Punch gets its turn with the release of David Wondrich's Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flaming Bowl, a fascinating and stylish entry into the food history genre.
Wondrich, who may have the best job ever as Drinks Correspondent for Esquire (even though he did invent that title), has set about to rehabilitate the image of punch, not as the sticky, sweet stuff of after-school snacks or the liquid panty-remover of frat parties, but as the original cocktail.
Communal, social and drunk by everyone from lowly sailors to dissolute British Lords, punch in its heyday crossed resolute class boundaries, veering between social acceptability and enviable debauchery. (If punch was the original cocktail, it may also have inspired the original temperance crusaders.) Wondrich recounts the story of Admiral Edward Russell, who in 1694 threw a Christmas Day feast that would make P. Diddy look like a piker.
Unhappy at being moored in the Spanish port of Cádiz, Russell started with 200 gallons of brandy and had his staff mix enough punch to fill the tiled fountain in his courtyard. A boy in a small boat sailed the gentle waves of punch, doling out cups of the stuff to guests. It wasn't enough. The thirsty crowd waded into the sea of punch and slurped it up until the fountain was dry. After all, it was the lord's day.
Wondrich is not alone in his love for punch. The drink's redemption is all part of the New Cocktailian Revival. He is, however, a devoted researcher and a puckish storyteller, which makes his book, rife with anecdotes and recipes, a captivating read.