Holiday punch is the essence of holiday entertaining, but what is the essence of holiday punch?

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
Dec. 17 2010 7:10 PM

The Bowl's the Thing

Notes on holiday punch.

(Continued from Page 1)

Throughout the book, Wondrich uppercases the beverage as "Punch," the capital idea being to distinguish the subject of his investigation from "the degenerate compounds that have usurped its name" and also to distinguish it as a class of drink—"a simple combination of distilled spirits, citrus juice, sugar, water and a little spice." Opening with a 50-odd page history of the drink, the author sorts through legend and hearsay to theorize that punch was a British invention, created by an anonymous junior officer in the East India Company circa 1610. He gives the contours of its supremacy as a tipple in the 1700s, then briefly wonders at the circumstances of its decline as a social institution around the turn of the 19th century: "Ideas of democracy and individualism extended to men's behavior in the barroom, where they were less likely to all settle for the same thing or let someone else choose what they were to drink. ... The flowing bowl would serve out the rest of its days in the twilight land of the special occasion, holiday-gathering drink."

If you are going to attempt only one punch this season, then I am tempted to recommend, unoriginally, Fish House Punch, so named for having been concocted by the men of the Schuylkill Fishing Company, an old Philadelphia angling club. According to one version of its creation myth—one that Wondrich doesn't even trifle with explicitly debunking—a club member whipped it up for a Christmas party in 1848, the first occasion on which women were invited within the clubhouse walls. The aim? "To please the ladies' palates but get them livelier than is their usual wont." Gosling's rum will do nicely; Hiram Walker peach brandy should suffice; choose a cognac that will meld with the lemon to achieve a very special tang.

If you are not going to attempt a punch this season, then I am tempted to recommend especially not attempting Amis' Christmas Punch, which its author calls Jo Bartley's Christmas Punch. You might at first question the seriousness with which he offers the recipe. Amis wants you to gather three bottles of dry or medium-dry Spanish white wine, two bottles of cocktail gin, one bottle of non-cognac brandy, one bottle of British sherry, and one bottle of dry British vermouth. He holds that five quarts of medium-sweet cider will blend these cheap parts into a dynamic whole. He adds, parenthetically, "If you feel like throwing in the unfinished drinks from last night, nobody will notice." The vivid gaiety of that last sentence balances its routine depravity nicely. Sure, throw in the floaters. The soul of punch, like the true spirit of the holidays, is in being all-inclusive.


Like Slate on  Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.


The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.