Mixology 101: Poncha
As the nights get longer, and the trees grow bare, there is something endearing about a hot toddy. It's not that tea doesn’t have year-round appeal, but when temperatures dip, the double-whammy of warmth and whiskey make the toddy a formidable libation indeed.
The original hot toddy is, in many ways, just an alcoholic take on a classic remedy tea. Honey, lemon, and black tea, are a timeless combination, and when spiked with some quality whiskey, the results are predictably delicious and healing.
A quick trip to the tea section of your local supermarket, however, will make clear that black tea is just one choice in a sea of “steepables.” From herbal to chai, each box represents a new opportunity to craft a uniquely heart-warming experience. Add to the fray a myriad of sweeteners, spices, juices and spirits, and the combinations will quickly reach the infinite.
Colorado winters, especially in the Uncompahgre Valley, are unique in their duality. Blizzards
rage, and yet, give way to the state’s perpetual sunshine. This makes the classic hot toddy, while delicious, a bit inadequate when it comes to matching its locale. By taking a few cultural cues from our neighbors to the south, and raiding the pantry’s holiday spices, a vibrant take on the toddy is easily within grasp.
Poncha (or the English equivalent “punch”) is a warming beverage consumed by millions over the holiday and cold seasons worldwide. There are different traditions, from Madeira to Trinidad, all stemming from an ancient Indian recipe. Panja is Sanskrit for five, so the related words punch and poncha almost always follow that formula of five ingredients, combining sweet, sour, spice, water, and alcohol.
Being a combination of the bright and the spicy, good poncha can evoke the celebratory with a mere sniff. Most modern renditions have a multitude of ingredients, with the unifying feature being the hibiscus flower. Hibiscus is a tropical flower (although cold hardy varieties dot much of the landscaping you see in the Valley), with bright fruit and citrus tones. In fact, it could be argued that the flavor most associated with Hawaiian Punch is in fact hibiscus. Hibiscus tea is available in boxed form at most supermarkets, but checking at a Latin American Market, such as the Sonoran Market and Carniceria in Montrose, yields many more fresh and affordable options.
Since hibiscus is tropical, the rest of the toddy would do well to follow suit. Lime as well as the standard lemon provides the sharp citrus undertone. The classic tropical spices star anise, allspice, ginger and nutmeg add a warmth and sharpness that balance the drink’s potential for overt sweetness. As for alcohol, tequila and rum are both fabulous liquor choices as they stand up admirably to the flavorful combination of tea and spice. Experimentation is practically mandatory with punch, and so be sure to mix and match ingredients and ratios.
Poncha is a delicious reminder of warmer times, a drinkable way to evoke the tropics and
summer. That idea, of transportation, can be used as a template. Whiskey, green tea and
Ginger. Turmeric, chai spices, and gin. Earl grey, lavender, and vodka. A good cocktail, a good toddy, is something that can conjure a season, time or place without a word.
About the Author & Mixologist
Nickolas is a lover of flavor, both classic and cutting edge. He embraces the classic cocktail canon, while working to make all ingredients in house, with local and obscure ingredients alike. Outside of the spirit world, he is a family man, farmer and poet.