Sixth Borough Punch
There is no photo for this punch. I hadn’t planned to blog it, but the audience that drank it last night at the Con Vivo gala demanded I post the recipe. They did this after they drank it, so blame them for the lack of art.
This recipe uses all of my cheap tricks in one big bowl of dangerous and delicious punch, and I have a hunch I’ll be making it for a lot of Jersey City cultural events in the future. So yes, this post is as much for my own reference as for yours.
step 1: take the zest off of 5 lemons per liter of whiskey you plan to use (this recipe makes a lot of punch). Do the zest in big strips with a vegetable peeler. Put the zest in the big pot you plan to use to mix up the punch base, cover in sugar (maybe 1.5 cups per liter of whiskey?). The amount doesn’t matter since you’ll add more later to taste, just get that lemon zest coated in sugar. Then walk away for 45 minutes to an hour. Watch some Doctor Who or something. When you come back, you’ll have made something called oleo saccharum. This stuff is magic. Use it in everything. Why is it so awesome? Because the sugar will have pulled out all the essential oils from the lemon zest. That oil will give the finished drink a way more interesting lemon flavor than just the juice, and your house will smell awesome.
step 2: dump in your whiskey. I recommend getting Old Overholt Rye whiskey by the liter from Madame Claude Wine up in Hamilton Park. As of this writing they sell it at $19/liter, and I imagine they’ll be sold out after last night’s crowd reads this recipe. Juice those zested lemons, and add about a cup of lemon juice per liter of whiskey. Hold some back in case you need to make adjustments later (you’ll have plenty extra to hold back after all the lemons you zested for the oleo saccharum). Then adjust the sweetness. I like honey to round out the sweet flavor, but it pours slowly, and you’ve got to stir it forever to get it to dissolve. Eventually it should be sweet enough to be drinkable on its own, and so that you like it.
You can also add a few other tidbits at this point if the mood strikes: any flavored brandies (I recommend the orangey ones), and bitters (angostura, or any orangey ones), that sort of thing. Don’t add anything too expensive or too subtly flavored. You won’t be able to taste it. You can also chuck in any herbs you want to infuse – some thyme or mint might go well, but don’t worry about it too much. Subtle flavors won’t come through and you don’t want your punch to taste like a christmas tree.
Congratulations, you’ve made punch base. Now let it sit until you’ve got to carry it over to the event for service. Letting the lemon zest steep in the base will pull a little bitterness out of the white pith that came off with your lemon zest. That’s a good thing.
step 3: put some Big Ice(tm) in the punch bowl. You can make the big ice yourself in a plastic mixing bowl or bag, or you can just buy a bag of ice from the store and fail to break it up that well. Pour in the punch base, top with Goya’s Jamaican ginger beer. My friend Orlando told me about this stuff, and it’s magic; it’s very spicy, not sweet like ginger ale, and as cheap as regular soda at the Pathmark at the end of Bright street. Use a whole 2 liter bottle of soda for every 1.25 to 1.5 liters of whiskey in the base. Again, you can use your own judgment for the final proportions. Taste as you go. You should probably make sure to bring a spare bottle of whiskey and some of your leftover lemon juice to the event, too, in case you have to tweak the punch.
Chuck a bunch of fresh mint into the bowl right before you serve. If you have time, pluck the leave off the stems; I didn’t. Nobody seemed to mind. But do at least tear the mint a bit or rub it between your hands. It won’t get much flavor into the liquid added at this late stage, but that also means none of the deliciousness will soak into the leaves and have to be removed later. What you will get a great fresh aroma to finish the punch.
If you’ve got all the time in the world you can even put a sprig or so into the glasses before you start ladling, but honestly, how likely is that?
And that’s it. Very simple recipe. Oleo Saccharum. Overholt. Juice. Sweet. Ginger beer. Mint. If you used the exact same ingredients hot, then you’d have cold medicine. Try not to think of it that way, though. I didn’t stay that close to the classic punch ratios of “one part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak, plus spice.” but It’s not that far off.
And now the most important part of this post: if you liked that punch last night, and you like world class chamber music for free in Jersey City, please consider supporting Con Vivo. This is a big year for us, with Con Vivo’s first leadership transition ever. One of our biggest goals for the group is to have our first paid artistic director, which is essential to the long term health and stability of the organization.
Thanks to everyone who came out last night, I’m glad you liked the punch so much, and thank you for supporting Con Vivo!