Thursday, October 1, 2009

Birthday Punch

Ah, punch! -- where to begin?

There's something very powerful about the image of the punchbowl, something anachronistic & very, very deep-set, as though, through long use & some distance, that weighted image has sunk directly into our collective unconscious. The punchbowl calls to mind recollections of gatherings we may or may not have attended, candlelit & rowdy.

A good punch is spellbinding. It summons up forth conviviality, slows time, kindles & rekindles friendships. There's something unmistakably magical about the sound of a ladle darting around a block of ice. Better than the ring of silver of a wine glass, it demands attention -- but in a low-key, continuous, unobtrusive, and irresistible way. It's a patient charm: punch has been around for a very long time.

A good punch is a mystical experience. In a sense, maybe each bowl of punch is every other bowl of punch. Drinking a glass of punch, ladling from the flowing bowl: you're drinking from the One True Punch in one of its many manifestations. When you lift a glass of punch to your mouth, toast the assembled revelers and merry-makers, it's as though you're lifting that glass & toasting each and every drinker through the long parade of punch drinkers, all assembled in some sort of punch-space, punch-time.

A good punch is dangerous. It's silky smooth, and tastes only of the best points of alcohol. Large men, great drinkers, have fallen, unmanned, by too much punch, too quickly. People do the funniest things while punch-drunk: punch intoxicates like a heavy fragrance. It lends a certain unreality to a gathering -- one doesn't doubt those legendary stories of bowls as big as fountains, with child-servers paddling in mini-canoes serving the assembled through the day into the night into the day into the night.

So noted, the Birthday Punch:

A few years ago, in celebration of a birthday, my friends & I set up to whip up a punch: ah, but not just any punch! A Birthday Punch. It began simply (as all great punches do), but quickly escalated into a carefully orchestrated free-for-all. All the great tricks were employed: Batavia Arrack, Angostura & Absinthe, strong rum. Bases split a thousand different ways, complex sweeteners. The zest and juice of a great many citruses. Concocted in a space-age punchbowl of great depth and capacity like some wyrd sisters' cauldron. Iced down with a large block of ice, served surrounded with frozen vessels hewn out of pineapples.

Finished off, at the last, a la cafe brulot: Lemonhart 151 poured down the zest of oranges studded with cloves, ablaze. Hypnotic. The assembled watched in hushed reverence.

Punch was served.

& appropriately, forgotten. Because, of course, punch is the great facilitator: even at its most garish, its most complex, punch calls up a certain atmosphere, and then fades into a very pleasant background, where, one presumes, it sits pleased in itself, fulfilled, burning down like a lamp.

It was a hell of a punch.

Everything in perfect balance and order, all eighteen or so ingredients: enchanting, delicious. & it led to a hell of night. I'm not sure that I could ever recreate that punch, although -- of course -- I dutifully noted its many ingredients & their respective proportions.

I know I've got that recipe around here somewhere. Pardon me while I go look for it.

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