It's been a year now since Portland’s Clyde Common put punch on their regular menu, and over that time Junior Ryan has learned a great deal about punch. "I'm really hitting my stride now with my punches," exclaims Junior. "I have so much more idea of what things do in a punch."
While punch was one of the original ways people consumed alcohol, it languished in relative obscurity in the bar scene until Nick Strangeway gave major focus to it on his menu at Hawksmoor in London. Simon Ford helped with its export to the US when he brought by Death & Co's David Kaplan and Phil Ward to see Nick. They then brought it back to the US and put it on their menu where it caught the attention and fancy of David Wondrich, whose book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl helped create a true revival for punch.
A year later, the story isn't about the return of punch - it's more about how it's evolving, and that's where Junior Ryan comes in. Although he works side by side with one of the more well known bartenders in America (Jeffrey Morgenthaler), most people don't know Junior. Junior Ryan is the Matt Stone to Jeffrey's Trey Parker, and together they are innovating and advancing the craft of bar tending.
"Making a great punch is all about understanding what each ingredient brings to the mix and allowing its flavor to come through," explains Junior. "You don't need to use the most expensive spirits - use quality - but you're really looking for things that represent the fundamental flavor profile of the category and not the subtitles of a great spirit which could get lost in a punch."
To make his punches, Junior draws inspiration from the classic structure of his favorite cocktails. "First you're going to pick the spirit or spirits you want to work with, then the acid. Lemon is the most common as it goes with almost everything. You make your oily saccharin, add juice, and then build from there." Oily saccharin is a common building block of Junior's punches and is made by peeling citrus into sugar, dry muddling it, and then letting it sit for thirty minutes to an hour. The oils from the citrus get extracted into the sugar which is then used to make 1:1 simple for a punch.
For Junior, making great punch is all about tasting and adjusting. "It's important to keep it basic, so all the flavor profiles come through." He demonstrates this as he prepares a fall harvest punch.
Junior's Harvest Punch
750 ml Old Grand-Dad Bourbon
500 ml Korbel Brandy
200 ml Apricot Brandy
200 ml Jamaican Rum
2 Large Tea Bags (used to make 1 pitcher each) steeped for 5-10 mins in 8 oz of water
500 ml Apple Cider
250 ml Lemon Juice
4 oz of 1:1 Honey Syrup
1 Liter Ginger Ale
500 ml Pelligrino Sparkling Water
3 Crisp Apples (McIntosh or Liberty work well) sliced, soaked in lemon juice and apple cider
4 Cinnamon Sticks
Top with grated nutmeg in the glass
As Junior builds the Harvest Punch, he's constantly tasting. "First, I'm going to put together the strong, then acid and sugar and see where things are before doing any dilution." As he tastes, he goes back and steeps some more tea. "The black tea is there to work with the Jamaican Rum to give a nice herbal end to the punch instead of it being flat."
Junior treats the punch a lot more like a soup than a cocktail. "There's a lot more room with a punch to play with it, and people treat punch a lot different than they do cocktails. They drink it faster, read a lot less into it, and seem to treat it with a much more happy party attitude." After assembling everything, Junior isn't happy with the “breathe out” on the punch, so he adds a few dashes of Angostura bitters, like a chef adding a few dashes of salt to a soup. "Absolutely let your punch sit for a while. It's like soup: it'll taste ten times better in an hour."
When it comes to serving the punch, Junior takes a different approach: "At a party, it's fine to have a punch start out strong and dilute over time, but at a bar it's important that the punch be consistent." To do this, Junior does all the dilution of the punch during the preparation, only fills the punch bowl up a quarter, and keeps it chilled on the bar by placing large ice cubes in a zipper bag and putting it in the punch. The rest of the batch keeps chilled in the fridge behind the bar.
There may not be a lot of accolades that go along with making great punches, but they provide a great opportunity for creativity while giving a bartender a different kind of canvas to work with.
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