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Punsch (also known as Arrack Punch, Caloric Punch, Punch or Punsch) is a traditional liqueur in Sweden and to a lesser extent some other Nordic countries produced from arrack, neutral spirits, sugar, water, and various flavorings. Arrack, originally a strong Indian liquor, was imported from Java and became the base ingredient for making punsch.
Although they both refer to certain kinds of mixed beverages with liquor as a base ingredient, traditional Swedish Punsch is different from Punch. Both names probably come from the same source: a Hindi loanword for five, referring to the traditional number of ingredients. The Swedish Historical Museum of Wines and Spirits (see below) states that it is more probable that the word came to Swedish via English, than as a direct loan from Hindi.
The Swedish East India Company started to import arrack with the arrival of the ship Fredricus Rex Sueciae to Gothenburg in 1733. It quickly became popular, especially among the wealthy, who could afford the price of imported goods. Later it spread through all levels of society.
A testament to the widespread popularity of punsch or rack (arrack) is the songs of Swedish eighteenth century poet and composer Carl Michael Bellman. It is often mentioned in his three works Bacchi Tempel (1783), Fredmans Epistlar (1790) and Fredmans Sånger (1791) about a group of fictional characters, drunkards, bohemians and prostitutes in contemporary Stockholm. (See for example song no. 48 or epistle no. 41.)
The high point of the Punsch consumption in Sweden came during the nineteenth century and focused on the students and teachers in the universities of Uppsala and Lund. Many traditional songs from that time are about the consumption of punsch or are meant to be sung during the collective festivities that were part of the cultural life in the universities' student associations at the time and still is.
Hot or cold?
Early on, arrack was mixed with the other ingredients and heated, immediately before consuming it. Therefore it was served warm. From ca. 1840, when the drink's popularity was spreading, ready-mixed punsch was sold. From that time on, the habit of drinking it heated was gradually replaced by serving it chilled in the same way that Brännvin, Swedish flavoured vodka, is traditionally served. Especially during the winter, when served in combination with Swedish pea soup, it is still served hot.
Common Nordic brands