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What is Punsch?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Punsch or Punch, sometimes also called Arrack Punch or Caloric Punch is a Swedish liqueur that is popular in Nordic countries. It is made from a base of the Indian drink Arrack. Various flavors of arrack are made, but most rely on the fermentation of fruit, often raisins, or of mixtures of sugar or grains. Punsch gained popularity in Sweden when the Swedish East India Company imported arrack into Sweden in the early 18th century.

There’s a little dispute about whether the name punsch is related to a Hindi word that translates as “five flavors,” and describes an alcoholic punch. Alternately it may have derived from the British use of the word punch, which is actually taken from the Hindi word. Most believe the British use of the word, and it was much used at that time. Another important factor is that many people did use arrack to make various types of hot and cold punches like the British did with other alcohols, so that the product that was included in the Swedish drink got mixed up with the name the British had for such a mixed drink: punch. Both punsch (arrack), and the drinks made for it were called punsch in Sweden.

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There are many different recipes and ways to utilize this sweet liqueur for hot or cold drinks. Initially it is thought that most of the mixed drink recipes made, combining things like sugar, tea and citrus with arrack, were usually served hot. Later, in the mid-19th century, companies that imported arrack began making punsch with these ingredients already mixed in, and the drink became more popular served chilled.

There are several brands of Punsch popular today. These include those made by companies like Gronstedt® and Carlshamm’s®. It is very difficult if not impossible though to find these brands in the US, and in fact in most cases, hard to find the liqueur made by any brand. You might find Batavia arrack in the US, and can use it to make an imitation of the Swedish brands by adding ingredients like tea, citrus, maraschino cherries, and lots of sugar. Fans of Swedish bottled versions say these imitations are just not as good as the Swedish brands which are seldom if ever imported to the US, though you can purchase them in most Nordic countries if you happen to be visiting.

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