Introducing PUNCH: Drink It Up

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What you choose to drink is part of your identity.... - Talia Baiocchi, editor-in-chief of Punch

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How many times have you sized up someone at a party by what they drink or serve? We're betting a lot. Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau are the creators and editors behind PUNCH, a new online magazine focused on wine, cocktails and spirits built in collaboration with Ten Speed Press. Together they've just debuted a smart, funny and beautiful new site aimed at exploring the entertaining world of mixing cocktails, raising a glass and entertaining friends – and making you a more interesting host.

A new Say Media content partner, we caught up with PUNCH's editor-in-chief Talia by email just before this week's launch of the site to find out what drink trends she sees in the year ahead (time to learn how to pronounce terroir), what stories she's excited about in the first issue and what the unsung heroes are when it comes to wine and spirits. Salut!

You're working with a print publisher, Ten Speed Press, on the site – how did that transpire? Ten Speed is a major player in the food space and Aaron Wehner, Ten Speed’s publisher, noticed that while the food world seemed flooded with a diversity of different publications – both print and web – that the drinks space was comparatively weaker and less varied. We got to talking about how to fill that gap in a meaningful, engaging way and, well, 9 months later (seriously) Punch was born.

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Describe the ideal PUNCH reader… Part of the vision for Punch was to create content that could be of equal interest to someone with a master sommelier diploma AND someone who is just casually curious. In order to do that we’ve assembled a diverse group of writers, which includes drinks journalists, but also novelists, food writers, a folklorist, and chefs. The idea was to offer a variety of different points of view and, thus, access points for the reader. We wanted the content to feel inclusive and relatable, but not pandering and we've also come up with is (I think!) a broad range of content, from witty and slightly irreverent to thought provoking. So, to answer your question, in a (very) roundabout way, I think the ideal Punch reader is simply curious … and inclined to frequent bars.

What are some of the pieces you're most excited about in the first issue? There are so many pieces I’m really excited about. Firstly, we did a photo essay with the photography team Peden + Munk and the writer Wyatt Peabody about a revolutionary new distillery in Mexico's Jalisco Highlands that is tirelessly working to preserve true tequila, a spirit whose industry is rife with controversy. It’s an important story that Peden + Munk, talented duo that they are, really brought to life. I’m also excited about another full-length feature from Lora Smith about growing up in a dry county where bootlegging persisted until the 2000s and truly shaped the identity of her tiny slice of America. On the extracurricular side of things, we've got a hilarious piece on a bartender who is an AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego) and has broken down and reassembled countless Lego collections to create the Lego likenesses of the world's top bartenders.

And you've got a print zine coming out too – tell us about that… The print zine is a little teaser to the site. Print has always been part of our plan for Punch, but in this instance we wanted to create a preview of the sorts of stories one might expect to find on Punch. What that includes is everything from a profile of LCD Soundsystem's Nancy Whang (and why she thinks being into wine is like collecting records) to the idea of regionality in American cocktails.

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You've said most wine magazines are pretty brainy or academic – how will a Punch wine review be different? Give us an example… Well, firstly, we won’t be reviewing wine. There are plenty of outlets that rely on that model and do it well. We’re focused on finding the stories that can help explain why it’s so exciting to drink wine right now, how it becomes part of the culture of a place in different ways, who makes it and why. There’s also a certain ethos and energy that is driving interest in wine—and it’s not all that dissimilar from what is driving the craft cocktail movement—and we want to capture that, get people excited about it, and help them feel like they can be a part of it.

What do you think the drink someone chooses say about the person drinking it? Just like the clothes you choose to wear, the music you listen to, the movies you like, what you choose to drink is part of your identity and, at the risk of coming off like a generationalist (it's a thing), I think that’s even truer for the younger generation. Many of us were fortunate enough to grow up during a time when wine had already become a part of American culture in a more casual and integrated way. The advent of cocktail movement coincided with the current generation becoming legal drinkers and never before has there been this variety of spirits, cocktails, wine, etc. available. So, choosing from this increasing variety is making a statement about what you connect with, which says a lot about who you are—or at least who we want to be.

What are some interesting trends you're seeing in the spirits and wine world right now? In spirits, the exploration of what the word terroir – that sacred “sense of place” that is generally a word reserved for wine – means when you’re dealing with the distillation of different agricultural products. I think people are discovering that there is such a thing as terroir in mezcal and that many of the same factors that combine to create variations in terroir and, ultimately, taste in wine – soil, altitude, climate, farming – impact mezcal in much the same way. Further, the recognition of the connection of a spirit to farming and a place has extended even further to other spirits like rhum agricole and pisco. In this I think many people are seeing spirits with new eyes and greater appreciation.

In wine I can't say enough about how exciting American wine continues to be. California’s new avant-garde is a growing group of independent, risk-taking producers who are determined to upend the old CA paradigm and prove that a place that is not bound by thousands of years of wine history should be defined by the freedom to experiment. As a result, we’re seeing wines made by a variety of different grapes, in different styles, from a passionate (and growing) group. And in a sense, what is happening on the fringes of American wine is not unlike what happened in music in the 1980s when a growing group of indie bands changed the landscape – and the business – of music. American wine is having that moment.

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Punch was also the name of the former and famous British humor and satire magazine. Will we see any of that in your PUNCH's DNA? I certainly hope so. When we were searching for a name and were drawn to Punch everyone involved in this project went down the rabbit hole on a massive 19th century archive for the British Punch we found on the web. Those 19th century Brits were really something. I’d like to believe that at least some of juxtaposition of wit and smart, insightful writing that defined British Punch will make its way into the (digital) pages of Punch as well.

How would you finish this sentence: When in doubt, drink… The underdogs. The unsung heroes of wine and spirits – sherry, the Jura, Savoie, the vast diversity that is the Loire Valley, Sicily, America's fringe, mezcal, rhum agricole.

Follow PUNCH on Twitter @punch_drink and on Instagram.