Who Gives a Fuck About an Oxford [Punch]?

4 05 2011

I’ve drank those Arrack punches too

They’re cruel

So if there’s any other way

To mix a bowl

It’s fine with me, with me

After having hosted way too many parties at my apartment stuck behind the bar, manning the waffle iron, and shepherding sheets of bacon to the stove, I had enough. Having to cut one of them, and not trusting anyone to understand the ‘quirks’ of my appliances, I decided to make a punch and let people serve it themselves.

Enter Punch, David Wondrich’s authoritative tome on the history of ‘The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.’ Having cut my teeth on the blindingly strong Chatham Artillery, I set myself up for failure with the Oxford Punch. Wondrich confessed it to be ‘one of the most complicated recipes in this book.’ Who could resist a challenge like that? Also, it has jello in it. JELLO!


Like a great many punches, this one starts with an oleosaccharumhuh? Sugar and oil,  sugar and oil. Punch came long before the cocktail, but you’d recognize this best as a bartender squeezing a lemon peel over your cocktail and rimming the glass with it. This is to get the oils out of the citrus skin and into your glass so they can flavor and aromatize the drink. For punch, you’re going to extract the oil in advance and just mix it straight in.

The lemons and minneolas are so reflective because of the oil in their skin.

The oleosaccharum starts with peeling the citrus and putting it into a large glass bowl. This is easier if you strip the lemons in one piece, but it certainly won’t hurt your punch to have it in smaller segments. The recipe calls for 5 lemons and 2 Seville oranges, but the latter are hard to come by and are sadly out of season. As a substitute I used minneolas and orange bitters.

5 lemon and 2 minneola peels

The peels aren’t going to do much on their own and letting them soak in the punch to extract would take far too long (ever make limoncello?), so we muddle them with sugar. Ordinarily an oleosaccharum uses 2 ounces sugar for every peel, but we’ll be sweetening this later with capillaire so we’re only using 4 ounces here. Thoroughly mix and muddle the sugar with the peels and after as little as five minutes, you’ll start seeing the oil come out. An hour is enough to fully extract, so I make this first and then set it aside while putting together all the other components.

Oil = flavor

After waiting the appropriate time, juice your lemons and add them to bowl. You’ll need 10 ounces so you might need to grab a few more than the five you peeled. 4 ounces of Seville orange juice goes in as well, but since we’re lacking in that I added an extra 2 ounces of lemon juice, 2 ounces of minneola juice and a few dashes of orange bitters. Remove the peels, bottle the liquid, and refrigerate.

The next oddball component to this recipe is capillaire, which is really just rich simple syrup with orange flower water added. Boil 2 cups sugar in 1 cup water until it completely dissolves and add an 1/8oz orange flower water. Let the mixture cool, then bottle and refrigerate. If you’re impatient like me, a quick way to cool it down is put the pot you boil it in inside a larger pot of ice water.

The last component is the gelatin. Just read the box (omit the fruit juice), two 1/4 ounce packets will do.

All Together Now

Most of the hard work is done, now comes the fun part.  The base for this punch is an imperial pint (20oz) each of VSOP Cognac, aged rum and orange shrub, and half a pint (10oz) of dry white wine. The cognac I used was Adet, the rum Angostura 1919 and the orange shrub a 2:1 mix of Clement Creole Shrub and water. If I go to the trouble of making this again, I would upgrade the cognac and rum.

Since this punch isn’t going to be served over ice cubes that’d rapidly chill it, I recommend sticking all your bottles of alcohol in the freezer the night before so it starts out reasonably cold. Just mind the corks when opening them; they have a tendency to crack in the freezer.

Start by stirring together the cognac, rum, white wine and oleosaccharum in a punch container with two quarts water. (ed. thanks to John in the comments for pointing out the missing water) Next start adding the orange shrub and the capillaire: 24 ounces of the 2:1 creole shrub:water mix and 16 ounce of the capillaire should do. Start with half that and add from there. You can’t unsweeten a punch, so do just a bit at a time and taste as you go. When you’ve got it where you want it, add the 2 packets of gelatin you’ve prepared and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

If you add ice, use a single large block so you don't break apart the gelatin

It’s a little tough to make out in the picture, but there is a layer of gelatin on top that’ll end up in your cup when you ladle it out.

Jello, Really?

Originally they would’ve used calves-foot jelly (this is from 1827!), but we’re just going to cheat a little bit on that point of history. It’s easy to associate jello and alcohol, especially poorly made jello shots, with all manner of douchbaggery. I did too, until I tried this punch. You may get a bit of snobbery from people who don’t like the idea of gelatin in their glass, but just tell them it’s historically accurate ;)

The jello does two things: adds texture and makes the punch seem less alcoholic. The texture, well, some people aren’t wild about it. If it’s a problem for them, give them a straw and tell them to suck it up. As for less alcoholic, the jello adds something to chew in the drink and, although it really is just perception, makes you feel like it isn’t 15% alcohol. When I made it I did warn people of this, but nevertheless the punch was finished remarkably fast. Quoting a nameless friend’s remarks from the following day (at 3PM!)

This is the sickest ive ever been in my entire life. 100% not joking. Never drinking again. Haha” – anonymous

Be careful with this; it can be far too easy to overindulge.

Cheat Sheet


  • 20 ounces VSOP Cognac
  • 20 ounces aged rum
  • 10 ounces dry white wine
  • 24 ounces orange shrub (16 ounces creole shrub, 8 ounces water)
  • 64 ounces water


  • 5 lemon peels
  • 2 Seville orange peels
  • 4 ounce sugar


  • 10 ounces lemon juice
  • 4 ounces Seville orange juice


  • 16 ounces sugar
  • 8 ounces water
  • 1/8 ounce orange flower water

One last thing, and I can’t impress this enough, taste the punch every step of the way. These proportions are guidelines and will depend on the sweetness, freshness, strength and bitterness of your ingredients. Please don’t just throw all this in a bowl; you’ll be unhappy with the results. It may also cause blindness.