Imagine a workday spent taste-testing exquisite whiskeys or bubbly wine spritzers before hunkering down to edit a story about the rise and fall of the cocktail swizzle stick. Sound like a Mad Men-esque fantasy? Not for Leslie Pariseau (’07), deputy editor of PUNCH, an online magazine dedicated to one of life’s most ancient pleasures.
An LSA art history graduate, Pariseau was used to the difficult task of finding words to describe abstract concepts. An internship with Saveur magazine in New York City helped to reinforce Pariseau’s passion for food writing. She began working in a restaurant to pay her bills while she pitched idea after idea for freelance stories about food and drink to other magazines.
“I didn’t have anyone to guide me in the freelance game,” says Pariseau. “I just introduced myself to everyone and probably annoyed a lot of editors with mostly terrible pitches.”
Eventually she nabbed a job at the Ssäm Bar, the high-end, Asian-inspired restaurant that is part of the Momofuku restaurant family. There, she met Don Lee, a cocktail expert who was creating the restaurant’s hard spirits program. Through Lee, she learned about the cocktail world, gaining a newfound appreciation for the intricacies of the craft and discovering an untapped journalistic niche.
Soon after, she met with wine journalist Talia Baiocchi on a trip to Bordeaux in 2010. The pair bonded over a mutual despair over the chasm between the cocktail and wine worlds, and they dreamt of a magazine that would marry the two. But with little time or finances to pursue it, the idea languished.
PUNCH features new takes on classic cocktails, like the New York Sour, a lush, colorful version of the original with a red wine float.
That is, until Ten Speed Press (an imprint of Penguin-Random House) made Baiocchi an offer. Ten Speed Press had just bought her book Sherry, a guide to the eponymous Spanish wine, which was released this October. They also wanted her to launch an online magazine about wine, spirits, and cocktails—the very premise she and Pariseau had envisioned years earlier.
“[Baiocchi] brought me into the fold, and now we are handcuffed to our desks drinking Negronis and wine every day,” she laughs.
That magazine is PUNCH, and it features smart stories on everything from Mexico’s mezcal industry to the history of American binge drinking to futurist Italian cocktails. They’ve also launched a new section of the magazine, City Guides, which looks to provide an insider’s view into the drinking scene of cities across the globe.
“Drinking is a lens into the world’s cultures, from the broader culture to the microcultures within it,” Pariseau explains. “For example, there’s some debate about who created the cocktail, but I think we can all agree that America has defined what a cocktail means. It’s taking something from one culture, like Scotch or vermouth, for example, and adding something else to make it our own.”
Pariseau and Baiocchi have also been working on their first book, Spritz, a gorgeously photographed romp through the history of the spritz cocktail to be released in spring 2016. It’s the first in what they hope to be a line of books from PUNCH. The future PUNCHreleases will feature projects that reflect the fun, celebratory spirit of the magazine’s online persona, while paying homage to our favorite boozy beverages—beverages that Pariseau says help unite us as a culture and as people.
“Drinking on its very surface is an excuse to spend time together,” says Pariseau. “We use it as a fun excuse to look at what’s going on in the world beyond.”