Q&A: The Art of the Modern Punch Bowl
Signs seem to be pointed to the punch bowl as the latest cocktail culture trend to be given the "everything old is new again" treatment. And the timing couldn't be better, what with all the holidays coming up, a well-crafted flowing bowl might be just what you need to punch up the family festivities (sorry, had to). The Varnish's Eric Alperin, a founding member of the Cocktail Collective behind the Forty Four at The Royalton in New York, talks to us about the bar's modern punch bowl program.
What's modern about the punch bowls at Forty Four?
We are making the punches in 2010, that makes them modern!
Any favorites on the list?
Martha Washingon's Rum Punch (recipe here). It's super tasty and its history is pretty badass. Per the menu: "We're all aware of the great things our first president accomplished in his tenure. What most do not know is that our first First Lady took her duties very seriously as well. She did her best to entertain in a formal style in hopes of representing this fledgling nation as an equal to visiting dignitaries from more established European countries. If this punch is any indication, she was quite the host."
Why do you think the concept of the punch bowl cocktail is making a comeback?
Because of historians like David Wondrich, who has a new book called Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. He is making people interested in cocktail culture which is rooted in British and Colonial American history.
Are there any ingredients or liquors that lend themselves particularly well to the punch bowl format?
Rum and tea. If you strike a good balance of ingredients many other spirits can work. I like rum (especially dark) because there is a "Hogo" known as a rum funkiness that plays so well with other punch ingredients, like teas. The great thing about teas is that there is a whole repertoire of different profiles that encourage a harmonious bitter/spice element to the flowing bowl.
As with any well-made cocktail, I imagine there is an art to putting together a great punch bowl. Any tips or words of advice you would give to someone making one at home?
When I think of a punch I imagine it as a single cocktail first. I try to strike the balance and then grow it from there into a bowl based on the use of one 750ml bottle which technically equals 12 two ounce cocktails. Think of the five elements of punch: sweet (sugar), sour (citrus), bitter/spice (bitters/tea), strong (spirit) and weak (water/ice). Think balanced, you're not making frat house jungle juice, but the idea of conviviality by gathering around a punch bowl is definitely there (to answer your modern question a little more). Also, think of growing it into the punch bowl to a wine strength so people don't get obliterated.
Click here to see some different punchbowl designs.