Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Other Punch Book

Dan Searing is either the bravest or most unlucky author in the cocktail world at present.

Searing, a Washington D.C. mixologist and partner in the bar Room 11 (and the host of a weekly soiree, begun in 2009, call The Punch Club), has just come out with "The Punch Bowl," a compendium of punch recipes and punch history. This comes about eight months or so after David Wondrich released his "Punch," the first major work in decades (maybe ever) studying the once-popular form of libation. Wondrich's influence in cocktail circles is such that the book's arrival has resulted in high-end cocktail bars across the nation tacking a punch or two onto their cocktail lists. In New York, for example, there were, a couple years ago, maybe three or four places where one could order a traditional punch. Today, there are dozens. There are even a couple (Drink in Williamsburg, Cienfuegos in the East Village) which are devoted almost exclusively to punch.

So what can Searing offer that Wondrich hasn't already provided in his scholarly work? Or, put differently, why would anyone need two books on punch? Well, the books are actually vastly different in character. Searing has basically provided a very attractive recipe book. There are brief sections at the front about the history and proper service of punch, but they are cursory when put next to Wondrich's text. The meat of Searing's book is the formulae for the 75 punches (some modern, but most drawn from ancient cocktail books, including Jerry Thomas') he's chosen to feature. They are easy to follow; a line or two of introduction to Fish House Punch or Spread Eagle Punch or whatever, then straight on to the ingredients and how they're compounded. Searing's volume is also a highly decorative work, full of glossy and attractive color photographs, not only of many of the punches but also of some ancient punch bowls.

In short, "The Punch Bowl" is a book for those civilians out there who simply want to learn to make punch. "Punch" is for the mixologist and cocktailian wonk who desires to learn the subject up and down, and in depth. As I am sometimes one of these people and something the other, I am happy to have both books on my shelf.

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