Prior to August 2014, I harbored a secret shame for my entire adult life; in spite of living within an hour of the border for most of my life, I had never been to Mexico.
Admittedly, there was a period of time when visiting the Tijuana area was somewhat unsafe and unadvisable. But there was also an undeniable element of socialized distaste that lead me to believe that the whole Northern Baja metro area was nothing but drunk underage college kids, zebra-painted donkeys (zonkies), street tacos that would inevitably make you sick, and drug lords waiting to steal your kidneys, stuff them with meth, and smuggle them back across the border via the Hells Angels. Therefore, there was no reason to venture to the other side of that big fence.
Even today, when you inform certain folks of your plans for a long weekend in Baja, their response is slightly too forceful "BE SAFE!!!"*
In spite of this unfortunate negative conditioning, I became attuned to more and more chatter in recent years about the amazing cultural moment that was happening in Baja. Evidently, with much of the strife moving to other parts of the country, the locals were precipitating something of a food, drink, arts and culture renaissance to embrace the newfound calm.
I resolved that the moment was ripe to cast off the shame of my Mexico virginity; for my 33rd birthday, I would go to Mexico! I strategized that, to compensate for my inexperience, I’d require a firm but gentle hand with experience to guide me in this important coming-of-age act. Fortunately, a cottage industry has recently sprung up, catering to the youngerish crowd of Americans looking to experience the hipper side of town, but who still need to be shown what goes on and where. After hearing a compelling story on the radio, I chose a street art tour from an organization called Tourista Libre.
It was everything a first-timer could ask for: off-the-beaten path sights, knowledgeable locals providing context, tasty tequila on the less-than-tasty secondhand bus, and amazing tacos to top it all off.**
I’ve since had several other Baja coastal excursions, each of which has been safe and enjoyable (aside from that horrendous border wait to return to the US), and each time, I remark how a weekend on the beach just 30 minutes south of the border can feel so much more like a far-flung getaway. Maybe it’s the non-native king palms or absence of a wholly-developed coastline, but it seems that my brain naturally transposes tropical features over the existing landscape, and inevitably, I thirst for a boozy punch.
While I will advocate for tiki style punch for pretty much any occasion, the Mexican setting seemed to demand the addition of tequila to the mix, at the very least! So I set about to create some kind of Mexican-influenced rum punch hybrid.
Finally, in case you’re wondering, yes, I did cart a punch bowl and serving set down to Mexico just for this purpose.
*An unfortunate coda is that there have been a spate of recent murders on the streets of Tijuana, but here’s to hoping recent violence is an aberration and not a harbinger of a new status quo.
**Unfortunate coda II: apparently everyone in the group got sick from the aforementioned tacos, so the prophecy wasn’t wholly inaccurate. Another aberration.
Tequila rum punch with homemade falernum
The presence of fresh, homemade falernum is really where this punch gets it’s character, and going the extra step to make a batch will require minimal extra effort but deliver maximum impact. The aromatic element delivered by the lime and the mellow spice of the clove and ginger bring the whole thing together. Furthermore, I tried to impart a Mexican twist on the traditional falernum with the addition of agave syrup substituting for simple syrup.
Also, because this punch was concocted in honor of celebration down Mexico way, I couldn’t resist the addition of the ubiquitous thirst quencher found on playas round the country: Tecate, as well as a hit of the wonderfully syrupy Mexican Coca-Cola. These may seem discordant with the rest of the flavors present, but to be honest, they fade well into the background and primarily serve to add a little bubbly carbonated lift more than anything else.
- Combine all liquid ingredients over ice* in punch bowl. Test a small sip. If punch is stronger than desired, add club soda to dilute to taste.
- Garnish with citrus slices, freshly grated cinnamon, and nutmeg.
*Consider freezing a large ice block in a bundt or other baking pan
- 12 or 15 dashes Angostura bitters
- 12 oz reposado tequila (I used Espolón)
- 12 oz golden rum (I used Flor de Caña Anejo Oro)
- 8 oz citrus juice (I improvised a combination of lemons, limes, and one orange)
- 12 oz falernum (see recipe below)
- 12 oz can cheap mexican beer (Tecate)
- 12 oz bottle Mexican Coke (the stuff made with sugar and not corn syrup)
- Orange, lemon, lime slices, cinnamon and
nutmeg for garnish
Adapted from punchdrink.com
- Combine rum, lime zest, cloves, and ginger in airtight container. Allow to steep for 24 hours.
- Strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
- Add agave and stir to combine. Store in airtight container for up to a week.
- 8 oz overproof rum
- Zest of 10 limes
- 40 whole cloves
- 3 oz ginger, peeled and diced
- 1/4 nutmeg, grated
- 12-16 oz of agave syrup, depending on desired level of sweetness