Come winter, no tradition is as sacred as getting toasted on holiday punch. Yuletide hosts have been soothing their guests’ seasonal anxiety with big bowls of hot booze for as long as alcohol has existed. Northern Europeans have always been especially good at this. In the orchards of England, winter meant drafts of wassail, a mulled, rustic broth of hard cider or ale. In the snows of Scandinavia, it was glogg, warm red wine spiked with spices, citrus, and brandy. Farther south, in ballrooms and palaces across France, rum and cognac were mingled with sparkling wine in various concentrations and levels of potency. The comforting flavors — apples and cinnamon, oranges and cloves — are better at lightening up a room than any of those fancy full-spectrum bulbs for the seasonal blues.
Today the beauty of a well-made punch is that once the party starts, the mess and effort are minimal. And because punches are mixed in advance, you can greet your guests with a warm cup as soon as they doff those winter parkas. They’ll immediately warm to your get-together, and you can go back to getting toasted by the fire.