Punches are the perfect communal beverage—successfully able to balance bitter, sour, and sweet flavor profiles and instantly enhance the aura of festivity.
At Evelyn Drinkery, deep in New York’s East Village, one of the summer libations that partner Christian Sanders served to parched locals was the Portobello Road Street Party Punch, created by the brand’s own Jake Burger. Mingling Portobello Road gin with Champagne, lemon, watermelon, lemon barley water, and Angostura bitters, it was crowned with an eye-catching garnish of white rose petals and fresh blueberries.
Likewise, Chicagoans slaked their thirst at the subterranean Punch House with the Fish House Jelly, a revamp of the classic Philadelphia Fish House Punch.
“We learned of the tradition of jellifying classic punch recipes dating as far back as the 1730s, and we took that idea and ran with it, adding gelatin and serving it with spiced whip and mint like a Jello Snack Pack,” says Punch House beverage manager Will Duncan. “While punch has a specific format of balancing the five flavors of strong, weak, bitter, sour, and sweet, I think people appreciate the fact that countless flavor profiles can be achieved nonetheless.”
With the chilling temperatures and festive shindigs of fall and winter fast approaching, it’s an even more apt time to showcase warm, intriguing spins on traditional punch. The concoction—combining alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and
tea or spices—first made an imprint on cocktail culture in the early 17th century as the fortifying drink of choice among sailors. Today, thanks in part to historian David Wondrich’s hit book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, the festive libation makes regular appearances in myriad beverage programs around the country.
Consider RedFarm, the modern Chinese restaurant in New York City’s West Village and Upper West Side. A seemingly unlikely destination for punch, here head bartender Shawn Chen makes a holiday-perfect Farm Punch uniting apple cider, rosemary, cinnamon, and gingerbread-infused tea whiskey. “It’s elegant and refined, not cloyingly sweet,” he says. Twists on conventional flavors, such as the Farm Punch’s integration of “sweet and rounded” South African Rooibos tea, is one way of enticing guests to order it, Chen points out.
“During the holidays, many customers expect comforting drinks from bars and restaurants. Every year we hear from them over and over again that they love punches because they are so easy,” Chen explains. “They simply taste great and sell very well during the season because it gives those guests a warm welcome and puts a smile on their face.”
Jason Percival, beverage manager of Post 390 in Boston, likes making mulled wine punches in particular at this time of year because he can “get creative with bitters and spices.”
In San Diego, Anthony Schmidt, beverage director of Consortium Holdings—which includes such local lairs as Polite Provisions, Ironside, and Rare Form—also loves tinkering with spices in his punches. “In light of the popularity of Zombie cocktails, we’ve been using the cinnamon and pomegranate syrup (aka grenadine) combo a lot,” he says. “I’m way into using this with apple brandy, preferably the two-year Clear Creek. It’s young, vibrant, and tastes like crisp apples.”