Of Life, Liberty, Happiness... and Punch

Blueberry Basil Lemonade Shandy
Blueberry Basil Lemonade Shandy

All photos by Brian Petro.

There are so many reasons that punches are perfect for summer celebrations. Starting with graduation parties and Memorial Day and ending with those last few days in the pool and the start of the NFL season (yes that happens in summer), large gatherings are just what you do. At the peak of that season is the Fourth of July, one of the biggest celebrations of the summer. Americans are going to spend over $300 million in beer alone, let alone wine and other spirits. Beer and wine for your Independence Day celebration is easy to prepare; buy a few bottles or cans more than you think you will need, chill them to the proper temperatures, and allow people to serve themselves. Cocktails, on the other hand, are trickier. Just do what George Washington, James Madison, and the rest of Founding Fathers did while building the United States: make a punch. One of the most famous punches, Philadelphia Fish House Punch, is said to be the fuel that kept the Constitutional Convention moving during their blistering hot and humid August sessions. Punches were a staple of life in colonial times, found in every tavern and social gathering. This could be the year you start a delicious Fourth of July tradition with punches!

The etymology of the word “punch” is believed to have come from the Sankrit word “pancha”, or five. Punches were created by British sailors traveling to India with beer in the hold. When they would arrive, and before the advent of the India Pale Ale, the beer would usually go bad. They would then add spices and fruits to the beer to make it drinkable. The number of ingredients the final concoction usually held was five: the spirit, fruit, sugar, spices, and water. As England became more and more intolerant to people drinking the day away and not being productive members of society, punches started losing their... punch. The alcohol was gradually removed from the bowls, until intrepid traders started to sail for the New World. Without the watchful eye of royalty to tamp down the festivities, sailors started to add local rum back into the punches. A general rule of “one sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak” started to develop in parlors and bar rooms for the proper punch proportions. The weak element was water, which gradually transformed into elegant ice presentations as frozen water became commercially available. After the United States formally separated from England, they kept the tradition of the stronger punches going as they created a new country.

The inspiration for these Fourth of July friendly punches came from the general history of punch as well as the flavors that buoy the summer months.

Punch 1: Boston Iced Tea Punch

Boston Iced Tea Punch
Boston Iced Tea Punch

3.25 cups/ 750 mL Bourbon (we recommend Alltech Town Branch, gold medal winner in the 2014 NY International Spirits Competition) 1.5 cups/ 350 mL Cranberry juice 1.5 cups/ 350 mL Orange Zest Sweet Tea (recipe follows) Garnish: 3 Oranges cut into wheels

In a large bowl, combine the bourbon, cranberry juice, and sweet tea. Place in the refrigerator, and chill for at least three hours for all the flavors to blend. Pour into a bowl for serving, adding ice and the orange slices for garnish. Serve over ice. Makes 1.5 q/ 1.4 L.

Iced tea is a staple of summer sipping, and sweet tea is a particular treat the south has bestowed upon us. Most of us are familiar with adding lemonade to tea and calling it and Arnold Palmer. I was just introduced to the Boston iced tea as a combination of cranberry juice and tea recently. Adding a little orange zest to the tea provides a subtle citrus back that combines well with the cranberry juice. You can even make the simple syrup for this recipe while the tea is brewing.

Orange Zest Sweet Tea

4 cups/ 950 mL water 3 large or 7 small iced tea bags (Luzianne if you want to shoot for authenticity) 2 c./ 470 mL of orange zest simple syrup Up to 10 cups/ 2.5 L of cold water

On the stove top, bring the four cups of water to low boil. Add the tea bags and reduce the heat. Allow the tea to steep for 10-15 minutes, depending on how strong you want the tea. Remove the tea from the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. In a 1 g/3.75 L container, pour the simple syrup and the tea. Add the rest of the cold water to fill the vessel. If you add the cold water while the tea is still hot, the tea could become cloudy. Adding a few pinches of baking soda can help get rid of the cloudiness.

Orange Zest Simple Syrup

1 cup/ 235 mL Water 8 oz./ 225 g Sugar Zest of 1 medium Orange

Bring the water to a boil, and add the orange zest. Allow the orange zest to steep in the water until the water turns a subtle orange color, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the orange zest and allow the water to cool for a minute. Put the water back on low heat, and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved.

Punch 2: Blueberry Basil Lemonade Shandy

3 12 oz./ 350 mL bottles of beer (Thirsty Dog’s Raspberry Ale is a particularly good choice for this, and a Bronze Medalist at the 2015 New York International Beer Competition) 1 c./ 235 mL Blueberry Basil Simple Syrup (recipe follows) 1 c./ 235 mL Fresh Lemon juice 4 c./ 950 mL Cold Water Garnish: Lemons cut into wheels

In a coverable container, mix the simple syrup, lemon juice, and as much of the cold water as you need (to taste) for the lemonade. Chill for at least three hours, to allow the flavors to blend together. Before serving, add the three bottles of beer and stir gently. Lay the lemons on top of the punch. Serve over ice. Makes 2.6 q./ 2.4 L.

Two traditions merged here as inspiration: the origins of the punch as a beer based beverage and the tradition of having something refreshing to offer revelers. Lemonade is a great summer drink, and blueberries and basil bring some extra summery flavor. In the winter months, a warm wassail is made for guests to warm them up as they visit your home. Why not offer something cool and refreshing for the summer months?

Blueberry Basil Simple Syrup

1 c./ 235 mL Water 8 oz./ 225 g Sugar .75 oz./ 21 g Basil leaves 12 oz./ 340 g Fresh Blueberries

Bring the water to a low boil, and add the sugar and blueberries. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Cover, and allow most of the blueberries to burst. Remove from the heat, and strain out the blueberries. Put syrup back on the stove on medium low heat, and add the basil leaves. Stir occasionally. When the leaves wither a bit and the kitchen smells of basil, remove from the heat and strain out the leaves.

Punch 3: Sparkling Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca

Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca
Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca

3.25 c./ 750 mL Sparkling Wine (I used La Marca Prosecco for the extra fruitiness) 1.5 c./ 350 mL gin (The Botanist, bronze medal, 2014 New York International Spirits Competition was my choice for its floral lightness) 4 c./ 950 mL Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca (recipe follows) 12 oz./ 340 g Frozen Watermelon Chunks Garnish: Sliced Strawberries (for the glass)

In a coverable container, mix the agua fresca and gin. Chill for at least three hours, allowing the flavors to blend. Pour into your serving vessel and add the champagne and frozen watermelon chunks. Serve without ice in a wine glass.

The floral notes of gin and the sparkle of bubbling wine was established early in this cocktail. What was needed was the appropriate summery mixer. In that search, a watermelon agua fresca was discovered. Spanish for “fresh water”, this can be made with any blend of fruits, water, and a little sugar. After some experimentation, the recipe below was discovered.

Watermelon Strawberry Agua Fresca

2.2 lbs./ 1 kg Seedless Watermelon 8 large Strawberries 2 oz./ 60 mL Lime juice 2 tbsp./ 30 mL Sugar 1 c./ 230 mL Water

Hull the strawberries. Place all of the ingredients into a large blender and blend until smooth. Strain into a clean jar to remove all of the pulp.

If this agua fresca was not for a sparkling cocktail, you could leave the pulp. The pulp will make the overall punch too thick for the bubbles to shine through, so in this case leave it out.

Simple, summery punches are a great way to have a cocktail ready for your guests as they come in the door, or something they can serve themselves as they wait for the community fireworks display later in the evening. Iced tea, lemonade, and watermelon are elements you will find at almost every Fourth of July party during the summer. These punches are a way to incorporate those ingredients as well as take advantage of the bountiful selection of other fruits and herbs that are available during these months. Now that all of the hard work is done, time to sit around the pool and enjoy some refreshing Independence Day punches. Cheers!