If you’ve seen (or like me, binged) all of Gilmore Girls, there’s the recurring theme of Miss Patty’s “Founder’s Day Punch,” a concoction that packs a wallop for the citizens of Stars Hollow.
Served at events from bacchanalia-fired frat and sorority parties to sedate family reunions, punches are classically served in a bowl with a ladle for dredging libations, ice and fruity bits into plastic red Solo stadium cups.
“An actual punch is all about the community and getting together and drinking at the same time,” MOMO bar manager Ricky Dunn said.
Dunn knows a thing or two about punches, as the concoctions have always been in his plans since opening and curating the cocktail program at MOMO.
On the second floor of MOMO, otherwise known as Dunn’s “beverage lab,” the space is typically used more for fine-dining experiences and crazier cocktail options like the Caprese Martini, made with Burrata-washed Tito’s Vodka, tomato-white balsamic shrub, basil and an olive oil and salt rim. But it’s also here that Dunn plans his punch bowls for private events from bridal showers to birthday parties. A future happy hour punch bowl sits in the back of his mind, too, for those who want to enjoy a waterfront view on the patio with a handful of friends.
Traditionally, spiked punch bowls, especially the lowbrow versions found at college parties, are a mashup of vodka or Mad Dog 20/20 (or in my experience, some Four Loko) stirred in with a few quarts of fruit juice or Sprite.
To create something a bit more sophisticated, use quality juices, fresh fruits like blueberries or strawberries, or a fruit purée to really pack a sweet and sour flavor. Throw in some mint leaves to further brighten the bowl with flair and flavor. Alcohol-wise, Dunn says it’s actually important to not overdo it.
“Generally with a punch, you want to keep it light,” he said. “You want to go with some rum, gin, vodka or tequila. Bourbon punches aren’t bad, but they’re not for everybody. Vodka is just a nice, easy one to start with.”
Of course, punches don’t necessarily need alcohol. For the teetotalers among us, Southern Living put together a guide to refreshing non-alcoholic punches to serve at those small family gatherings or church functions. They include cherry limeade fizzes with lemon-lime soda, lime juice and grenadine; sparkling punches with frozen pink lemonade or cranberry juice and club soda. Even something as simple as a lemonade iced tea can punch up the party.
City Paper senior editor Chris Dixon grew up on these sorts of nonalcoholic punches at reunions and after-church buffets from southern Georgia to South Carolina. “My grandmother had a very specific recipe,” he said. “I remember her stirring a big bowl of Hawaiian Punch, ginger ale and pineapple juice. Then she sometimes added green food coloring to make it exotic. It was actually delicious. I don’t remember my Southern Baptist relatives spiking the actual bowl, though I’m sure a few hip flasks did the job for individual Dixie Cups. Just because the punch was nonalcoholic, doesn’t mean the people were.”
“There’s so much more to it and so many different ways to make a punch actually taste good,” Dunn said. One of his suggested methods involves infusing a variety of flavored alcohols to the mix, like the jalapeño-infused tequila MOMO uses in-house for spicy margaritas, or fruit-infused liquor like 6 O’Clock Damson or Sloe Gin. These give a natural, rich tartness to the punch.
If you’re not using an infused or flavored liqueur, Dunn said, start with something really flavor-concentrated. “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, ‘The first thing that you put into a recipe is the last thing you’ll taste,’” he said, suggesting a flavor-forward fruit purée to give the proper backend.
Shrubs and bitters are good, too, he added. “They add another level of flavor and depth, especially when it comes to smells. Smell is very, very important.”
You can’t talk about punch in Charleston without mentioning the longstanding fan-favorite punches at The Royal American on Morrison Drive and their newly-opened Bounty Bar on Folly Beach. The bars carry three different punches: a bourbon punch, which owner John Kenney describes as an Arnold Palmer; a vodka punch that tastes like lemon-lime and pineapple Kool-Aid; and rum punch, which is meant to make you feel like you’ve traveled to the Bahamas.
“I used to spend a lot of time in the mid to late ‘90s on a little island in the Abacos called Hope Town,” Kenney said. “I would go three or four times a year for like a month or two at a time and there was this little rum punch shack and I really fell in love with it. So I got the recipe from them and thought, ‘If I ever stumbled into the bar business —’ which was not my plan at the time — ‘that I would feature that Rum Punch.’ ”
At the new Bounty Bar, former tenants Wiki Wiki Sandbar and Taco Boy had left behind a frozen drink machine. Instead of tossing it out, Kenney and team did the next best thing to bring the beach vibes — freeze the punches! Thus, the three punches are available frozen at The Bounty Bar. And of course, they come in a stadium cup.
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