Coconut palm arrack punch is a vintage style delicate and delicious punch that reminds me of lime tarts because of the combination of coconut, lime, vanilla notes from matcha tea and spice from nutmeg and subtle soft lemon balm. This coconut palm arrack punch recipe makes use of fresh in season limes and offers a vintage punch primer, as it works with smaller quantities than the original recipes but can easily be adapted for larger numbers.
Inspiration: Bombay Presidency Punch 1694 & Bombay Government Punch 2010
I was inspired to work on this recipe for punch by David Wondrich’s (2010) amazing book Punch. Wondrich (2010: 112-114, 265-66) offers a vintage recipe from 1694 for Bombay Presidency Punch provided by General Sir John Gayer of the East India Company, as well as his own twist on this recipe in the form of Bombay Government Punch. In Punch Wondrich (2010: 112) writes that:
“Gayer’s punch is as simple as it is delicate, and it possesses an elusive charm that is quite unlike that of any other Punch, Cocktail or mixed drink.”
Whilst remaining faithful to Gayer and Wondrich’s recipes and the method for making punch my own recipe simplifies vintage style punch to make it easy to make and to try, in hopes that this will encourage further exploration of vintage punch recipes and techniques.
The punch formula & method
I have referred to both Gayer’s recipe in Punch and Wondrich’s spin on this, offering my own modern interpretation. I have stuck to the punch formula and method outlined by Wondrich (2010) in his detailed account of punch making and its’ history using sweet, sour, strong, weak and spice as the 5 elements in the punch. There is a handy rhyme for remembering this: 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak, 5 being the spice – the number 5 in Hindi is ‘panj’, which some have argued is related to the name ‘punch’ and the 5 ingredient formula. Wondrich (2010: 93-4) in Punch points out though that the exact proportions of these 5 ingredients may vary along with the many variations in the above rhyme. More recent, punch style cocktails include the Bloody Mary, the Singapore Sling and the Mai Tai.
Coconut palm arrack punch recipe: A vintage punch recipe primer
My own coconut palm arrack punch recipe uses the following formula building on that of John Gayer and David Wondrich:
Sweet – For the sweet I have used demerara sugar as in Wondrich’s 2010 recipe.
Sour – The sour here is lime juice as per Gayer’s 1694 recipe.
Strong – The strong here is the coconut palm arrack as recommended as one option by Wondrich (2010:112-4) in his directions for making the punch. Arrack is a liquor made from fermented coconut flower sap. Coconut palm arrack has a delicate sweet-sour flavour that is beautifully complemented by the sugar, lime, vanilla notes of green matcha tea and nutmeg. Arrack is a key historical punch making ingredient as detailed by Wondrich (2010: 70-72, 105-111). Wondrich (2010: 71-2) in Punch writes of modern Sri Lankan arrack aged in local halmilla-wood:
“This sourish, lightly funky spirit is definitely worth tracking down as it makes a Punch that’s uniquely delicate and integrated in flavour.”
Weak – The weak element refers to the method of dilution with water, tea and ice. I have used cooled green matcha tea as part of the spice and dilution components which adds a sweet vanilla note to the punch which complements the delicate sweet-sour flavour of the arrack. A large block of ice offers another mode of dilution or weak in this recipe. The matcha tea, is my addition to this recipe adding a sweet and soft vanilla and a pop of green colour to the punch.
Spice – The matcha tea adds a vanilla spice note while the nutmeg garnish is another type of spice and is in the traditional recipe. I have added a garnish of some lime wheels and lemon balm for a pop of green colour from the limes and delicate flavour and aroma of soft lemon from the lemon balm. This departs from Wondrich (2010) who prefers to garnish punch only with nutmeg. I used a Sri Lankan coconut shell ladle, a green glass bowl and small mismatched glasses. The lemon balm is from my home cocktail garden where I grow herbs and pineapple leaves that I use in my cocktails. I highly recommend making your own cocktail garden for fresh ingredients to make garnishes.
History of punch
Punch is an altogether fascinating subject there being a long and colourful history of punch making which has been forgotten and only recently been revived. Wondrich (2010: xiv-xv) writes in Punch that punch predates cocktails appearing in publications from 1600 while the cocktail is not first defined in print until 1806. Punch was a communal drink that was diluted by design with water or tea and over time by the melting of the ice and drunk in small glasses. There is true science and artistry involved in mixing a bowl of punch: balance of sweet and sour elements, using sweetening, souring and flavouring agents that complement the base spirit, ensuring correct dilution and serving sizes.
Mini-punch as a shared punch style cocktail for 2-4: easy vintage style punch
We are not however, used to the etiquette of punch drinking and the rituals of social restraint this drink requires and for this reason I have chosen to provide a recipe for what I would call a mini-punch style cocktail for 2-4 people as a vintage punch primer. This coconut palm arrack punch is a starting place, for those interested in making a vintage punch but not yet willing to commit to making a huge bowl for many people. If you do wish to increase the numbers, you can always double or triple the recipe. The advantage of the mini-punch is that you can try your hand at punch but with something of the mind-set of making and drinking a cocktail – recognising potency and strength and limiting your consumption to what tastes great for a quality flavour experience that is shared albeit on a smaller scale. You are still practising the art of vintage punch making using the authentic method and formula required for a larger scale production but without the pressure of large numbers and without falling into single glass punch style drinks.
Vintage punch making tips
Here are my tips for easy vintage punch making.
Ice: prepare your large block of ice in advance for easy punch making
You do need to have a little advance planning for this recipe as the large block of ice requires time to pre-freeze, but if you do this the night before the punch is needed the rest is easy.
For this quantity of punch a medium sized bowl is large enough. I used a vintage glass bowl that I found at my local second hand shop. If you do not have an ornate bowl, a saucepan, or a mixing bowl would work just as well.
Small serving sizes: small sherry style glasses to allow smaller serves
Wondrich (2010: 87) in Punch recommends 2 oz serves for punch in a small glass such as a sherry glass, for which this current coconut palm arrack punch recipe allows. It is my hope that sharing this recipe for coconut palm arrack punch makes vintage style punch making accessible and easy, without losing the social sharing that is at the heart of true punch experiences.
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Coconut palm arrack punchPrint Recipe
- 30 grams demerara sugar
- 30 mls/1 shot freshly squeezed lime juice
- 160 mls cooled matcha tea (1 teaspoon per cup, brewed for 5 minutes)
- 90 mls/ 3 shots Sri Lankan ‘Ceylon’ coconut palm arrack
- Ice: one large lump of ice to serve – make in a medium sized bowl in the freezer. Smaller cubes of ice for serving is desired
- Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg, lime wheels, lemon balm sprigs
Make a large block of ice by filling ¾ full a heavy set bowl or other container in your freezer, for ease of preparation I like to do this the night before the punch in required
To loosen the ice from the container set it out of the freezer on your counter as you begin the punch making, by the time you are done it will be loose enough to tip out gently into the punch
Make the matcha tea by brewing one cup of boiling water with one teaspoon of matcha tea for five minutes, allow to cool, if in a hurry ice may be used to cool the tea
Place the sugar in a medium bowl
Add the freshly squeezed lime juice
Stir until the sugar is dissolved
Add the cooled matcha tea
Add the arrack
Stir to combine all ingredients
Add the large block of ice
Garnish with grated nutmeg, lime wheels and lemon balm sprigs
Serve in small glasses with ice, freshly grated nutmeg, a lime wheel and sprig of lemon balm
~Inspiration & Punch history and recipes
David Wondrich (2010: 112-114, 265-66). Bombay presidency punch, Bombay government punch. In Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl Perigree, Penguin: New York.
~Punch recipes using teaTea Punch Turenne in Food and Wine