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The precise proportions for this recipe are taken from the 1694 regulations the English government put out for Bombay punch houses, which mandated “if any man comes into a victualling house to drink punch, he may demand one quart good Goa arak, half a pound of sugar, and half a pint of good lime water, and make his own punch.” Now, Goa arrack was made from coconut-palm sap, but sugar-cane arrack and then rum were natural substitutes. The further substitution of cognac for part of the rum or arrack was common as early as the 1680s, and indeed soon became the preferred way of making it. The addition of a goodly amount of water or tea is also both traditional and extremely sensible.
What to buy: If you can’t get the arrack, substitute 1 1/2 quarts rum or 1 (750-milliliter) bottle of rum and 1 (750-milliliter) bottle of VSOP-grade cognac.
Game plan: For a more stimulating concoction, use cold black or green tea (use 2 tablespoons loose tea or 6 tea bags) in place of the final 6 cups of water.