PUNCH: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich

‘In the Age of Chaos, long before the creation of the Cocktail, Spirituous and Aqueous, Thick and Thin, Sweet and Sharp and Unctuous were all tumbled together in One Undifferentiated Mass without Form or Order. Then from the East there rose and Sun to dry the Wet and distill the Light from the Heavy. And then all Drinks began to know their Proper Kinds and submit the Willfulness of their Doing to the Correction of Just Reason. That Sun had a Name, and that Name was Punch.’
David Wondrich, PUNCH: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl

Punch Cover
It isn't clear which one of these people is David himself

Cocktail books fall into two categories.

First comes the ‘coffee table’ style full of cocktail recipes to inspire and enjoy, usually accompanied by beautiful pictures of the drinks to really get you salivating. Punch is not one of these books.

Punch firmly places itself in the second category, that of ‘reference book’ style. These are text dominated titles full of information, history, research and facts tending to be light on the recipes and lovely pics.

It could be argued that David Wondrich is the Don of the reference style book with his previous title Imbibe! one of the must have cocktail books for any bartenders book shelf.

One of the reasons for this is David (or should that be Mr Wondrich) gave up a career as an English Literature professor to continue his love of writing about drinks.

It is probably due to his academic background that Punch has that academic feel of a book from my college days.

Don’t let this put you off though, if, like me, you hated studying – you see now the subject is Punches not Statistics and the book shows you how to make some amazing drinks instead of how to work out the value of Z in the formula X{3-v} x Z{4-v}

As David points out early on it is amazing that this is the first book dedicated to Punches considering the influence they have had in the past and the boom they are experiencing currently. Punches are cool, as the revival of Tiki and the inclusion of a Punch round in the 42 Below Cocktail World Cup UK finals have shown, but how much do you really know about 2011’s hottest drinks category?*

Punch starts with a history of this much misunderstood beast with what must be years of research laid out and interspersed with facts and anecdotes from days of Yore as well as David’s various Punch experiences to keep you entertained whilst taking in all of the facts. As is the way with this whole book, you feel as though you have learnt something important as well as a few good stories to keep people entertained.

Geek section

The second section is the geek section and clearly marked thus so as to warn all ‘normal’ people away, it is ‘A Concise but Comprehensive Course in the Art of Making Punch’. You have to be a certain type of person to find this chapter interesting and informative luckily pretty much all of you that visit BarLifeUK are that kind of person so you will, as we did, love it. Sit back relax and get your geek on.

Finally comes the reward for your academic readings, the recipes. This section takes up the bulk of the book containing nearly two thirds of the pages.

The Punches are divided into basic categories which are – Arrack; Brandy, Rum and Brandy & Rum; Royal; Milk; Orange; Whiskey; Gin; Oxford; Regency and American Fancy. Each section and each recipe has an introduction looking at the history of the drink, why it is included in the book, the original recipe and more often than not David’s thoughts on how this drink works best with modern ingredients and techniques (it must be said at this point that David has spent a lot of time researching all of these Punches for your benefit – what a kind and selfless fella).

At the end of the day Punch is an absolutely must read for anyone who is considering adding Punches to their cocktail lists (after all it is THE drink of 2011**) or is interested in the history of cocktails, spirits and bartending.

David has, once again, managed to produce a book which manages to educate and inform you whilst you think you’re just being entertained. On top of it all you’ll have some great Punch recipes as well inspiration and knowledge to produce bowl after bowl of your own concoctions!

We will leave the last word to the man himself:

‘It is my fondest hope that anyone who reads this book will feel that it has rendered him or her fully capable of sizing up whatever the archives should disgorge and reducing it to a shopping list and set of procedures. To that end, on top of the forty odd Punch recipes you’ll find here, I’ve also supplied as thorough a course in the fundamentals of Punch-making as I can provide, including notes on formulae, techniques, ingredients and equipment. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll always have Fish-House Punch.’

To buy Punch click here

* This fact is based on no research whatsoever but hey, we’ve been right before
** Still no basis in fact but if we keep saying it you might believe us