At the risk of being quotidian, I’m going to take a moment to talk about the weather. Sources—for example, the calendar—say that we are within high-fiving distance of the official start of summer. Many people, I think, have felt embedded in summer for a while now. But here where I am in Northeastern Minnesota, well, today, as I wrote this, the high was 52° F and a northeast wind whipped through the trees so they danced wildly. At this time of year, it becomes hard to identify culinarily with a lot of the world, except, perhaps, for Iceland. And some of the more southerly reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, like the parts where penguins live. Our peonies barely have buds, the rhubarb is just showing its fresh face, and local asparagus is still a hazy green dream.
But, summer (while reluctant) is coming our way as well. I think. I hope. And I’m mentally preparing for grilling outside and icy pitchers of punch.
As we all know, there are a few key drink-related elements for a summer party. They are: volume, effervescence, volume, refreshingness, volume, and the color pink. (Okay, some of these elements may be negotiable, but nothing else contains all the elements quite like a punch… or the periodic table. Get it?) Anyway, besides all that, one of the particularly great things about punch is that it makes it easy for everyone to have a mixed drink in hand without anyone needing to be stuck at a bar station assembling drinks individually, making punch perfect for the low-keyness of a summer gathering.
A fun technical fact about punch: A punch has to contain a particular set of elements to merit the name—a spirit, sugar, water, citrus, and spice. Without any one of these, it’s not a true punch. Then again, when there’s a flowing bowl, it’s hard to worry too much about technicalities—but I think it does point to the fact that punch is meant to have some complexity mingled with its refreshing and effervescent quality. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, whether it’s making a spice-infused syrup, using tea as an ingredient (green tea in a summer punch with lime is fantastic), or one of the many spirituous ingredients that is full of spice, like vermouth, Campari, and others.
A good punch should be considered and constructed with care regarding balance and flavors—strength, richness, lightness, and citrus all working together. I’m not opposed to utterly thoughtless, frivolous fruity summer drinks, but for me that’s something like a spiked lemonade. It’s not punch.
However, summer is so abundant with fresh fruits and berries and herbs, it’s the perfect season for adding these to your drinks. And thus, in spite of, or perhaps in pleasant juxtaposition to, the hit of spice punch calls for, summer demands fresh, simple ingredients in your punch bowl. BUT (and this is a personal thing, you may disagree, but I do feel strongly about it) I prefer to do this through infusing syrups, or muddling things in and then straining them out. I hate trying to distribute chunks of strawberries or thyme sprigs or cucumber slices gracefully between multiple drinks. I’ve had some catastrophic spills related to trying to pour out a drink with mint sprigs into guests’ drinks. So, I pre-strain.
This punch, which I named Southern Belle punch (Sobelle for short, of course) because it’s bourbon gussied up in pink, was a favorite of mine last summer. Bourbon and Campari give it heft and bitterness while ginger gives it kicky spice. It sounds like a winter punch in the making, but raspberries, lemon, and Champagne fruit it back up again. It’s like a teenager in the summer: cut-off shorts, tanned skin (heedless of future wrinkles), big sunglasses, but still plenty of drama, and an ability to handle both cheeseburgers and a pie. It’s the first thing I’ll be making once summer finally arrives here in Minnesota.
Southern Belle Punch
- 12 ounces bourbon
- 5 ounces raspberry syrup (see below)
- 4.5 ounces Campari
- 4.5 ounces lemon juice
- 12 ounces ginger beer, a nice spicy kind with a bit of kick
- 16 ounces dry sparkling wine
- 1 1/2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup sugar
- Zest of one lemon in strips
- Zest of one small orange in strips
Name your summer drink (or your own firm beliefs about punch) in the comments below).