Once upon a time, a punch bowl sitting in the middle of the table was a sure sign there was a party going on. We don’t see punch bowls that much any more, but the drink that inspired their invention several hundred years ago — the magical concoction of citrus, sugar and alcohol called punch — is alive and well.
Punch-like drinks have been around for ages but first appeared in the English-speaking world in the early-17th century, brought back to England by sailors of the British East India Company. At the time, punch was often made with brandy, but it’s a very flexible drink, so soon it was also being made with lots of other types of alcohol. Refreshing and festive, punch became an instant favorite throughout the land.
It spread to the Caribbean colonies, made with rum, of course. In Barbados, it even inspired a rhyme to keep the local recipe straight: “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.” (The numbers refer to the relative volumes of each ingredient.) As it turns out, this is a great starting point for a cider cocktail.
Because punch is so adaptable, you can make a really tasty one out of things that you probably already have around the house. The sour component is usually citrus juice of some kind. Sweet can come from fruit juice or honey, but also from a simple syrup made from sugar dissolved in an equal amount of water. Cider can play the part of the weak element and brings so much more to the mix than just using tonic water or club soda. A dry cider is probably your best bet, since you’ll already be adding sweet stuff.
Recently I decided to give this punch idea a try. I found a couple of limes and lemons in the kitchen fruit basket, then dug into my liquor cabinet (aka a corner in the closet under the stairs) to see what my options were. It’s a mess in there, but I found bottles of vodka and rum, which since they’re on opposite ends of the flavor spectrum I thought might prove to be interesting.
Last but not least, the cider. I decided on ANXO‘s Rosé because I knew it would be dry and also have some of those other interesting flavor notes that ANXO ciders are known for. For the sweet element, I went with just a plain simple syrup to keep things, well, simple.
Using a base unit of ½ ounce (the volume of a “part”) that meant one drink would have ½ ounce lemon or lime juice, 1 ounce of simple syrup, 1½ ounces of vodka or rum and 2 ounces of cider. While I was looking around for liquor I found a bottle of bitters (ginger), so I added 4 drops to each drink just for fun. Four glasses of punch later, here are the results.
The lemon/vodka combination was the lightest, and the neutral flavor of the vodka let more of the flavors of the cider shine through. That meant I could taste more of the subtle notes of cranberry and other red fruits that come from the red-fleshed apples ANXO uses. Likewise, the lime/vodka variation showed more of the fruitiness of the lime. Swapping in rum for the vodka made for more complexity over all (I was using an amber rum), but the inherent sweetness of the rum also made the lemon/rum version the sweetest of the four.
In the end, the lime/rum option was the winner for me. The flavor was downright tropical, conjuring up a hammock on the beach with the trade winds whispering through the coconut palms. Your palate might take you in a whole different direction, but that’s the beauty of punch, simplicity and endless variety. Don’t have fresh juice? Bottled might do just as nicely, or maybe grapefruit instead of the lemon/lime. Can’t find any bitters? How about a slightly tannic cider, or maybe a sprinkling of grated nutmeg instead? Sharing the results of the experiments might even make for a great theme for your next virtual happy hour.
Meanwhile, here’s my recipe if you want to give this one a try.
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ½ ounces amber rum (I used Mount Gay)
2 ounces ANXO Rosé cider, well chilled
4 drops of bitters
Mix the lime juice, simple syrup, rum, and bitters in a glass with a couple of ice cubes for 20 seconds or thereabouts so that the mixture chills well. Strain into a second glass, stir in the cider, then add more ice.