As the holiday season gets underway and the seemingly endless parties take over the month of December, everyone wants an easy-to-serve festive drink option. Wine and beer are the standards, and well-suited for small events or dining out, but if you want to impress at home, give some thought to making a punch.
Punch has a long history of being the centrepiece of celebrations and marking festive occasions. It is rare to find a punch served outside of the home as the logistics of serving it in bars and restaurants make it difficult. This presents an excellent opportunity to impress guests. A punch bowl offers a sophisticated presence on any dining room table and, aside from preparation hours before the event, it requires no effort to serve, freeing everyone up to mingle and enjoy the party.
When properly prepared a good punch is a merrymaker. However excess sweetness can make it more of a dessert drink than the pleasant aperitif it should be. Punch should be of a sweetness similar to a medium-dry wine, which works better with food and slows down alcohol consumption. Responsible drinking is the new holiday tradition.
Nutmeg and cinnamon are traditionally added to a glass of punch, and being Christmas spices, they will work well for the festive season. You can use a mixture of the two spices in a salt shaker, or you can use whole spices and place a grater next to the punch bowl.
The Frost Punch is a recipe from the 1940s that uses green tea to give the drink a unique flavour, but you can substitute any variety of tea to give it your personal touch. This punch is pleasantly complex.
1 cup, strong green tea*
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
rinds of 2 lemons, thinly sliced
½ fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup demerara or turbinado sugar
1 cup brandy
¾ cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Triple Sec)
½ cup dark rum
2 cups club soda
750ml bottle of Champagne, chilled
large ice block#
1 Put the lemon rinds in a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, sliced pineapple, brandy, orange liqueur, rum and chilled green tea. Stir well.
2 Transfer the bowl the refrigerator and chill the mixture for at least two hours.
3 To serve, remove the bowl from the fridge just before guest arrive and slowly pour the mixture into a decorative punch bowl that has a large block of ice. Gently stir in the seltzer and Champagne. Avoid stirring vigorously as the carbonation in the seltzer and Champagne will dissipate too quickly.
4 Grate or dash a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon over the drink.
* A strong tea would typically be three times the normal amount of tea.
# Large ice blocks melt slowly and help to prevent diluting the punch. You can make them in your freezer a day or two before the event.
If you are having a small, casual gathering, or even just a quiet night away from the parties, consider making a Rum Milk Punch, which can be prepared in individual servings. This punch is similar to eggnog, the Christmas standard, but easier to make and just as good.
Rum Milk Punch
2 oz amber or dark rum
1 tsp superfine sugar
4 to 6 ounces whole milk
2 drops vanilla extract
Dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon
1 Combine the rum, sugar, vanilla and milk in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 15 seconds.
2 Strain into a glass and grate or dash some nutmeg and cinnamon over the top of the drink.
The holiday season is a time for socializing and relaxing, not hectically preparing drinks for guests. A good bowl of Punch will make for a joyous event.
Darcy S. O’Neil is a London-based bartender who writes about cocktail culture and other drink-related topics on his popular website ArtofDrink.com