One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak. This brief piece of poetry describes an old recipe from Barbados to make Bajan Rum Punch, one of the oldest ones in the book. A fifth ingredient, spice, is also part of the original formula, as Gareth Lambe points out.
And he knows what he’s talking about: “the word punch is derived from the Sanskrit word pañc meaning Five. It is documented that the drink itself was originally found in Asia with its lush abundance of citrus fruits, spices and teas”. Being one of Ireland’s top mixologists and the man behind the exclusive bar at the Vintage Cocktail Club, it was a pleasure to take a punch (lesson) as he toured us towards this refreshing and party-loving style of drink.
Ancient Indian punches were made of arrack (anything distilled, and most likely rum at the time), sugar, lime and tea and they were loved by English sailors who made sure to share the recipe with the world, likely in the hopes to be treated to it anywhere they landed. “Punch In Europe and America quickly became the drink of choice, what once were coffee houses turned into Punch houses”, but with the Industrial Revolution the trend died. Gareth explains that men had less time to spare for social drinking and distilling technology improved, so it wasn’t necessary to disguise the spirit’s taste.
The Difference Between a Cocktail and a Punch
“Technically punch isn’t a cocktail, It’s a mixed drink, and what we call today as cocktail menu’s, should really be called mixed drink menus.” You can see Gareth’s inner history geek taking over as he speaks about how accuracy was a big deal when coming up with the mixed drinks menu for the VCC.
If we are stating that all we do is Cocktails, they have to be perfect, and not only perfect, because were called the Vintage Cocktail Club, they had to be vintage and also historically correct.”
Punches are way older than cocktails, the first being around since the early XVII century and the latter appearing two centuries after. “The Current menu in VCC starts off taking you from the 1600’s straight through to modern day recipes. It concentrates on the style of drink and the effect it had on cocktail culture while also being historically accurate to the actual recipes themselves.”
The menu is actually a book that people can buy and take home, and there is a dedicated page for punches. You couldn’t have expected less from this autodidact whose career in hospitality began 25 years ago when he was only twelve and who sounds like a fussy filmmaker whether he talks about the drinks or about the process to open a standalone cocktail bar: “every detail from the carpet to the ceiling and everything in between was painstakingly sat over for hours until we got it right”.
The sweet secret to perfect punches
If the class made you thirsty you’re not alone and now it’s time to learn the secrets of punch-making. “You can make punch out of just about anything” says Gareth, but there’s a catch for it to be great, and luckily he shares his secret ingredient: Oleo Saccharum, or sugared oil. “Almost every citrus fruits’ flavour is locked up in its oil in its skin, to get this liquid gold out you will need to follow the following steps.”
1. Zest a whole load of oranges, limes or lemons, being careful to take only the zest, the white pith is to bitter, you can use a microplane for this.
2. For large batches pack your zest into a flip top sealable jar and fill the remaining space left with super fine sugar.
3. Leave over night and the oil from the zest will liquefy the sugar. Give the jar an odd shake or stir to help it along every couple hours, add more zest or sugar when needed.
4. For smaller batches simply repeat the above steps in a bowl, press the zest into the sugar, leave for 30 mins to an hour, again give it a stir and another press every now and then. Collect the sugar oil and discard the zest. All the fruit you use can be juiced and used as the citrus element for your punch.
Gareth also suggests to be generous with the alcohol, and mentions that he likes to use two or three different types, “Rum and Cognac work very well together, play around with different sweeteners, Peach Brandy, Cointreau, raspberry liqueur all work well with just about anything, or switch it up for something herbal, like Chartreuse or Kummel.”
For the lengthener, “tea works. Loads of flavours to play around with there, soda water or Champagne if you feeling flush.” He warns us to be careful with citrus garnishes “as they will bleed into you finished recipe and will change the flavour the longer they sit.”
Finally, if you’re going to use ice, Gareth recommends to use a big block of ice as “it has a bigger surface area so it will melt slower keeping your punch cold until the end but not over diluted.”
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.