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Feelin punchy.

"Boy, bring a Bowl of China here, Fill it with Water cool and clear: Decanter with Jamaica right, And Spoon of Silver clean and bright, Sugar twice-fin'd, in pieces cut, Knife, Sieve and Glass, in order put, Bring forth the fragrant Fruit, and then i Were happy till the Clock stikes Ten."

--BENJAMIN FRANKLIN Poor Richard's Almanack, 1737

Close your eyes and say the word "punch." Odds are, you see visions of unnaturally brightly colored drinks filled with artificial flavors and enough sugar to hurt your teeth. Maybe you imagine a "fancy" version with scoops of melting sherbet floating on the surface, pooling at the edges of the cut-glass punch bowl. You probably also see yourself inching away and glancing around for where the real drinks are stashed.


The truth is that the history of punch goes back to the 1600s, and except for the communal feeling of gathering around a punch bowl, those stereotypical images have taken a sharp turn from the origins of true punch.

Traditionally, punch consisted of a few simple ingredients: rum, water, citrus, sugar, and spice. The word itself might come either from the Hindustani word for five (pnch) or from a slang term used by sailors to describe the casks that transported rum. Either way, it is agreed that punch made its way to England in the 1600s and was heavily influenced by information and ingredients from China, India, and Jamaica. It soon migrated from England to America.

Browsing through old books reveals the multicultural influences on classic punch recipes and a vast assortment of ways punch was prepared. It was common to offer hot punches, cold punches, milk punches (a predecessor of today's eggnog), punches with chocolate, coconut milk, vanilla, green tea, ginger, and every possible spirit from brandy, gin, and rum to stout and wine.

When seasoned bartenders Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon decided to bring their creative libations to New York City, they turned to the history of punch for inspiration. A location near the very bottom of the island of Manhattan, built in the 1800s, provided the perfect backdrop to bring that history to life as The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog.

The extensive menu at The Dead Rabbit, including a vast selection of whiskies and craft beers, has a section dedicated to two categories of punch: Communal Punch and Punch Bar-Use. Communal Punches are served in large decorative bowls and meant for four to eight people to share and sip out of teacups, as was historically traditional. The Punch Bar-Use menu is for punches meant to be mixed as a single drink. That's right: It turns out -- to negate another stereotype -- that punch is not defined by quantity.


Every punch on the menu lists the historical reference for the original drink, illustrating the laborious research and passion that went into the choices. ACM chatted with Jack McGarry, head bartender and co-owner, to get the inside track on the journey of punch to The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog.

Punches are a very American drink, more so than most people realize, but how did the decision come about to make them a focus at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog?

Well, it became a very American drink. Through the amazing work of David Wondrich, we learn that punch first reared its head during the early 17th century. This was instigated by the formation of the English East India Company. But we also learn that it wasn't long before the Americans got into the game, also. Wondrich continues to explain that punch ruled the Kingdom of Mixed Drinks from the middle of the 17th century to the early stages of the 19th century, right up until the "iza-tions" hit: industrialization, urbanization, and commercialization. Americans no longer had the time (at least they wanted to portray that) to sit around a punch bowl for a few hours. Punch became shortened and made a la minute and thus all these other typologies of mixed drinks started to evolve.

How do you feel punches are different from a regular cocktail?

I love punch because of the ceremony. I hate to keep going on about Wondrich (although he is the Master of Punch, so I have to) but I read a line from his book Imbibe where he said the ceremony of Punch Bowl was a secular communion, the welding together of good fellows, or something like that. I liked the community atmosphere of it and that was something I was really keen to replicate. Cocktails are a serious business; they taste serious and a lot of bars (not so much now) get on very serious about them. Punch isn't serious at all and it goes down like lemonade, although be wary as it literally does pack a punch.

Do you feel it is more important to stay true to these classic punch recipes or to add your personal stamp and update them?

I never stay true to historical recipes, as the palate and ingredient differences between centuries ago and today are so vastly different. What I do is to realize the core of the historical drink and run with it until it works. Our menu is 72 drinks strong and the beverage program, from start to finish, took two and a half years to do. Some drinks took five efforts to get right while others took 70. I fully believe we have done the era justice-just brought it into the 21st century.
Billy Dawson's Punch (Serves 1)

1 1/2 ounces dark rum

1 1/2 ounces Louis Royer VSOP Cognac

1 ounce lemon sherbet

3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ounce Founders American Porter

3 dashes Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters*

Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

*available at deadrabbitnyccom/Shop
or at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog
30 Water Street New. York, NY 10004,
(646) 4227906

Put all ingredients except nutmeg in cocktail shaker, Add ice and shake vigorously. Fine-strain into a chilled punch glass and garnish with nutmeg.
G.M.Gurton's Punch (Severs 10)

Peels from 8 limes, in strips

8 1/2 ounces muscovado sugar

3 cups cold brewed green tea

1 1/4 cups dark rum

1 1/4 cups Remy Martin Accord Royal 1738


3/4 cup oloroso sherry

1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

2 ounces ginger extract

Toss peels and sugar in large bowl. Muddle until peels begin to release oil. Set aside for about 30 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients until all sugar has dissolved. Remove peels and pour into chilled punch bowl.

RECIPES CONTRIBUTED BY: Jack McGarry, Head Barle.nder and Co-Owner The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, New York City
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Publication:Art Culinaire
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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