Knockout Punch

Gone are the days of Everclear-and-Kool-Aid plonk.

By Tom Colligan May 19, 2009 Published in the June 2007 issue of Portland Monthly

Pisco Punch, made with South American brandy and sugar-soaked pineapple.

"Punch? What’s in it?" your guests will invariably ask, their eyes fixing briefly on your inspired creation before frantically searching the backyard for a cooler of beer or a fifth of bourbon.

Don’t be discouraged. Answer them honestly, but with an air of modest mystique. After all, it is in our nature not to accept anything too gleefully proffered. And who among us has not been ushered before a ballyhooed punch bowl, only to receive a cloying draft of pinkish plonk crudely spiked with Southern Comfort and Diet 7Up?

Thankfully, we are also curious creatures, with a well-documented weakness for fruity drinks that make us feel good. Put out a serious punch that’s got some real flavor to it, some oomph, and–trust me on this–people will flock to it like buzzards. And your party will be all the better for it, not only because you, the host, will have been relieved from the tedium of tending bar, but also because any party united around a singular, plenteous bowl of hooch has courageously embraced the unexpected.

"People are always afraid punch is going to be too sweet," says Ernie Freitag, a bartender at Thatch, Portland’s newest authority on the bracing, fruit-driven cocktail. "People tend to put too much juice in it, and it takes away from the true flavor of the cocktail. You need to use the juice to accent the liquor."

Such advice clearly recommends the following recipe for Pisco Punch–one that I have served for years and have personally seen strengthen the convivial resolve of many a summer gathering. It’s simple, it’s potent, it doesn’t contain too much juice and–perhaps best of all–it’s made with mysterious South American brandy. Just don’t oversell the stuff (or pollute it with diet soda), and your extraordinary drink of unsparing delight will easily win the day.

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