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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

The Perfect Pre-Batched Punches for Your Party

Nothing says ‘it’s party time’ more than a bowl of punch. Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown explore the evolution of a drink that’s easy to like, easy to drink and easy to pre-make – leaving you more time to enjoy yourself

A cause for celebration was all one needed to convene friends for food and drink at home during the days of Queen Victoria. Is it any different today? We seem to have rediscovered the joys of entertainment at home or in a bar as a warming alternative to tribal gatherings in more raucous venues.

But who wants to be left stirring up yet another round of pitcher-sized Margaritas, Sangria or Daiquiris for their gang as they hover over a box-set marathon of Game of Thrones or a rousing round of Monopoly? And who wants to spend the whole night stirring, throwing and shaking, leaving their guests to have all the fun?

We first looked to our favourite barman from those ‘banquet years’ for inspiration. Harry Johnson batched up champagne cups for bottling prior to service long before our contemporary call for low-alcohol mixed drinks.

His Crimean Cup à la Marmora married champagne with cognac, rum and maraschino liqueur diluted to strength with soda water, which was then bottled and chilled in advance. Pouring into an ice-filled punch bowl and topping with citrus and pineapple was the only other preparation required.

For an even simpler serve, his Claret Cup brought four parts Bordeaux wine with one part champagne and one part soda water for dilution, which was executed and decorated in the same manner.

We have to admit that we are fans of clarified milk punch.

The milk whey softens the sharp edges of the alcohol and, while it dilutes, the mixture imparts a smooth texture to the finish. Johnson’s Duke of Norfolk Punch is the essence of simplicity. Orange and lemon peel and juice are mixed with cognac, sherry and milk, sweetened to taste and steeped in a sealed jug for an entire day.

Strained through a jelly bag until clear, the finished liquid is bottled and is best aged for a few weeks to a month before chilling for service.

When Nick Strangeway opened Mark’s Bar at Hix Soho in 2009, he reintroduced another ‘banquet years’ variation on the clarified milk punch – the Criterion Punch, which was first conjured up by Leo Engel in 1878 for the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus. Since then, Strangeway has gone on to craft his whey-enhanced concoctions, such as the St John Milk Punch for the eponymous restaurant, opened in Smithfield by Fergus Henderson.

Just think of it. Mixed drinks prepped a day, a week or even a month in advance that are ready to go straight from the bottle to a waiting vessel filled with ice and some decorative fruit make you a bar star, happy host and relaxed participant in a gathering to remember.

What we're drinking

A rich and frothy Bourbon or Rye Sour is a wonderful autumn sip, but it was lost for the same reason the Old Fashioned died in decades past – badly made, garnished with the wrong fruit.

As we make our own maraschino cherries, we tend to slip a bit of the liquid from them into the mix.

Another favourite variation is the New York Sour, which has seen a recent resurgence, though the wine you choose can make a huge difference to the drink. We lean towards a red with a lot of berry flavours to it, such as a Saint-Émilion.

Crimean Cup à la Marmora

Adapted from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartenders’ Manual, 1882

Glass: Punch bowl and cups
Garnish: 2 sliced lemons, 2 sliced
oranges, a few slices of pineapple
Method: Stir ingredients well in a jug or large bowl. Bottle in glass clip-top bottles and chill in a bowl filled with ice to serve.

250ml orgeat syrup or to taste
250ml cognac
125ml maraschino liqueur
125ml Jamaican rum
750ml champagne
750ml soda water

Duke of Norfolk Punch

Adapted from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartenders’ Manual, 1882

Glass: Punch bowl and cups
Garnish: None
Method: Pare the peel of the oranges and lemons so that there is little to no pith then juice the fruit. Place the peel and the juice into a jug with a close-fitting lid. Pour in the cognac, sherry and milk. Dissolve the sugar with a small amount of water and add to the jug. Seal the jug with the lid and allow to rest for 24 hours. Strain through a paper coffee filter or jelly bag until clear. Bottle in glass clip-top bottles and chill in a bowl filled with ice to serve.

3l cognac
1l sherry
2l whole milk
400g caster sugar or to taste
1 lemon
2 oranges

St John Milk Punch

By Nick Strangeway, 2018

Glass: Punch bowl and cups
Garnish: Lemon twist and
seasonal edible flowers
Method: Combine the first five ingredients, stir, then pour this mix into the full-fat milk; it will then curdle. Gently stir to pull together the whey, then strain through a coffee filter. At the start, it will not run through clear so pass through a few times to clarify. Bottle and refrigerate before use. To serve, pour the chilled milk punch over a large chunk of ice and garnish.

320ml honey- and beeswax-infused Hepple gin*
400ml Rare Tea Company Almond Blossom Tea
80ml Lillet Rose
50ml lemon juice
60ml rhubarb and blood
orange syrup**
400ml full-fat milk

Pour 700ml of Hepple Gin into a vac-pac bag. Add 50g of honey in honeycomb to the bag.
Seal and cook for an hour at 75-80°C in a water bath. Freeze overnight.Next morning, strain through a coffee filter.
*Simmer uncovered 350g of roughly chopped rhubarb in 100ml of fresh blood-orange juice, 75ml of water, and 90g caster sugar until the rhubarb begins to disintegrate.

Leave the syrup to cool and then strain the contents of the pan through a fine sieve.

This article was updated from one that was originally published in imbibe live magazine on November 12, 2018