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Proud as Punch

A man can never make good Punch unless he is satisfied, nay positive, that no man breathing can make better. I can and do make good Punch, because I do nothing else. . . . I retire to a solitary corner with my ingredients ready sorted . . . and I mix them in the order they are here written. Sugar, 12 tolerable lumps; hot water, one pint; lemons, two, the juice and the peel; old Jamaica rum, two gills; brandy, one gill; porter or stout, half a gill; arrack, a slight dash. I allow myself five minutes to make a bowl in the foregoing proportions, carefully stirring the mixture as I furnish the ingredients until it actually foams. And then, kangaroos! How beautiful it is!” ---Bully Dawson, Charles Lamb’s fictional punch brewer, c. 1822

When most of us think of punch, we think of the high-octane concoctions spiked with 190-proof grain alcohol notorious for energizing college frat parties. In truth, a well-made punch, which plays to the skills of the creative mixologist, can rival any of the classics.

Rule of Five

What we call punch was introduced to us from the East Indies via the English marauders. There are two theories on the origin of the word. First, punch may have been a shortening of “puncheon,” which is a large wooden cask that holds upwards of 100 gallons. Second, punch may be derived from the Hindi word “panch” or “five,” which describes the number of ingredients in most punches. The basic rule for punch goes like this: something sweet, something sour, something strong, something weak, and something spicy. The earliest recipes were comprised of five ingredients: a distilled spirit (originally arrack, eventually rum); water or tea; spice; lemon or lime juice; and sugar. Over time, a punch evolved into any drink made with rum, brandy, whiskey, gin, vodka, wine, or other liqueurs and mixed with fresh fruits and juices, sugar, soda, spice, and water (or ice).

Summertime Chillin’

During the summer, we enjoy an abundance of fresh, seasonal ingredients. By following the basic formula and taking advantage of the bounty of fresh fruits and juices, your creativity is limited only by your inspiration. Guests will surely appreciate your utilizing fresh melons, berries, peaches, nectarines, and plums in a tall refreshing cooler, served from the bowl, or prepared individually (e.g., Planter’s Punch) just for them.


The keys to making and serving great punch are quite simple. First, as in making any wonderful libation, utilize premium ingredients, from spirits, wines, and sparklers to fresh, seasonal fruits and juices. Prepare a batch of punch in advance, preferably the night before. Remember to chill it well before serving; ice will keep a cold punch cold but won’t chill a warm one. Wait until the last moment to add sparkling wine or soda to assure that the carbonation stays active for as long as possible. Finally, if you are serving your punch from a bowl, be creative. Make a festive ice mold to complete your presentation or add fruits as decorations that tie in with the theme.

Try my easy-to-make and fun-to-serve Watermelon Punch or create your own summertime sipper.

Watermelon Punch

By Tony Abou-Ganim

1 750 ml bottle Bacardi Limon Rum

10 oz Cointreau

64 oz fresh-pressed watermelon juice*

32 oz fresh lemon sour**

Fresh melon balls, sliced lemons, and frozen blueberries as garnishes

Combine the rum, Cointreau, watermelon juice, and lemon sour and refrigerate for at least six hours. When ready to serve, pour into a punch bowl with an ice mold. (For a festive presentation, use the watermelon shell as the serving vessel.) Garnish with fresh melon balls, sliced lemons, and frozen blueberries.

*Use a juice extractor or a fine sieve to press the watermelon juice.

**2 parts fresh, filtered lemon juice and 1 part simple syrup (dissolve an equal amount of granulated sugar in boiling water---e.g., 2 cups sugar to 2 cups boiling water---and allow to cool. Store in a clean bottle in a cool place).

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