Feeling Punchy Transcript

Formal Party

GUESTS: Party goers
              Old Lady
    Although many American's socio-cultural events are marked with the presence of a cash bar at teetotaling functionssuch as church-based wedding receptions and high school dancesthe punch bowl serves as watering hole for all. Think of it as, well, quaffable democracy. We're all in it together, and in most cases [taking a deep sniff of the punch that he has sampled], we suffer together. A shame, too. Because once upon a time, 100 years ago or so, when a cocktail was just a pretty feather, punches were the highest expression of the tippling arts. Clubs, secret societies, trade organizations, and especially military regiments had their own secret punch recipes, which often reflected a very kind of complex and global influence. More often than not, they were lethally strong.

OLD LADY: [secretly pours some alcohol in the punch bowl]

    Sadly, punch has lost most of its, well, punch. I mean, sure, college frats still fill trash cans with grain alcohol and Tang, but rarely are the true tenets of punch respected. Well that's right, punch isn't just an invitation to dump stuff into a bowl ...

OL: [hands AB some of the spiked punch]
AB: Oh, thanks.

... in fact, the most complex recipes usually do follow a relatively thick series of ratios [takes a sip, and gags], the purpose of which is to create a pleasing and harmoniously balanced flavor, even when the total alcohol content is quite high.
    Well, I say it's high time to bring punch back to its celebrated place at the head of the table. Proper punching not only prevents this kind of pernicious subterfuge [indicates OL], it helps to preserve a very special brand of ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

On The High Seas

GUESTS: Sailor #1, Hawkins
              Mr. Van der Veer

    [AB is captain of the ship] On the final day of the year 1600 A.D., a royal charter was issued to a commercial venture, officially titled, The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading Into the East Indies.

AB: [shouting loudly] Chart!
HAWKINS: [brings the chart]

    Now the express mission of this organization was to import spices and goods directly to England from the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding lands, thus sidestepping the mark-ups levied by the many middle men who mined the old spice land routes. Over the next century, the British East Indian Company, or, "The Company," became so powerful that it commanded its own armed forces. Its influence grew so considerable on the subcontinent, that by the time the crown dissolved their charter in 1873, it got complete control of India in the bargain. Funny how that works out.
    Anyway, when company men made return trips to England, they brought with them the exotic makings of punch.

AB: [shouting again] Bring forth the writing slate!
H: [tosses the map into the sea]
AB: [is aghast]
H: [pulls out the chalkboard]
AB: Hurry up!

    Now the word "punch" comes from "panch," the Hindi word for "five." A significant sum, because the beverage is built upon five categories of flavors, which are assembled by what is called the rule of fives. One part sour, two parts sweet, three of strong, and four of weak, spice makes five. Now, the possibilities, of course, are endless, but, according to company records, the original incarnation looked something like this. 1 Sour
2 Sweet
3 Strong
4 Weak
+ Spice

AB: [shouting] Bring forth the punch bowl!
H: [slowly wheels the board away]
AB: [seeing that the sailor is taking his time] Hard to press good men into service these days, you know.

    Now, let's go the mathematics. Let's say, for the sake of saying, that one part equals one pint, 16 ounces. Keep in mind it could be a gallon, a barrel, a keg, what have you, it is the proportions that matter most, okay.
    All right, first, the sour.

AB: [shouts] Limes! Come on, come on.
H: [brings a small lime tree]
AB: Ah, excellent. Now go juice these for me, my good man. Off you go.

    Now limes, of course, a powerful weapon in the battle against scurvy. In fact, by the 19th century, it was common for lime trees to be kept aboard English ships. A habit which led to sailors of the crown being dubbed "limeys."

H: [returns with a bucket of lime juice]

    Ah, there now. The juice goes into the bowl, along with the hulls, which contain quite a bit of essential oil. Now, two parts of sweet in the form of raw, or demerara sugar. Of course refined sugar, quite rare at that time.

16 Ounces Freshly Squeezed
    Lime Juice +
About 20 Lime Bodies

32 Ounces Demereara Sugar

    Next the strong. Now I know what you're probably thinking - ships, high seas, pirates, rum! Wrong! Remember, rum or rumbuillion was primarily a Caribbean beverage, and that's on the other side of the planet. No. The strong of choice on this ship, Batavia Arrack, a potent potable distilled from fermented sugar cane and red rice. It comes from Java, which, of course, is under the control of those doily-necked hooligans, the Dutch East India Company. Pah! This was, in fact, their Batavia, just a short while ago.

48 Ounces Batavia Arrack or
    Gold Rum

    Next, the four of weak. Now, almost any non-alcoholic beverage will do. But authenticity demands tea. India black tea, to be precise, and I always am. Four parts would be - a half gallon. Oh, and I like to add it warm so we can be certain that the sugar dissolves properly.

64 Ounces Brewed Black Tea

    Now we're going to need a little bit of chill. We have sailed down into frigid southern waters in order to harvest a bit of ice floe.

AB: [to H] Do invite our guest up, won't you?
H: [hauls up VdV on a rope from the frigid water below, he is obviously frozen]
AB: Ah, Mr. Van der Veer, so good to see you. And look, you brought the ice, wonderful. By the way, I do want to say again, sorry about your ship. Just business, nothing personal, you know.
MR. VAN DER VEER: [Incoherent Dutch]
AB: I'm sorry, my Dutch is pretty, pretty light. I think he said he wants to take another bath, go on down. Oh no, I'm just fine right up here, thank you.

    Now, our fifth element is crucial. Although it has no exact proportion, it is the spice.

H: He who controls the spice, controls the universe.
AB: Hawkins, you really do need to lay off the sci-fi.
H: [to us] The spice must flow.
AB: Stop it.

    The spice that company men speak of when they speak of spice, is, of course, nutmeg, traditionally grated directly into the bowl.

AB: Come men, drink.

    Now, a mighty strong quaff by modern standards, and sweet as well. But, it lives on in a 20th century cocktail known as ...

H: [pointing] Land ho!

    Let's look. Why it's a skinny little spit, I think I'll name it, Long Island.

Batavia Arrack has been produced on Java since the
17th century and is available today on the world wide web.

Old Tavern

GUESTS: Club patrons

    The punch concept may have been born on the high seas, but once it came ashore, it morphed radically, often at the hands of local clubs, societies, organizations, and military regiments, who frequently met to practice secret handshakes, and drink themselves into oblivion.
    Many mythical punch receiptsthat's what they used to call recipesare indeed named after clubs: there's the Philadelphia Fish House punch, the National Guard Seventh Regiment punch, the infamous Chatham Artillery punch that's lubed Savannah's fierce fighting men since before the Civil War. But my personal favorite regional punch manifestation is the Cape Fear punch, which, not surprisingly, was a long held top secret of one Cape Fear Club, supposedly the oldest gentlemen's club in the south.

AB: [lifts a piece of paper with the recipe, from a patron who is too drunk to notice]

   Now various versions have been leaked to the public over the years, but the real McCoy is, [looking at the receipt] Ooh, wowsy. Well buckle your seatbelts, kids, 'cause when this stuff's in the bowl, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

AB: You have a good sleep.
PATRON: [falls over on the table]

In 1856, San Francisco police allowed only one drink
of Pisco punch in a 24 hour period due to its potency.

Liquor Store

    Okay, the Cape Fear Punch base is a real doozy, calling for rye whiskey, which is created, in part, from rye grain instead of just corn mash, like, say, bourbon. Jamaican rum, meaning kind of dark, but not spiced. And cognac, a very common punch mixer and a somewhat mythic beverage that deserves a little explanation. Now, all cognacs are brandies, but not all brandies are ... Oh, just watch this.

The Kitchen

    To make a brandy, first you need a fermented fruit-based beverage like wine. You boil off the alcohol and other volatile compounds, condense the vapors, and voila, brandy. Now the story goes that the town of Cognac had so much of their local mediocre wine that they ran out of storage space. So they distilled it with the hopes of one day reconstituting it with water. Several years passed and when they opened the wooden casks, the cheap wine concentrate had been converted into a heavenly elixir considered by many to be the finest spirit in the world.

Home of mediocre wine


Welcome to
Home of Heavenly Spirits


Liquor Store

    [covering up the brand names of the cognacs in the case] There. No reason getting carried away with brand names. They don't really mean that much when it comes to cognac. However there is a code that's important to understand, okay?

    V. S. means "very superior", which doesn't mean that what's in the bottle actually is. What it means is that the contents were aged for two and a half to four years in the barrel, okay?

VS  = Very Superior

    V.S.O.P. stands for "very superior old pale", and it has spent between four and a half and six and a half years in the barrel.

V.S.O.P. =
Very Superior Old Pale

    X.O Is not a kiss and a hug, but "extra old", meaning that the liquid therein was barrel aged more than six and a half years, though most "X.O."s are aged much longer than that. Some even spend as much as 25 years in woody containment.

X.O = Extra Old

    By the way, aging, for any spirit, is a function of being in contact with the chemicals in wood and air. Once it goes into the bottle, the aging stops, okay? So, just because you have a 10-year-old bottle of scotch and you hold it for 20 years, it doesn't mean you have a 30-year-old scotch. It's still just a 10-year-old scotch.
    Okay, for a punch you know, plain old V.S. will do just fine, and it will cover you, even if the recipe just calls for brandy. But beware, some punch recipes call specifically for apricot or apple brandy, but that will have to wait for another show.

AB: [takes the bottle he has selected] Come!

    Classic punches, especially those of English derivation, are pretty heavy on alcohol, so they usually call for an effervescent element to be added at the last minute. It could be just plain old club soda, or sometimes champagne. Now in the case of the Cape Fear Punch, it is both. Going to need a liter of the plain bubbly stuff. And as far as this bubbly stuff goes [pointing to the champagne], I urge you not to spend your hard earned cash on French champagne. Just go with an American sparkling wine, or an Italian prosecco, in, say, the 12-dollar range. Just, if you have an option, reach for the extra dry version. It's going to take two bottles.

The Kitchen

    [at the cupboard] Old punch recipes, or receipts, often call for mixing the stronger alcoholic components together, days, weeks, or sometimes even months ahead of punch time. You see, back then, spirits were often sold young and unblended. In other words, harsh. Pre-mixing and aging the punch base at home helped to curb the curse.
    [at the dining table] Although this step is not the necessity it was 100 years ago, I still like to build my strong team ahead of time in a gallon glass jar, because having this on hand will make it easier for me to quickly reinforce the punch as the party progresses. Why not just make a huge batch first thing? The fine champagne, of course. Once this bottle is breached, the clock is ticking, the bubbles disappearing forever into the ether. If I want to keep my bowl at its best, I'll actually make up a couple of punches as the night goes on, and this step will make that much, much easier. So will the rubber bands. [shows a couple of rubber hands around the gallon glass jar] We'll get to that in a few minutes.

    Now go ahead and pour the 750 milliliters of rye into the jar. Then use the bottle to measure out the same amount of good, old-fashioned water. 750ml Bottle Rye Whiskey
    [at the kitchen counter] Then move that water to the kettle of your choice, and bring to a boil. I like this electric model, but that's just me. When it boils, turn it off, and add one half cup of demerara sugar. If you can't find demerara, just raw sugar will do fine. 750ml Water
Cub Demerara Sugar
    [back at the cupboard] That should bring the water temperature down to about 190, which will be just right for brewing three standard bags of green tea. Yes, tea again, but green this time, not black. So straight into the kettle, close the lid and steep for three minutes. 3 Green Tea Bags

Besides wine and fruit juice, tea is the most common
"weak" ingredient in classic punch recipes.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Sailors #1, #2 & #3

    All right, our sweet green tea now goes into the jar, along with 375 milliliters each of the rum and cognac. Now these fluids do come in those volumes, but if your bottles are larger, you could ... 375ml Each Run & Cognac

SAILORS #1, #2, #3: [struggling with an abacus, trying to figure out the problem]
AB: Don't worry, fellas, don't stretch your brains, I don't like math either.

    All you've got to do is use your rye bottle and fill it halfway with both. [demonstrates] Clearly, a funnel makes this much easier. Move into your base jar and you're almost done. There. So now we have a total of two and a quarter liters, approximately, I don't know, 76 ounces. Now you notice I've got one rubber band at the top. Lets me know when I've kind of hit my limit. I have got another one halfway up. Now this marks the amount that I will use for the first bottle of champagne later on.

    Now we're not quite done. Last but not least, peel the zest from four lemons, removing as little of the pith as possible, and deposit those into the jar so that the alcohol can go to work extracting the considerable amount of alcohol soluble flavors locked inside the citrus. Oh, and be sure to save the lemons themselves, we're going to juice them later. Zest From 4 Lemons

    [at the refrigerator] Stash this in your chill chest for anywhere from 24 hours to three months.
    All right, let's talk ice. The last thing you want floating in your punch are these little guys [ice from your freezer]. For one thing, they're not very attractive, and they've got a lot of surface area. That means rapid melting, and that means watery punch. What we need to preserve the flavor of our punch is one single mass of ice, preferably one that has as little surface area as possible. And that means a shape [catches a small water balloon from off-camera] kind of like this.
    [narrating] I'm going to assume most of you are familiar with this procedure. Just stretch open your balloon, put on the faucet, fill with a pint of water (that's a pound, you know), tie it off and then move it to a freezer. I find that a large teacup makes a nice form. There.

Remember, water expands as it freezes so make sure
you give your balloon room to grow.

    After freezing overnight, all you have to do is peel away the balloon material, and I like to give it a rinse to remove any residual powder. Now, if you happen to be allergic to latex, you might want to consider using some other form, like, say, a Bundt pan or a vinyl glove.
    [at the dining table] It is time to build, and to build, we need a bowl. Although I am fond of this small, half gallon antique punch bowl, handed down by my grandmother, its volume, like many of its age, lends itself to more intimate affairs. A serious fete requires a serious bowl, something in the one-gallon range. Now I found this at my local thrift shop where I buy most of my clothes.

    First in, the fruity goodness. I have here, two whole lemons and one orange, cut into thin slices. Those go into the bowl, followed by the juice of two of the reserved lemons from yesterday. Then, half of our entire batch of base. That's to the first rubber band, followed by half a liter of seltzer or soda water. There we go. 2 lemons + 1 Orange, Sliced
Juice From 2 Reserved
Base Prepared Earlier
Liter Seltzer Or Soda
    And now the champagne. Now let's just review safe opening procedures. Remove the foil, carefully twist off the cage while making sure your hand is over the cork. There. And then just work out, [demonstrates] ah, the cork. Keep it on the table and there shouldn't be any trouble. The whole bottle goes in. Remember, we're making this a bottle at a time, so you can rebuild this punch again later in the evening. There. And last but not least, of course, our ice egg. 750ml Bottle Sparkling Wine
    or Champagne

    As for the spice, I usually leave a nutmeg and a grater right next to the bowl.
    Now let's see, the average punch cup is four ounces, so that means we've got, I think, 30 servings here, thereabout.

CREW: [descends on the punchbowl, emptying it in a few seconds]

    What just happened here is why Americans don't punch very often. English gentlemen of the past age were more than willing to dedicate a couple of hours to sitting around the bowl, talking with friends, making toasts while getting toasted, sometimes right in the middle of the day. When America got cranked up though, two characteristics became clear. Nineteenth and 20th century Americans don't mind a mid-day drink, but they want it fast. They don't have time for sitting around. And they want choice. You see, as spirit distillation became more polished, the cocktail was born, and everybody wanted what they wanted. So, just as video killed the radio star, the mixed drink killed the punch bowl, and I say we're none the better for its passing. Luckily, we can do something about it.

A punch low in alcohol is technically called a "cup".

The Kitchen

GUESTS: "Itchy" and "Twitchy"

    In the days before central heat, anything that added warmth to winter was a good thing, including punch. Landlords in Edwardian England were, in fact, expected to prepare hot punches from time to time in order to prevent Jack Frost from nipping his tenants' noses clean off. This fine tradition lives on today in the hot toddy.

    Although it's often made a cup at a time, I like to make it in a slow cooker in big batches. So, one lemon slice goes into the cooker, along with half a cup of dark brown or demerara sugar. Add to that, finally, a quart of water, and set the cooker to high. 1 Lemon, Sliced
Cub Demerara Sugar
1 Quart Water
    Okay, remember our one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak, plus spice equation? Words to live by, to be sure. But this drink is going to be served hot. Heat amplifies aromatic elements as well as kind of heightening the sweetness of sugar. So I'm going to adjust: the sour's going to go down to just a few slices of lemon, and we're going to drop the sugar as well. So our final formula's going to look more like some of sour, one of sweet, five of strong and eight of weak, plus spice, of course. Nutmeg, can't be without nutmeg.       1 Sour Lemon
   1  2  Sweet
   5  3  Strong
   8  4  Weak
      + Spice

    [at the liquor cabinet] Although toddies made in the U.K. can contain almost any liquor, the American version is always built upon scotch whiskey. In fact, until the 20th century, almost all the scotch consumed in the U.S. was taken in toddy form.
    Now the success of a hot toddy really is in the body, the scotch has got to have weight, and that means using a single malt scotch, rather than a blended scotch. That's because single malts are generally distilled in pot stills, like this. [shows diagram] Pot stills crank out spirits which have a heavier body. Blended scotches almost always come from column stills, which are also used to make most American bourbon. Such stills create a lighter, thinner body, which is fine for some drinks, but not for a toddy.

    [back at the slow cooker] All right, the sugar should be good and melted, so now the whiskey goes in. That's two and a half cups of the scotch. There. Now turn down the heat and just let that sit and stew for about 10 minutes before serving. 2 Cups Scotch Whiskey
    Now I like to divvy up the lemon slices, just put them right in the bottom of the mug. Very nice indeed. Then ladle on the scotchy goodness, piping warm. There we go. And last but not least, of course, we've got to have a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Always have to have the nutmeg. Freshly Grated Nutmet

    Well, I hope that we've inspired you to break out the punch bowl or the slow cooker, and try your hand at a beverage whose time has returned, punch. Now, as you might imagine, my attorneys, "Itchy" and "Twitchy", want me to remind you to, uh, oh, enjoy responsibly, and oh, of course, only if you're, um, you know, legal drinking age in your state.

AB: Right, guys?

    Now, if you'll excuse us, I think we'll have a quiet sip of good eats.

AB: Speaking of punch, whoever sold you those robes deserves one.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010