There's something special about punch. A party with a glittering punch bowl and an elegant ladle, with guests milling around drinking from dainty cups — something about that just seems more fun than mixing rum and coke in a red solo cup. But the great secret of punch is that it is easy as hell to make. At its simplest, you just dump a bunch of liquor and juice in a bowl and serve. But, if you don't want to remind your guests of the Jungle Juice from your college days, you may want to step up your punch game. We asked Jillian Vose, the bar manager at The Dead Rabbit (you know, the best bar in the world), and Jane Danger, beverage director at Cienfuegos — two of New York’s best punch bars — about how to craft a great holiday punch.
It's about balance
According to some theories, the word punch comes from the Hindi or Sanskrit word for "five" — panch — representing the five things required to make a good punch: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and spices. Vose would argue with that theory, but not with the components behind it. "You need your base spirit, a sweetener, some kind of citrus, and some spice, plus nowadays you're usually working with some kind of modifier as well to make it more interesting.” She suggests something as easy as rum, lemon, oleo saccharum (a citrus syrup used in many traditional punches), and nutmeg served over ice. However, what you shouldn't be doing is dumping an entire bottle of high-proof spirits into a bowl and topping it with a squeeze of lemon. "Punch needs proper dilution in the form of water as well as citrus," says Danger.
It's about simplicity
"Punch is a great option to serve at a party because it will get better as it sits on the ice," says Danger. "You'll have more time to be with your guests, instead of mixing martinis and Mai Tais." However, like with cocktails, there is often the pressure to buy specialty ingredients that will wind up sitting on your shelves for months. To avoid that, Vose suggests making it easier for yourself by finding flavor inspiration from your own pantry, and making the more flavorful additions. You can always buy rum and lemons, but for spice, "a cinnamon syrup or a ginger syrup, you can make them at home, taking a classic simple syrup and using a denser sugar like cane, and infusing cloves, ginger, cinnamon, paprika — the options go on and on." You can also infuse flavors directly into spirits, like Vose does with earl grey tea. "You boil water and, very fast, take a tablespoon of tea, splashing that with hot water to rinse it off, and then infuse it in your spirit for about five minutes." This way, you can make as much as you need for the punch, instead of buying a $40 bottle of walnut liqueur you'll never use again.
It's about presentation
You can have the best-tasting punch in the world, but if it's served in a stainless steel mixing bowl with the ladle you used for soup the day before, you’re not going to impress anyone. Quality punch bowls and glass sets can be found at every price point (here's a simple glass one for $30). And instead of cubes of ice that’ll melt far too fast, make your own ice ring by filling a bundt pan with water and sticking it in the freezer. You can even throw some garnishes — lemons, berries — in the pan that’ll thaw as the ice melts.
Tea Cocktail featuring Ruby Spice Cider Tea, from Cienfuegos
Overview: A jazzed-up version of Mulled Wine or Glüg/Glogg. Made using a tea concentrate.
- Tea Concentrate: 8 oz hot water, 8 oz Teavana Belgian Rock Sugar, 1 oz Teavana Ruby Spice Cider Tea
- Stir until Teavana Belgian Rock Sugar is dissolved, and let sit 10 minutes. Fine strain.
- 5 oz red wine
- 1 oz Teavana Ruby Spice Cider Tea Syrup
- 3/4 oz lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz Jamaican Rum
- 1/2 oz cognac
- 1/2 oz Curaçao
Heat together, garnish with cinnamon grated on top, star anise, clove-studded lemon wheel.
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