Punch’s Golden Age

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on December 31, 2010

The following feature drawn from David Wondrich’s new book on punch aired on NPR’s Morning Edition on 30 December 2010.

David Wondrich, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (London: Perigee, 2010), ISBN: 978-0399536168, $23.95.

. . . The punch cocktail has a long history that starts with British sailors (who drank a lot), says liquor historian David Wondrich. Sailors were entitled to 10 pints of beer per day — but when they sailed into the tropics, the beer spoiled, and that’s when they turned to punch.

“They made it with local ingredients in India and Indonesia in the early 1600s,” Wondrich tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer. “They were 13,000 miles away from any source of English beer or wine, and they had nothing to drink. And English sailors . . .  respond very poorly to that.”

Wondrich, who is also a mixologist, has paid homage to what he calls “the monarch of mixed drinks”; his book, ‘Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl’, features 40 historical punch recipes for the ambitious drink mixer. . . .

But even for Dickens in the mid-1800s, punch was something of a throwback. “By his day,” Wondrich explains, “punch had gotten kind of old-fashioned. Queen Victoria was very opposed to the lax moral standards that the upper classes in particular had held to in her predecessor’s days. And she didn’t like their habit of getting grossly drunk on punch and champagne and wine.”

So punch was out of style — but that was part of the fun. “[Dickens] was a great antiquarian,” Wondrich says. “He liked to collect all the old customs and habits of old England.” So he’d invite his friends over, concoct a big bowl of punch, and then describe the punch-making process for his guests.

The Dickens punch in Wondrich’s book (see the recipe here) is taken from a detailed letter the novelist wrote to his friend’s sister — and it’s a “classic 18th-century brandy rum punch,” Wondrich says. “This is punch from its golden age.”  . . .

The full feature (including the audio version) is available at NPR’s website. In addition, Eileen Reynolds offers a charming discussion with the author for the online edition of The New Yorker (15 December 2010), while New York Magazine profiled Wondrich’s food and drink consumption for a week back in November for the feature “New York Diet.”

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