‘One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak’ This traditional rhyme, appears in the mid 18th century, as recipes started to settle into an accepted format. This remains the classic base for punch with many variations.
The sour made up from lemons, limes or oranges has changed as fruit has become sweeter and other fruits are used.
The sweet, originally sugar, is now sometimes provided by fruit syrups. Traditionally the amount of sugar added has always been to taste, with considerable emphasis placed on the tasting of the sherbet (fruit juice and sugar) before adding the strong and weak.
The strong. originally arrack, then brandy, then rum. Since 1800 gin, whisky, other spirits and liqueurs have been added creating a wider range of both flavours and alcoholic strengths.
Weak has included water, tea or milk since the beginning. The addition of condensed milk alters the formula in regard to the addition of sugar.
A fifth ingredient – usually cited to support the name punch meaning ‘5’ in reference to five ingredients. Spices are generally optional and can vary widely depending on what is available locally. Nutmeg was the original spice.
Another important component part is temperature.
Alcohol can be burned off – reducing the alcohol level and adding more caramelised flavours. Heated punch also increases the aromas.
Iced punch can dumb down the flavours and ice in the punch can result in punch starting strong and diluting with time.