Passed Bright Milk Punch © Nathan Rawlinson.
Long before there were martinis and daiquiris, Manhattans and mai tais, there was punch. Punch dates to the early 17th century, when it was imported to England by officers of the East India Company, according to writer John Ayto, who just published a new edition of The Diner’s Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink.
The name purportedly comes from the Hindi word pãnch, meaning “five,” signaling the number of ingredients in a traditional blend. However, Ayto suggests that the current pronunciation of punch implies that it may actually be derived from puncheon, a cask-cum-serving vessel used at the time.
Made in batches and perfect for holiday entertaining, punches are especially popular this time of year among bartenders looking to put their own spins on festive cocktails. Brooklyn’s buzzed-about Scandinavian restaurant Aska—from chef Fredrik Berselius (Aquavit, Per Se) and partner Eamon Rockey, formerly of Atera—is now serving three innovative punches. “Punch is about community and about enjoying something together,” says Rockey.
The recipes Rockey created include a Warm Swedish Punsch with the rum-like spirit Batavia Arrack, fresh juniper and sweetfern foraged from the Hudson Valley; and the Passed Bright Milk Punch, inspired by his trip to Sweden before the restaurant opened. “The emphasis on milk, butter and cheese that I saw in Sweden was profoundly important to how I formed the beverage program,” Rockey says.
The milk punch features rich Battenkill Valley Creamery milk, dark rum, tequila, fennel seeds, lightly bitter oolong tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. A simple molecular technique clarifies the mixture. “When the acidic orange juice is added to the milk, the proteins coagulate and help to bond and filter out all of the impurities,” says Rockey. Straining the mixture yields a clear punch. Incredibly, the end product maintains the creamy texture of milk. Here, more new punches from across the country.
Bellocq, New Orleans
The newest offering from the team behind Cure, one of America’s best bars, is dedicated to 19th century-style American cocktails like cobblers, while honoring New Orleans’s strong punch culture. The menu features three punches. Inspired by a recipe from 1711, the sweet and tangy Mary Rocket Punch consists of clarified milk, Cognac, lemon juice and Peychaud’s bitters. The Nuremberg Punch combines red-berry-inflected Pinot Noir, malty Batavia Arrack and orange juice; and the American Orange Punch uses El Dorado 5 Year Old Demerara rum; floral, citrusy Neisson Blanc rhum agricole and fresh orange juice. Time, too, is an essential ingredient: Each batch of Nuremberg Punch rests for a week before serving, which creates a rich and mellow orangey flavor.
Punch Bowl Social, Denver
This massive new opening encompasses a bowling alley, game room, restaurant and bar, which offers five punches. The Trace of Peach Punch is the most popular. Recalling a boozy take on sweet tea, the recipe includes Buffalo Trace bourbon, a locally produced peach liqueur, lemon juice, Chinese five-spice-spiked simple syrup, black tea and freshly ground nutmeg. It's garnished with fresh sage leaves.
Elixir, San Francisco
One of the oldest continuously running saloons in San Francisco, Elixir offers a milk punch whose recipe comes directly from Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender. This book on classic cocktails was written in the late 19th century by a renowned San Francisco bartender, William “Cocktail” Boothby; the latest edition was published in 2009. Elixir’s punch is made with local milk, Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, sugar and Cruzan rum, which has tropical fruit flavors that play off the milk’s natural sweetness. It is shaken over ice and served garnished with freshly grated nutmeg.
Workshop Kitchen + Bar, Palm Springs, California
The sleek, warehouse-meets-farmhouse-style restaurant emphasizes communal dining with long tables, massive 40-ounce rib eyes for groups and punch bowls big enough for 12 people to share. A 1694 British government regulation imposed on Bombay’s punch houses inspired the Bombay Government Punch: Pineapple-y Jamaican rum, VSOP Cognac, demerara sugar, fresh lime juice, grapefruit oil, cinnamon and green tea, a combination resulting in a drink with hints of bitterness and vibrant citrus flavors.