

“Just keep things sim­ple and light,” he says. “It’s the drink that can be en­joyed by ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially the host.”

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