What’s not to like about a flowing bowl of punch? Surrounded by friends ladling generous portions of fruity booze from communal bowl to crystal tumbler, one can’t help but feel a little bit fancy – partaking in a custom that seems inherently linked with cucumber sandwiches and croquet.
It’s little wonder then that a number of Melbourne bars have introduced this social beverage to their repertoire, each putting their own unique spin on what turns out to be quite an exact science. For just as champagne must derive from its namesake region in France to truly deserve the title, traditional punch must comprise five elements: sweet, sour, strong, weak and spice – which explains the origin of its name, panch, which is Hindi for ‘five’. True devotees take the rules a step further, following the dictum: one (part) sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak and then five in the form of spice.
Eau de Vie is one such stickler to the law, its Nitro Punch maintaining the stipulated ratio while adding theatrical flair in the form of liquid nitrogen. The drink itself is made from Ketel One Citroen vodka, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters and a raspberry Russian Caravan tea. Served in crystal-cut punch bowls – and ladled into the bar’s eclectic assortment of porcelain teacups and tumblers – this smooth concoction deceptively contains its fair share of alcohol.
The Brunswick Mess Hall’s RumRum is an acidic, summery punch served in 3.5-litre bowl made of pretty champagne-coloured glass with dainty matching cups. The concoction comprises a large serving of their Zombie cocktail which consists of two-year-old El Dorado White Rum, dark and over-proof rum, orange, pineapple and lime juice and Tiki bitters, garnished with flower petals and floating shells of passion fruit. To top it all off, it’s lit on fire upon arrival. On the menu this punch reads like a light and floral drink, but with three different rums and bobbing blue flames, it is anything but.
At Golden Monkey, the oriental-inspired Dragon Boat takes you on a trip to the tropics, with Japanese plum wine, lychee liqueur and other sweet treats delivering quite the sundowner. Chin Chin’s Vietnamese Mint is similarly refreshing – proving that it’s hard to go wrong when vodka, Vietnamese mint and limoncello are involved.
Of course, it would be sacrilege not to mention the institution that originally paved the way for punch in Melbourne: Madame Brussels. Seven years ago, Miss Pearls and crew brought new meaning to the term ‘social drinking’, along with all manner of outrageously titled drops. Their latest offering, Madame’s Fruity Double D Cups, contains vermouth, gin, lemonade, ginger and native botanicals ¬– such as strawberry gum, wattle seed, river mint and sea parsley – and tastes “like Australia”.
“Everyone likes it,” explains Miss Pearls. “It reminds them of the old days.”
On the motive behind leading the punch revolution, she refers to the niceties of bringing people together. “It was all about having that pitcher or jug and sharing it with friends,” she says. “It’s more of a party this way, and a beautiful thing to do.”
Now that most of us have jumped aboard the communal-eating train thanks to an abundance of tapas-friendly menus, it seems about time that we share our drinks as well.