Celebrating National Punch Day: The History Behind the Colorful Beverage
Today is National Punch Day. Punch? Punch. And officially listed as one of America’s Food Holidays. The word “punch” inspires a multitude of things, the most relevant being images of lounging on a caribbean beach, tailgating at a Buffet concert, outdoor summer parties and all things, sweet, fruity, sickly and most importantly for today’s discussion – ‘punchy’.
But there is a very rich and interesting history behind this delicious beverage. Punch has played both the fuel and peace pipe to war. It has inspired Dickens, converted voters, passed legislation, kept nations warm in winter, defined Christmas and ultimately given birth to our modern cocktail.
To start out, punch is old. Really old. While the word cocktail can be found in use around the late 18th century, the earliest discovered use of the word punch, dates back to 1632 if not earlier. To put this into context, this is the same year construction began on the Taj Mahal, pilgrims had yet to settle in America, St Paul’s Cathedral in London was still being built and Galileo is called into Inquisition for his belief that the sun lies in the heart of the universe and not the Earth.
It was time when spice, and not gold, drove the dreams and motivations of men in the 17th century. A time when trade control over the common nutmeg would influence four wars, the ownership of New York and global colonization. To ensure their place within this new spice race, England established a monopoly founded from a collective of ranking merchants to compete against the emerging powers of the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. This group was called The East India Company (“The Company”). Over the next 90 years, The Company would fight for dominion in both the East and West Indies (Caribbean) evolving a Western taste for liquor, war, spice and the thing that linked them all – punch. Pretty interesting, huh? There’s more…
Punch was believed to have been introduced by sailors to England via India in the early seventeenth century. The word punch is a loanword from Hindi panch (meaning five). The drink was originally made with five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and tea or spices. The original drink was named paantsch. Punch grew quickly in popularity and was soon spread to other countries. And although tempting, we don’t recommend interpreting this translation as consuming five punches as well. Unless, of course, you hold the secret to the hangover cure.
But, Should You Believe Everything You Hear??
Despite so many references crediting early English merchant sailors for inventing punch from the ingredients easily obtained on their Indian odysseys (arrack, spice, sugar, citrus), the sub-Asian continent had existed as a global trading hub millennia before any Western interaction. This leads to a strong argument that punch may have been adopted by English merchantmen rather than directly invented. Here’a another perspective to introduce a little rivalry and intrigue…
Ancient Persia also have a similar word for ‘five’ written panj. Having traded directly with India since the Bronze Age and both empires well documented in consuming a drink called “arrack”, it’s not a stretch that they may have influenced the popularity of the earliest derivation of this desired beverage. Even the ancient Greeks had a drink composed of five elements. Circa 210, on the third day of the Festival of Skira, Athenians held a race in which young men ran, with a grape laden vine-branch called an oschus, between temples of worship. The winner received a large cup filled with a mixed drink called pentaplous, meaning “five-fold”. And there you have it – a beverage of five ingredients, wine, honey, cheese, flour and oil.
Our Favorite Recipe for “Punch”
There is even history behind the recipe (humor me for just a little longer). The earliest discovered recipe of a punch was recorded by a young German adventurer named Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo when visiting the English East India Company’s factory in Surat, India in 1638. The recipe was written as containing, “aqua vitae, rosewater, citrus juice and sugar“. Water was often omitted in early recipes as it was expected as a mixer into any spirituous liquor, the majority of which were rough-as-guts and overproof.
We encourage you to join us in celebration of this day. Not necessarily because we think it’s the greatest holiday every (it might be for some of us), but because it seems like a good reason to mix a tasty drink on this gorgeous fall day. And as interesting as the original recipe sounds to replicate today (particularly the rosewater!), we suggest a more modern approach. Here are two of our favorites (based on our favorite rums):
Happy National Punch Day!!