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Bowled over: large-format cocktails and punches make a big impression on guests.

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Punch is a win-win, both for amenable groups of friends who can agree on their cocktail order and for restaurants and bars that can batch it ahead of time for easy service. Bowls are always in style, but now they are joined by a host of other vessels including carafes and pitchers for crowd-pleasing drinks that lend convivial flair.

"People like to share things," says Stefan Trummer, co-owner/mixologist at Trummer's on Main in Clifton, VA. "It always is more fun when you just put a big platter of food or a big cocktail bowl in the middle of the table for everyone ... [plus] you don't have to wait for refills."

The 210-seat New American cuisine restaurant has a selection of three rotating punches that change with the seasons. Current offerings include Strawberry Field, which combines vodka with strawberry, fennel and burnt absinthe; Peach Cobbler, with bourbon, grilled peaches, lemon, vanilla and peach bitters; and a Scorpion bowl with tequila, passion fruit, star anise and lemongrass.

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The punch drinks appear on the Community Cocktails section of Trummer's on Main's menu. Guests can order a small punch, 10 to 15 servings, priced from $85 to $125, or large, with 20 to 30 servings ($135 to $195).

"I personally love making batched cocktails, and believe that they can be better than individually made drinks," says Trummer. "Like how some dishes taste better if you make a large batch than only a couple of portions."

Trummer says that using fresh fruits and herbs allows for intense flavors and a balanced mouthfeel to develop as the ingredients steep in the bowl.

The aptly named Punch House in Chicago offers about 12 types of both classic and contemporary punches. The 86-seat, vintage-themed bar includes the large-format drinks in its beverage program for flavor as well as efficiency.

"We knew that a beverage identity that calls for batching by design would allow us to provide great drinks with an uncommon speed of service for the craft cocktail world," explains founder William Duncan.

Punches are priced at $8 per glass, $32 a carafe (four servings) and $59 a bowl (eight servings). Duncan cites Space Juice as the most popular from the contemporary side of the menu. It mixes tequila with grapefruit, Luxardo Bitter, black pepper and sage, topped with sparkling wine.

"The appeal and popularity ties to the surprisingly perfect pairing of grapefruit and sage," Duncan says. "Sweet, tart and savory flavors mingle for a pleasing complexity."

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On the classic side, Quoit Punch is named for the old-fashioned lawn game. It combines Jamaican rum, Cognac, Madeira, lemon, sugar and water. "The Madeira in the recipe provides a curious raisin character," he notes.

Servers present the punches in vintage glass and ceramic bowls, with the exception of the Champagne punch, which is delivered via a beverage cart and prepared tableside. The classic recipe of Hennessy Cognac, Curacao, Jamaican rum, black tea, lemon, Angostura bitters and Piper Champagne is $225 for six servings. "It's the tableside guacamole of the bar world!" says Duncan

PUNCH AND GAMES

A sure sign that classic punch has gone mainstream, Punch Bowl Social just opened its sixth location. The new restaurant, in Schaumburg, IL, joins locations in Portland, OR; Denver; Austin, Detroit and Cleveland.

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The concept combines food and beverage with socializing and gaming. Locations boast old-school games, bowling, shuffleboard, private karaoke, a gastro diner and an ambitious craft cocktail program

The menu at the Portland Punch Bowl Social, for example, offers four punches, which range from $7 to $8 per serving; $25 to $32 for four servings; and $48 to $64 for eight servings. Options include Bachelor's Bowl, with Old Forester bourbon, Pimm's blackberry elderflower liqueur and pineapple; and Lord Stanley's Cup, with Rumhaven coconut rum, Bacardi 8-year-old rum, McClary Bros. pineapple fennel seed shrub, white pear fuji apple tea and lime.

"We want our guests to enjoy a cocktail as a group," says beverage director Patrick Williams. "We have a very fun social atmosphere, and punch bowls bring the group together."

Punches also allow for efficiency and consistency, allowing bartenders to spend more time interacting with guests and less time measuring and mixing.

BEYOND THE BOWL

Punch bowls are fun, but some operators are opting for more whimsical vessels for their large-format drinks, from oversized Martini glasses to French coffee presses.

At Yvonne's, a modern supper club in Boston, the Large Format menu (priced at $95 each) offers up drinks such as a Moscow Mule served in a giant copper mug. The Crack Krakatak, named for the nut in Alexandre Dumas's The Tale of the Nutcracker, combines El Dorado and Privateer rums with Calvados, burnt cinnamon, lemon, Lapsang souchong tea and Champagne, served in a giant crystal glass.

Bottlefork, an 80-seat New American bar and kitchen in Chicago, also serves cocktails in supersized glasses. The Blonde on Blonde ($26) mixes Absolut Elyx vodka, white port, Smith & Cross rum, Champagne, oleo saccharum and chile de arbol and is served in a large copper pineapple; Brandy & Cigars ($30) has Germain Robin brandy, creme de cacao a la vanille, Cocchi Barolo Chinato and smoke from a Honduran Robusto cigar, served in a large snifter.

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The Bill Brasky ($35) is presented in an oversized footed rocks glass and was inspired by a Saturday Night Live sketch with a character of the same name. "In it, the weathered, rosy-cheeked salesmen can be seen drinking brown liquid from glasses the size of small vases," explains chef and partner Kevin Hickey. "We created a cocktail that was all whiskies, rye, bourbon, scotch and white whiskey, combined with a little vermouth and bitters, plus the aftershave Brasky used to woo your wife," in a nod to the sketch, Hickey says.

Kamin says that sometimes these drinks are shared among several patrons, but more often than not, they are consumed by one thirsty tippler. Bottlefork limits sales of the supersized sips to one per customer.

TIPS FOR PERFECTING YOUR PUNCH

Oleo saccharum, a blend of citrus oils and sugar, was the basis for all historic punch-and remains the base for the punches at Punch House. "Sugar pulls the essential oils from citrus peels, adding nuance and aroma to your final product," Duncan explains. "It's a subtle yet essential component of our punch- making techniques." ==== Equally important, he says, is letting punch rest after batching it, which allows for the integration and development of flavors.

Another practice for punch drinks is the art of forced carbonation and custom draft dispensing. This won't make the drinks any better, Duncan says, but it's an efficient and overall preferred way to serve draft cocktails.

When creating a batched version of a cocktail, Williams suggesting making a single serving of it first, then scaling the recipe to see if any nuances from the ingredients are lost. Spicy ingredients should be avoided, he says, as their heat tends to be exacerbated in larger quantities.

"Also, test the drink when it becomes a little more diluted," Williams suggests. "Your guests won't--and shouldn't--consume the drink as fast as a normal cocktail, so see how it lasts in the bowl with ice."

Speaking of ice, Trummer believes it's the most important ingredient in a batched cocktail. "Not enough ice will result in a watered down drink," he says.

Ample ice--in the form of ice molds, blocks or large cubes--will melt more slowly, keeping drinks just as flavorful from beginning to end, Trummer says. Adding citrus wheels, fresh herbs and other garnish to the ice mold it even more aesthetically pleasing, and adds some punch to your punch.

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RELATED ARICLE: Hard pressed for a cocktail.

Provision No. 14 in Washington, D.C. thinks outside the bowl (and pitcher) with its menu of French Press Cocktails. "The inspiration was to offer guests the ability to indulge in a highly drinkable and delicious cocktail that they can interact with at their table," says bartender Chad Spangler.

Hard Rock Cafe, the music-themed dining chain based in Orlando, FL, was among the first to use a French press with cocktails in 2014.

Spangler has found that drinks that are not too sweet or strong--as well as those that don't need to be aerated--work best in a press. A Daiquiri, for instance, "needs to be shaken hard to get the right texture, and wouldn't work well in a press-style cocktail."

Since these drinks aren't shaken with ice, they need to have water added to them ahead of time to achieve the right amount of dilution and balance. The pressed drinks are priced at $38 each for 34 oz. (four to five servings).

Current offerings include Ticket to Ride, with Bombay Sapphire gin, grapefruit, dehydrated pineapple and chamomile, and Grapefruit Press, with Stoli vodka, grapefruit and mint.

During brunch, Provision No. 14 also offers a Basil Lavender Mimosa. All of the French Press drinks are presented tableside, and the plunger is pushed down to "press" and meld the ingredients--which adds to both the novelty and the flavor.

"The drink must taste good to begin with, and then taste even better when some fun garnishes are added to infuse into the cocktail as it sits on the table," says Spangler.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area.
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Author:Magyarics, Kelly
Publication:Cheers
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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