Throughout the history of alcoholic beverages going back some 10,000 years and through the ages, crazy witch doctors, shamen, priests, priestesses, friars, sailors, innkeepers, and the earliest versions of barkeeps mixed various botanicals – flowers, barks, mushrooms, or other found objects – into wine, beer, and spirits in order to create either cures or spiritual enlightenment or, in more secular cases, to answer the question of “what would happen if I mixed this with …”. But our focus is on more the spirituously advanced time of about 1800 when the granddaddy of all mixed drinks was Punch. This is where our journey shall begin.
Up until and early in the 19th century, the “flowing bowl” established the social context of bar beverages. The punch bowl was the primary gathering place of the leisure class and that tradition was imported to The Colonies from the former homeland (Perhaps this is how England became so merry?). Sitting around the local inn or tavern sipping glass after glass of the house punch could only be done if one had the resources for a more leisurely pace of life.
It is believed that the word “punch” in regard to the libation is derived from the word, “panch”, which in the Hindustani language of northern India means “five”. So, the classic formula for a bowl of punch includes five basic ingredients – or, as David Wondrich concludes in his entertaining and must-read book on the subject, Punch, The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, “except when it doesn’t”. These five ingredients, as it turns out, form the Archetypal Pantry for almost every mixed drink created over the past couple of centuries.
The Archetypal Mix
Spirit, Sweet, Sour, Spice, and Water
Some common or classic drinks that fit the
Brandy Punch, Milk Punch, Fish House Punch, Egg Nog, Singapore Sling, Planter’s Punch, Bloody Mary (and variants), Sangria, and a variety of traditional tropical drinks like the Mai Tai, Bahama Mama, or Zombie.
Next Up: Sling