I remember punch.
Mom and Dad's Christmas parties in my hometown of Norwell, Massachusetts. Guests would fill our colonial home, sharing the warmth of the wood burning fireplace complete with traditional bread baking hollow. Everyone dressed in their cocktail gowns and best suits while the snow blanketed the tranquil New England countryside. The punch bowl had been waiting patiently on the back porch to chill, and often freeze, a few days before the party. Various strange, unrelated fruit swam amidst the brightly red colored elixir. Berries, melons, bananas... The alcohol drowning in sweet nectar of pineapple, orange, grapefruit... whatever juice was on hand to hide the boozy flavors. Often accompanied by another bowl full of traditional eggnog.
I remember punch.
At Wittenberg University, November 2nd, 1991. My 21st birthday. It was Halloween weekend, I was dressed as a Shakespearean Romeo. The house was called "The Tabernacle", an all girls house/party destination. It was my first time there, later in the year I would begin a relationship with one of the tenants who was kind enough to share those fleeting college romance days with me. For now, I was finally of legal age to imbibe of the libations offered by our most gracious hostesses. Following numerous shots of Hot Damn Cinnamon flavored liqueur, I found myself in the basement where 3 large garbage cans were filled with "punch". Everclear and Hawaiian Punch (I may not be accurate with the recipe, though I doubt the ancient "laws" of punch making were being rigorously abided). 3 cups of this "punch" and I would not be drinking again for the remainder of the week. I spent the rest of the night lighting Everclear bottles with matches. The blue flame staying lit purely on the ethers of the moonshine.
And then I discovered Punch.
It started at Embury, where we made a variation of Philadelphia Fish House Punch called "Firehouse Punch". Here I learned the ancient techniques of punch making. The oleo saccharum, the water saturation, the liquors most appropriate for traditional punch, the balance, the booziness... the foundations were being laid. When the bar was 3 deep, and we couldn't service our guests in a timely enough manner, that was when we broke out the Firehouse Punch. A drink in each customers hand let us return to the tasks at-hand; making drinks for those waiting, washing dishes that had piled up, and congregating for "team meetings" (staff shots of Green Chartreuse).
Through my studies I noticed that punch was being used as more of a driving influence in bars across the country, rather than the "call-in-the-reserves" status that it had been appropriated to in our small wonder bar. I started colecting recipes for punches that included Dale DeGroff's Rainbow Room Punch, Martha Washington's Punch, a Negroni Punch, and selections from David Wondrich's book Imbibe.
We used many of these recipes at Pittsburgh's very first informational gathering and membership drive for the United States Bartenders Guild. We decided a Punch Social was the best way to meet and greet and share info, so no one member of the Executive Staff would be stuck behind a bar making cocktails when that time could be better spent introducing Pittsburgh bartenders to the benefits of a USBG Pittsburgh Chapter.
One of the highlight punches was my own creation, which started out as a Swedish Punch recipe I found online, but quickly became a bitch's brew of unmeasured additions of liquors and juices to try to correct my earlier errors. Thus was the "Sean D. Enright Garbage Pail Punch" born... and lost to time. I was too busy trying to "fix" the punch I didn't write down any recipes. It was VERY well received, but alas can never be replicated.
Then David Wondrich printed his second book (or the second book I'm aware of, to follow Imbibe) called Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. A historical biography of punch complete with recipes and techniques for the Punch enthusiast. I put down Les Miserables (again... been reading that book for over 10 years) and consumed every oz. of Punch. http://www.amazon.com/Punch-Delights-Dangers-Flowing-Bowl/dp/0399536167
As I read through I noticed there were certain rules to proper punch making that would make repeat appearances throughout the ages. Punch gained momentum in the 1600's and remained a drink of choice through the 1800's where it became the father of the modern cocktail. It seemed, from my interpretation of the book, that punch had certain fruits that were preferred; citrus and later the occasional pineapple, liquors that were preferred; rum and brandy... maybe some champagne additionally, sugar and water were as important as the base liquors (if not more so) and punches were served hot or cold depending mostly on the climes and seasons in which they were served.
With this punch knowledge in-hand I set out to create my first punch for our second USBG Pittsburgh event (and 1st unofficial/official USBG Pittsburgh meeting). I wanted to take the most intriguing elements I found in the book Punch, but also add some modern touches and elements that may not have been as readily available to our forefathers as they discussed revolution in whispered voices over bowls of punch. I also decided to write down the recipe this time.
Here is the recipe for what I've decided to name the Pittsburgh Craft Cocktail Guild Punch... or PCCG Punch, in memory of the original cocktail guild concept that has turned into Pittsburgh's first opportunity to have a USBG in support of the passionate bartenders who have appeared on the Pittsburgh scene over the last few years.
Makes 1 Gallon (plus one glass)
1 Liter Rhum J.M. Agricole Blanc
750ml Laird's Applejack Brandy
1/2 cup Averna Amaro
1/2 cup St Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1 cup Averna Limoni Di Sicilia
1 quart Green Tea (I used Liptons)
20 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
2 cups cold water
12 ounces Florida Crystal Organic Pure Cane Sugar (available at Giant Eagle)
Directions: First, make green tea, heating 1qt water in the microwave for 2 minutes and adding 3 Lipton Green Tea packets to the water and setting aside. While the tea bags steep, you must make what is called "oleo saccharum" by peeling the skin off the five oranges, making sure not to get any pith. Peel gently to just take off the top layer of the orange peel. This will help the oils from the peel escape. Place peels in a non-reactive bowl and add the Florida Crystals sugar. Muddle the sugar and the orange peels with a flat or rounded end muddler (do not us a barbed muddler, you do not want to break up the orange peel, you just want to press the oil out of the skin to saturate the sugar). Set your sugar and peels to the side and let stand for 15 minutes to release more oil into the sugar. Take your tea bags out of the tea and set the tea aside. Juice the oranges making sure to get every drop out of them. Strain your juice through a tea strainer to keep out the pulp, and you may refrigerate the juice if you'd like. After fifteen minutes has passed, stir the orange peels and sugar one last time, then add the green tea. Stir until all the sugar has melted. Add the juice from the oranges and 2 cups of cold water. Through a sieve, strain this mixture, separating the orange peels from the sluice. To this mix you may now add your Rhum, Applejack, Amaro, Allspice Dram, Limoni & Peychaud's Bitters. Let stand for 1 hour so the flavors may integrate. Pour into a punch glass filled with ice and enjoy. This is a hearty blend, not for the week of heart. Be careful, this drink will creep up on ya.
Be sure to read David Wondrich's other book Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cosktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar