Well, I'm into another mixological rut, hence the lack of new posts. Early last week I checked my fridge and found that four different syrups had collected in their squeeze bottles, tucked away on a shelf in the door. Waste is despicable, especially after putting such hard work into each of them (okay, not really hard work) and so it became old-fashioned time, all the time. Not that I object; the old-fashioned is one of the easiest cocktails, and I find almost any variety to be a paragon of virtuous simplicity. But they don't make for interesting blogging. So, instead, today I bring you a rare adventure into non-alcoholic beverages.
One of my favorite things to assemble for a party is punch. Like old-fashioned cocktails, punch is amenable to endless variation, and has a huge advantage in that it can be prepared in advance and without alcohol. Once you arrive, it's just a matter of assembly and ladling, and guests can keep themselves happy the whole night through, including by spiking their cups (or not!) as they prefer. I've retained a couple of large Tanqueray 1.75L bottles with handles, which makes the whole shebang exceptionally portable.
My latest version wasn't assembled especially far in advance, but that's okay too. Some good friends of ours were having a party; I'd offered to bring a specialty beverage, but they forgot to confirm with me until about 6 hours prior to the event. What to do? Rummage around for some frozen berries and tea leaves, and tell them to grab whatever at the liquor store? Yep.
This is a little more involved than some of my other recipes, and it requires larger equipment, mainly a big pot with a lid. But it produces enough for a party: about 4.5 liters once assembled, which has proven to be just about right for a mixed group of 15-20. Bring along a couple 5-pound bags of ice to keep it cold, too.
2 pounds white sugar (the unbleached kind or a light raw sugar like Turbinado would be okay too, but will produce a muddier appearance)
1 pound frozen mixed berries (mine came from a couple half-used bags, and included a mix of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, and cranberry)
48 oz water (or 3 pints, for those inclined)
1/4 cup loose black tea leaves (I used a fairly mild, floral Darjeeling)
1/4 cup unpeeled, chopped ginger
Peel of 2 large or 3 medium lemons
8 oz lemon juice
1 oz honey
1 12-oz bottle ginger beer (I like Reed's)
1 1-L bottle soda water (or use your siphon)
In a non-reactive bowl, pour about 1/4 cup of the sugar (precision is unnecessary) over the lemon peels. Lightly muddle them until the sugar adheres to the peels and set aside. This is a trick gleaned from David Wondrich's Punch, known as "preparing the oleo-saccharum".
Bring 1 pint of the water to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add the tea leaves. Stir a few times and let steep for 6-7 minutes. Don't let this go too long or it will become bitter. Filter into the storage vessel of your choice (a clean 1.75L bottle is very convenient!) and set aside. Discard the used tea leaves.
Bring the remaining 2 pints of water to a simmer and add the sugar; stir until this dissolves. Add the mixed berries and ginger, and bring just back up to a simmer. While this heats, add about 2 oz of the lemon juice to the oleo-saccharum and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining lemon juice to the storage vessel. When the syrup returns to a simmer, kill the heat, add the lemon mixture, stir, and cover. Let this stand and infuse for anywhere from 2-4 hours as time permits.
Filter the syrup through a couple layers of cheesecloth or a fairly coarse strainer into the final storage vessel. If you wind up with extra syrup, keep it in a separate, airtight container to bring along for the ride. You can use this later like any other flavored syrup.
When ready to serve, break out your finest punch bowl (or relatively clean bucket; I won't judge) and pour in the contents of your transport vessel. Re-fill the vessel with cold water, and pour that into the bowl/bucket as well. Add ice, soda water, and about half the ginger beer. Stir to combine, taste, and adjust with the remaining syrup and ginger beer as desired. Remember that the flavor will become gradually diluted, so you want it on the strong side to begin with.
Serve with white wine on the side (something relatively subtle, like a vinho verde) for the assembly of spritzers (1 part wine, 1 part punch) and with whatever liquors are handy. Provide a shot glass for measurement, so that your guests don't accidentally overpour. This particular punch goes especially well with a mild gin or with brandy. Top off periodically with ice as needed.
Now that makes for a good time. I've got a couple more of these that I've developed, and which I'll be happy to share in future posts.