Some like it hot

Philip Salter
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Hot punches are not in vogue. However, while it might not look as impressive as coolly flipping your cocktail down to freezing, a warm cocktail can better suit our intemperate climate.

Even more tainted than the suggestion of a hot cocktail is the practice of making a punch. Punches are all too often the desperate actions of a well intentioned host. Sadly the prime intention is usually the desire to clear out the dodgy liqueurs at the back of the cupboard. The addition of sickening fruit juices only masks the painful hangover that lurks innocuously at the bottom of your glass.

The Classic 1,000 Cocktails should come pretty high on a list of uninspiring titles for books. To make room for 1,000 cocktails, the book is mainly just recipes; yet my 1996 copy serves its purpose and its battered and beaten alcohol stained pages are testament to some hidden gems. One I return to again and again is Trinidad Rum Punch:

■ 1 litre water
■ 500 grammes sugar
■ 75cl dark (preferably Trinidad) rum
■ 40cl lemon or lime juice
■ 1 teaspoon of Angostura bitters
■ Nutmeg

● Boil water and dissolve the sugar
● Add the rum and juice
● Serve hot and sprinkle with nutmeg

A new cocktail book that’s a whole lot easier on the eye than The Classic 1,000 Cocktails ­– but fails again to concoct an inspiring title – is World’s Best Cocktails. But Tom Sandham’s beautiful book deserves your full attention. He imparts his precious cocktail wisdom widely, and on the subject of punches he explains that “when traders brought back punches from Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the 1600s, sharing bowls of liquor began to gain notoriety in polite society.” He notes that the word punch derives from the Hindustani word for five: paunch, referring to the five ingredients used to make it: tea, arrack, sugar, lemons and water.

The English took punches to heart (and stomach), although they have now fallen out of fashion. So find time this year to raise a warm cup of punch to the East’s ancient mixologists for inspiring this most civilised of pastimes. After all, most like it hot.