Well, that was quick. It must be something in the water, because last thing I remember clearly was preparing to batch up some punch for my annual Memorial Day gathering. Or maybe it was for my annual Fourth of July gathering. And, come to think of it, that something in the water was quite possibly a combination of rum, lime juice, and sugar, which is known to cause a slight haziness in repeated doses. In any case, all of a sudden it’s almost time to batch up the punch for Labor Day.
Now, the whole point of this holiday is to grant the worthy sons and daughters of toil a day free from expending the sweat of their brows to secure the necessities of life. And mixing drinks tends to provoke brow-sweat, even if it’s for your nearest and dearest and whoever else they drag along uninvited. Fortunately, classic, old-school punch, the beverage the colonists drank as they were laying out this country, lets you do almost all the work in advance, so on the day itself all you have to do is pour a few liquids together.
Here’s how. I’ve updated the booze a little—those colonists would have sputtered if you tried to feed them tequila, although sooner or later (probably, knowing them, sooner) they would’ve learned to like it. If you don’t have crème de cassis or orange curaçao, Cherry Heering will work almost as well. Or you can just leave it out.
Ingredients:750 ml Reposado tequila, such as Siete Leguas or Fortaleza8 oz Mellow aged rum, such as Angostura 19192 oz Crème de Cassis8 Lemons1 Medium orange1 cup sugar
Two days before the party. Put a quart container of water in the freezer. Peel 5 of the lemons and the orange, in long spirals if possible. Put the peels and the sugar in a 1-pint Mason jar, seal, shake and let sit overnight.
The day before the party: Juice the orange and enough of the lemons to get eight ounces of strained juice. Unseal the jar and add the juices. Seal the jar back up and shake until sugar has dissolved. Combine this “shrub”—the contents of the jar, peels and all—and the liquors in a 2-quart, sealable container. Refrigerate.
Half an hour before the party: Pour the contents of the container into a 1-gallon punch bowl. Add your quart block of ice and 40 oz cold water. Stir and refrigerate. To serve, grate about a third of a whole nutmeg over the top and ladle forth in 3-ounce portions. Makes about 30 servings.
For some people, even that might be just a little too much work. There is a solution. It flies in the face of all the gains the world of mixology has made over the past decade and a half or so, all the fresh ingredients and hand-making. But there is a version of punch you can make from supermarket products that is remarkably pleasant, considering it takes all of one minute to assemble. If you break a classic, 18th- or 19th-century punch down into its parts, it comes down to, as one wag described it, a “cunningly flavored lemonade.” Often, part of that cunning flavoring came from the use of tea—the rest, of course, being booze.
Now, don’t tell anybody where you got this, but if you mix good-quality supermarket lemonade and good-quality supermarket tea with a little seltzer and, of course, a healthy slug of booze, you will end up with something pretty damn close to real punch.
Quick & Dirty Punch
Ingredients:1 liter Jim Beam Black Bourbon1 750-ml bottle Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum or Smith & Cross Rum2 quarts Newman’s Own Old Fashioned Roadside Virgin Lemonade, chilled2 quarts Iced Tea, chilled1.5 liters Seltzer, chilled
Combine all the ingredients in a bucket full of ice. Ladle out in three-ounce servings. Makes lots.