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Punch Drunk Love: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Original Party Drink [PLUS Exclusive Recipe]

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Last week, Chicago’s bartenders and amateur cocktail enthusiasts got together for the first ever Chicago Cocktail Summit. The summit was split up into two days: one day for “home cocktail enthusiasts” and the other for industry professionals.

I fall into the former category, but while cocktails are my pick at the bar, my ventures into domestic mixology turn into failed experiments. So, I set out for the Logan Theater on the summit’s inaugural day for a much needed lesson in the basics of mixology.

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Will Duncan of Punch House | Photo by Chris Dilts

The highlight of my Chicago Cocktail Summit experience was the Punch 101 workshop led by Will Duncan of Punch House, a punch bar located in the basement of Pilsen’s Thalia Hall. Before this workshop I knew I liked punch, but I knew nothing about its fascinating history or its five essential components. I’m sharing what I learned with you, plus a bonus: Will Duncan’s recipe for “Traditional Rum Punch (if you ask me).”

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Punch, the Original Party Drink

1. Punch has maritime origins

Back when trading companies ruled the seas, sailors were rewarded with rations of beer. However, beer spoils and takes up a lot of space, so the sailors switched to spirits. Spirits don’t go bad, and because they are more potent than beer, they could bring less aboard and take up less space. To make their spirit rations last longer, the crew would mix the spirits with fresh juices and teas. And thus, the first cocktail was born!

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The Chicago Cocktail Summit, at the Logan Theater in Chicago, IL. May 22, 2016. Photographer: Christopher Dilts /

2. Punch houses were once as popular as bars.

Punch became popular when sailors brought exotic ingredients like spices, citruses, and rum back from their travels along the Indian Ocean. Pretty soon, punch houses sprung up all over Europe. Now, according to Will, bars specializing in punch are a rarity. 

3. The word for punch comes from Sanskrit

The word “punch” comes from the Sanskrit word for “five” because…

4. Punch is made of 5 key components

Believe it or not, punch is not made of just anything you can throw into an empty garbage can at a frat house (shocking!). Instead, punch has a very calculated formula. In order for a cocktail to be called punch, it must consist of these 5 components:

Punch = strong + weak + bitter + sour + sweet

  1. Strong = Your booze. Any spirit will do. 

  2. Weak = Tea, juice, water, etc.

  3. Bitter = This flavor traditionally comes from a spice like nutmeg.

  4. Sour = Citrus peels.

  5. Sweet = Granulated sugar.

5. You can’t have punch without oleo saccharum

Those last two components – the sour and the sweet – make up oleo saccharum, the foundation of all punch. Latin for “sweet oil,” oleo saccharum is made by mashing citrus peels and sugar with a muddler or a wooden spoon. Let the sugar and peels rest for at least half an hour, mashing them every few minutes. Macerating the citrus peels releases their essential oils, and gives punch a wonderful citrusy flavor and aroma. For more details on how to make oleo saccharum, check out this article by Serious Eats.

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Audience members making punch during Will’s workshop | Photographer: Christopher Dilts 

Now that you are well-informed about punch, I trust you to be able to make Will Duncan’s recipe for “Traditional Rum Punch (if you ask me)”… (with Will being “me”). 

Traditional Rum Punch (if you ask me)
Will Duncan's take on traditional rum punch.
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  1. Oleo saccharum: 16 oz. white sugar + the peel of 5 lemons, mashed gently every few minutes for 30 minutes
  2. Hot stuff: 5 cups Darjeeling tea
  3. Fresh juices: 16 oz. fresh-squeeze and fine-strained lime juice
  4. Booze: 1 liter DonQ Cristal, 1 liter Anejo
  5. Weak: 16 oz. water + 16 oz. Ruby port
  1. Prepare oleo saccharum in a punch bowl.
  2. While the peels and sugar are macerating, squeeze and fine strain fresh lime juice. Set aside.
  3. Once juices are prepared, brew the Darjeeling tea (1 tbsp. loose tea per 8 oz. water, steep 5 mins.).
  4. Pour hot tea into punch bowl, melting saccharum into syrup.
  5. Add rums, port, and fresh lime juice into punch bowl.
  6. Add ice, allowing it to melt to cool punch. Add water simultaneously.
  7. Garnish with lime wheels and freshly grated nutmeg.
  1. Whenever possible, prepare a day in advance. Like soup or sauce, punch always tastes better the second day.
Better Than Ramen http://betterthanramen.net/

How did your punch turn out? Let me know in the comments below!

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5 things you didn't know about punch

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History of punch recipe

history of punch recipe

1 Comment

  • Reply Marilyn Egel

    Just in time for summer!! Haven’t made the punch yet, but it looks delicious! Thanks for sharing the necessary ingredients and the history…it gave me a whole new appreciation for ‘punch!’

    June 11, 2016 at 8:28 AM
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