Beverages Other

ASTOUNDING ORIGINS OF ‘PUNCH’

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

While watching American & British TV shows, I noticed that almost every other series mentioned the ‘Punch’ drink at least once. I was curious because the drink kept showing up everywhere!

In most of these TV series, the drink looked fruity, red and quite an interesting ‘social’ drink, because they were usually served at college parties, family outings or community gatherings in huge glass bowls!

Yesterday while watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, I heard the character Rory mention ‘Punch’ again and this time I had to know!

And when I did look it up, I was surprised to find the history behind this drink and how it got the name! I’m sure most of you would be too.

As per many sources on the internet, English explorers discovered ‘Punch’ when they first went to India in the 1600’s. You heard that right! Punch seems to have originated in India and has been around for hundreds of years! This drink was brought to England by sailors and employees of the British East India Company in the early 17th century.

How did it get the name? Well, this may surprise you if the first one didn’t. The word punch is borrowed from the language, Sanskrit which looks like this – पञ्च and is pronounced exactly the way Punch is pronounced. Punch in Sanskrit means ‘five’ and since the drink was originally made with just five ingredients – Arrack(Spirit), Sugar, Lemon, Water and Tea or Spices, you now know where that name came from.

The term punch was first recorded in the British documents in 1632. At the time, most punches were mulled with a wine or brandy base.

Around 1655, Jamaican Rum came into use and the modern punch emerged.

By 1671, documents started making references to ‘punch houses’ even!

Now let’s dive into details!

I mentioned Arrack earlier which is the key ingredient in the original Indian Punch. The word sounds very similar to Ark, which is a term broadly used in Ayurveda. Simply put, Ark is nothing but fresh distilled herbs. When herbs are boiled, the steam is collected, cooled and liquefied. The end product is the purest essence of the item that was boiled and is enriched with all of its essential properties.

Now I’m assuming Arrack is derived from the word Ark since they both use distillation process, the difference being the former is a distilled ‘alcoholic’ drink. It is produced in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia from the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane and also with grains like red rice or fruit depending upon the country of origin. It is sometimes spelled arak or simply referred to as ‘rack or ‘rak. It is not the same as the anise-flavoured distilled spirit called Arak or Araq. But seems like anything distilled sounds similar here, haha!

Now the non-alcoholic varieties typically include a mix of fruit juice, water, a sweetener like sugar or syrup, lemon-lime carbonated soda or fruit-flavoured sodas with chunks of real fruits like oranges, apples and pineapples.

Though it’s mainly known as a non-alcoholic beverage today, according to another story, punch was invented as an alternative for beer by men working on the ships for the British East India Company. The beer they stacked on the ships grew rancid when they reached warmer waters of Indian Ocean. To avoid this, sailors created these special drinks out of the ingredients readily available and indigenous to India like rum, citrus and spices. The sailors brought punch back to Britain and soon the drink became a party staple, finding its way to the Caribbean where it became what we know today as Rum Punch and eventually spreading to countries even as far as the American colonies.

Here’s a famous Barbadian rhyme that many of you may already know: “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak.” Well Spices make Five — And that’s the recipe for a perfect Punch using one part lime juice, two parts sweetener, three parts rum, four parts water along with some spices! Can this get any easier?

Image by Bernadette Wurzinger from Pixabay

At present there are countless variations of Fruit & Liquor Punches around the globe but let’s see how this 5 ingredient Punch got modified as it traveled to different regions.


Australia

Blow My Skull is a famous alcoholic punch drink that originated in the mid-19th century Australia. This punch contains rum, porter, brandy, lime, sugar along with other ingredients. Other variations are Blow my skull off, Almost blow my skull off and so on which also use Jagermeister.

Barbados

Bajan Punch is made with rum, lime juice, cane sugar, nutmeg, and bitters. Falernum liqueur is also frequently added which in itself was an early form of punch made by steeping cloves with rum, lime and other ingredients.

Caribbean

Ti’ Punch, literally meaning ‘small punch’ is a rum-based punch that is popular in the French speaking islands of the Caribbean. The drink is traditionally made with white rhum agricole, lime and cane syrup.

England

Cups is a style of punch, traditionally served before the departure of a hunting party in England. It is now also served at social gatherings such as backyard parties, sports events and picnics. They are generally lower in alcohol content and use wine, cider or sloe gin as the base mixed with a lot of fruit juice or soft drinks. Pimm’s Cup is one famous style which uses Pimm’s No.1 and British-style lemonade at a ratio of 1:2, a squeeze of lemon with some orange, lemon and apple slices, a couple of cucumber wedges and decorated with borage flowers.

Germany

Punsch in German refers to a blend of several fruit juices and spices with wine or liquor and is topped with champagne or sparkling wine. Parties on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) often include a Feuerzangenbowle which is a burnt punch that literally means – fire tongs punch. A flaming overproof rum (such as Stroh) is poured over a Zuckerhut (sugarloaf) which is a large conical sugar cube placed in the ‘Feuerzange’ which dribbles into the simmering Red Wine mixed with cut fruits, spices and fruit juices . It’s similar to mulled wine (Glühwein). Jagertee punch is another warm punch, popular with hunters spending time in the cold.

Indian Subcontinent

Arrack based punches were historically popular in India and Sri Lanka, where it was distilled from toddy, the wine made from sap of various palm trees. Possibly the original version of Punch.

Korea

Hwachae and Sujeonggwa are two traditional styles of punch made from dried persimmons, cinnamon, watermelon and ginger.

Mexico

Ponche is served warm in Mexico during the Christmas holiday season using seasonal and exotic ingredients like prunes, pears, dry hibiscus, star anise and sugar cane pieces. They also add fresh tejocotes, known to the Aztecs as Texocotli (stone fruit). Tejocotes are the fruit of the hawthorn tree and resemble crab apples with a sweet-sour flavour and has an orange to golden yellow colour.

South America

Clericot (also called Clericó and Clericoda) is a drink that is similar to Punch. Made with a mix between wine or cider and different kinds of citrus and tropical fruits such as orange, melon, mamon, apple, pineapple, diced canned peaches and strawberries, it is served during summer festivities such as New Year and Christmas in a pitcher. In Paraguay, this is served in a clay pot called kambuchi. 

Sweden

Punch is called bål in Sweden and is commonly served in a bowl at social functions. Do not confuse Bål with the Swedish Punsch, which is a specific type of alcoholic punch using arrack that is considered the national drink of Sweden. Due to its popularity the arrack punch saw commercial bottling in 1845 and became known more broadly outside Scandinavia as the liqueur – Swedish punsch. Dragoon punch was popular in Sweden and Norway in the early 1900s which added both stout and beer to liqueurs like brandy, champagne and sherry.

United States

Some claim Planter’s Punch was invented at the bar of the Planters’ House hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. The recipe of Planter’s Punch varies, containing some combination of rum, lemon juice, orange juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, grenadine, soda water, curaçao, angostura bitters and cayenne pepper. Southern bourbon punch is a drink closely associated Southern states. Sweet bourbon punch is made with sweet tea (a signature drink of the South), citrus flavours and bourbon whiskey. Bourbon is named for Bourbon County, Kentucky and each year during the Kentucky Derby, recipes for bourbon punch thrive.

Image by Анастасия Белоусова from Pixabay

Here’s a list (not a complete list) of some Classic & Modern Punch variations. :
Charles Dickens’ Punch
Philadelphia Fish House Punch
Ferdinand & Isabella’s Punch
Apple Pie Punch
Dorothy’s Delight 
Smoochin’ Under the Clock Tower
Daniel Webster’s Punch
Hannah Wooley Punch
Smoking Bishop
Jingle Juice Holiday Punch
Painful Punch
Queen Charlotte Punch
Pomegranate Orange Punch
Blueberry Sage & Gin Punch
Regent Punch
Hibiscus Punch Royale
So Long, Sweet Summer
Poor Richard
Eggnog Punch
Parish Hall Punch
Jim Beam Fruit Punch
Pineapple and Sage Gimlet
Rosé Berry Bliss
White Peach Sangria
Apricot Sunray
Grapefruit Ginger Spiced Rum Punch
Packer’s Punch
Cranberry Fresh Punch
Winter Punch
Apple & Pear Sangria
Pomegranate Champagne Punch
Cranberry Elderflower Champagne Punch
Midori Berry Bliss Punch
Liquid Lust
Spiced Blood Orange Champagne Punch
Best Champagne Punch
Mrs.Claus’ Wildside Punch
Cranberry & Mint Rum Punch
Mulled Wine
The Dirty Flower
Hot Gold Apple Cider Punch
Cognac Punch
Centennial Punch
Harvest Shandy
Sparkling Cranberry Punch
Autumn Bourbon Sangria
Fruit Punch
Sherbet Holiday Punch
Salted Caramel Apple Punch
Thanksgiving Punch

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