The Basics History & Trends

In Defense of Punch

Every person who enjoys mixing drinks must know how to make six classics: A Martini, because a Martini’s a Martini and that’s a sacred thing. An Old Fashioned, ‘cause you’re going to need a little whiskey. A real Daiquiri—that is, rum and fresh lime juice shaken up with just a little sugar, not the frozen Technicolor polymer that gets extruded out of drink machines—on a hot day, it’s like an ice bath for the brain. A Hot Scotch Whisky Toddy; if it’s possible to sustain life in the depths of winter without one, then word of that possibility has yet to reach Brooklyn. Add a Margarita and a Manhattan, and you have the whole list.

That’s hardly a controversial idea: Those six drinks are pure mixological bedrock. But there’s at least one more recipe that should be included: a bowl of Punch. And by “Punch,” I don’t mean the trashy toga-party fuel or the frilly, fussy stuff you find in entertaining guides. If either of those defines your experience with the “flowing bowl,” I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical.

But before Punch was frou-frou or frat juice, it was a fetchingly straightforward beverage that could captivate the likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, George Washington and, well, just about anyone who was anyone in the 1700s and early 1800s. Simply a healthy dose of cognac, Jamaican rum or some other rich, full-flavored booze, brightened up with a little lemon or lime juice, mellowed with sugar, softened with water until at wine strength and given a little edge of spice to make it interesting, Punch was as easy to make as it was delightful. More importantly, when ladled around a roomful of people it had a way of knitting them together into a cheerful knot of friends old and new like no other drink before or since. And, you know what? It still does.

Just Plain Punch

Contributed by David Wondrich


  • 3 Lemons
  • .75 cup Fine-grained raw sugar
  • .75 cup Fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups VSOP cognac (Martell or Pierre Ferrand Ambre)
  • 1 cup Jamaican-style rum (Smith & Cross, Plantation Jamaica or Myers’s)
  • 1 quart Water, frozen overnight in a large bowl
  • 1 quart Cold water
  • Garnish: Grated nutmeg
  • Glass: Small


With a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, remove the peels from the lemons, trying not to get any of the white pith. Muddle the lemon peels with the sugar in a large bowl. Let the peels and sugar stand for 1 or 2 hours, then muddle again, incorporating the lemon oil that the sugar has wicked out of the peels. Add the lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the Cognac and rum. Pour the mixture into a gallon-sized bowl, slide in the block of ice (you might have to run hot water over the bottom of the frozen bowl to unmold it) and add the cold water. Stir, and grate a third of a nutmeg over the top.

David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a advisor.