Although punch generally conjures up thoughts of 1950s-style bowls of sherbet and soda, traditional punches are appearing with regularity on hip Brooklyn cocktail lists as well as at new restaurants and bars in Los Angeles.
“The idea of a punch from the antiquity of cocktail culture to modern times is the ease of serving a group,” says Allen Katz, cofounder of the New York Distilling Company.
In America, punch dates to the late 17th century, when the English introduced it by way of the East Indies. The word comes from the Hindi panch, which translates to “five,” referring to the quintet of ingredients generally found in the Indian beverage. The original spirit in the Indian version was arrack, which was made from distilled rice and sugarcane, with spices, lemon juice, water or tea, and sugar rounding out the mixture. When punch took hold in the colonies, rum was the spirit of choice, which is why rum punch became the norm.
However, the notion of serving a group with a single bowl might go back even further in history. “If you go to the Piedmont region of Italy, they pass around in group gatherings what’s called a friendship bowl,” Katz says. “It’s a big bowl filled with wine, and they pass it around and drink from it, singing songs. It’s a wonderful communal way of enjoying a social experience.”