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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

In praise of punch: Justin Gray on your new favorite summertime sip

Pitcher of punch with fruit, with an orange and lemon cut in half in front of it

He explains how punch originated in India, why it's the perfect beverage for summer get-togethers. He has tips for incorporating fresh Florida produce into your punch — with or without alcohol.

Listen to the episode

Long before punch became the preferred drink of middle school dances and frat parties, it was a dignified beverage.

“People have been drinking alcohol since [the] BC era,” says Justin Gray, president of United States Bartenders Guild’s Tampa Bay chapter. Fast-forward to the 17th century, when punch was conceptualized in India. “It was a monumental step in alcoholic drink consumption,” says Justin, who is also a beverage consultant for restaurants, hotels and other venues.

The word punch is derived from a Hindi term meaning five, because the original punch recipe contained five basic ingredients: water, alcohol, citrus, sugar and spice. From India, punch became popular in Europe and eventually the early U.S. colonies. It was considered a gentleman’s drink, served warm or at room temperature because refrigeration and on-demand ice hadn’t been invented yet.

Justin attributes punch’s bad rap to the 1950s and ‘60s, when mass-produced food and beverages spawned ready-to-drink punch full of artificial flavors and colors.

But done right, punch is the perfect beverage for a summertime soiree, Justin says.

“Making a punch is great for entertaining… because it’s going to give you time to do what’s important,” the Tampa resident says.

Make a batch in the morning, and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your guests.

Using the rule of five as a template, play with ingredients. And definitely include fresh Florida produce like pineapple, peaches, mint, rosemary, lychee, tamarind or whatever’s in season. For nonalcoholic punch, swap the alcohol for freshly brewed tea. Taste, and adjust the ingredients as you like. Unlike single-serve cocktails, Justin says punch is very “forgiving.”

And unlike centuries ago, today’s punch drinkers prefer their beverage chilled—especially during the sweltering Florida summer.

“Adding ice is 100 percent okay,” Justin says. To make a large block of ice that won’t melt and water down the punch, fill a small cooler with water and freeze it overnight.

Add the ice block to your punchbowl, and you’re ready to party.

“The great part about a punch is 1, it is very basic. It’s super simple to make,” Justin says. “And once you’ve made it, you now have servings for the entire day.”

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