‘Tis the season for entertaining! Holiday parties, soirees with friends, family traditions; essentially any excuse to get together out of the cold and warm up with drinks and celebration. All these parties and events — while fun – do have their own unique stress: what should a guest bring or a host serve? At Skurnik, we love the idea of a thoughtfully prepared…punch!
Some of us may turn our noses up at the term “punch” because at some point the idea became warped, like the Hollywood version of an American college party, with red plastic cups and mysterious vats of whatever the host could get his/her hands on. Rest assured, punch is back and can be as cool and classy as you want. David Wondrich, author of the book fittingly titled Punch, says this about why punch was his inspiration:
“It became a lot of fun for parties, and it’s something you can do in advance. All the work is done and you can return to your delightful job as host. That works in a commercial setting as well. It enables you to pay more attention to individuals. It puts everyone on the same footing at a party, which I like. A bowl of punch is a project: here we have this bowl in front of us, we have to empty it. We’re all in it together, instead of “I’m having this and you’re having that.”
Punch or a large format cocktail is a sure-fire, simple way to entertain or enjoy any occasion. Preparing drinks beforehand ensures ease of entertaining whether at home, out and about, or behind the bar. There are a few things to keep in mind when planning your party drink: pay attention to alcohol content, mind the ratios, and of course prepare a pleasing presentation.
Before we get started, gather your tools:
◊ Punch bowl
◊ Serving glasses
◊ Large measuring cup, showing ounces and cups
◊ Microplane (for zesting citrus and cinnamon)
◊ Sauce pan for hot beverages
◊ Pitcher or bottle for serving from
The first lesson: keep it low! Low alcohol by volume (ABV), that is.
If the bartender or host is not there to monitor or serve up the drinks, and if it’s particularly delicious, people will keep marching back to that bowl. Nothing screams holiday festivities more than something sparkling like this large-format, low-ABV spritz.
- 24 oz or about 2 bottles of Contratto Metodo Classico Brut Millesimato
- 8 oz Square One Bergamot Vodka
- 8 oz Bigallet China China Amer
- 8 oz sparkling water
Method: Pour ingredients into punch bowl, add small orange wheels, blood orange or kumquats for presentation, and a large block of ice. Ice will accomplish two things, chilling the cocktail and adding dilution. Serve in glasses over more ice.
There is an easy rhyme to remember when making punch: “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak.” Julian Mohamed, founder of Wandering Barman bottled cocktails and Manhattan draft cocktail stronghold Yours Sincerely, says “Prepared drinks offer a convenience, consistency and speed that made to order cocktails can’t match. And assuming you include the dilution in the recipe, they create less waste.” The water or dilution Julian mentions is the “weak” part – there’s no booze in it. Don’t forget to pre-dilute the cocktail or punch; make at least one eighth of your recipe water and the ice in the punch bowl will take care of the rest.
Here are a few more rules to follow when making cocktails in general. To scale up these recipes, just scale up volumes but leave the ratios the same.
- Sour; 2 parts spirit, ¾ sweet, ¾ sour
- Negroni; 1 part spirit, 1 part bitter, 1 part sweet (spirit forward)
- Old Fashioned; 2 parts spirit, 1/8 sweet, 3 dash bitters
- Spritz; 1 part spirit, 3 parts sparkling wine, 1 part soda water
Sour example: Brooklynite (variation)
- 24 oz El Dorado 3 Yr White Rum or El Dorado 5 Yr Rum or Rhum JM Rhum Agricole Gold
- 16 oz fresh lime juice
- 16 oz honey syrup
- 18-36 dashes Angostura bitters (start at ½ ratio of bitters, then add to taste)
Method: Combine ingredients in large punch bowl, garnish with floating lime wheels, chill with large ice cubes and serve.
Old Fashioned (variation)
- 24 oz Rhum JM Rhum Agricole VO or Medley Brothers 102 Proof Bourbon or Fort Hamilton Rye Whiskey
- 8 oz Emilio Lustau Pedro Ximenz Sherry or Rhum JM Shrubb or Amara Rossa
- 8 oz filtered water
- 18-36 dash Angostura bitters or orange bitters
Method: For the spirit forward or boozier large format cocktails, it’s nice to find a clean glass bottle or pitcher, combine all ingredients, then pour into your guest’s glass over a large piece of ice. Garnish each drink with a brandied cherry or an orange twist.
Make it pretty!
Remember, guests will keep going back and forth to the bowl or bottle. Fresh punches tend to turn brown as they interact with oxygen. Combat that with fresh citrus slices, floating herbs, large ice cubes, and ornate bottles or punch bowls.
Citrus is a winter fruit. It’s easy to forget these refreshing and tart little fellows grow best in the colder months. Adding zest or sliced wheels of lime, lemon, oranges, grapefruits, blood oranges, and pomelos not only adds a little sour to your punch, but also creates appealing color contrasts.
Fresh herbs like rosemary fill the entire room with an evergreen aroma, and add another element to flavor and presentation. Rosemary can turn a bowl of brown liquid into a cozy winter lodge. Other leafy herbs like mint will turn brown and bitter after sitting in the liquid for even a short period of time. Instead, try dried options like lavender, rose petals or dehydrated fruit as option. For creamy punches like eggnog, sprinkle fresh cinnamon or nutmeg.
Ice always plays a large part in any mixed drink; for punch and large format cocktails, you can get creative by filling a cake mold, plastic storage container like Tupperware, plastic cups, or even balloons and spooky plastic gloves (whatever you use, make sure it’s powder free and food safe). Using bigger ice for the punch bowl allows slower dilution while keeping everything cold. By the end of the evening, the cocktail will still be drinkable rather than a bowl of citrusy water!
Dominicana with Rosemary (variations)
- 16 ounces El Dorado 8 Yr Rum or Wathen’s Single Barrel Bourbon or Barrell Bourbon #14
- 16 ounces Vicario Coffee Liqueur or Vicario Nocino (Walnut) Liqueur or Rapa Giovani Certosa
Method: combine the two ingredients in equal parts in bottle or punch bowl; if in punch bowl, use a large ice block for slow dilution. Sprinkle sprigs of rosemary over the punch bowl and add a sprig to each cup or glass when serving.
Holiday classics and hot drinks!
Last but not least, we have holiday classics and hot drinks like eggnog, wassail, mulled wine, and glögg.
- 24 oz fresh apple cider
- 12 oz Neversink Apple Brandy
- 8 oz orange juice or put an orange in with whole cloves in it
- 8 fresh cranberries
- 4 allspice berries
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
Method: add ingredients to a large crock pot or stockpot, heat slowly to simmering or keep warm in crock pot. Let spice mix macerate for four hours before removing. Serve warm.
For the below Scandinavian treat, we tapped the brilliant mind of Selma Slabiak, Head Bartender of The Breslin in New York City:
“Glögg (Swedish) or gløgg (Danish/Norwegian) is a spiced, warm mulled wine, in the Nordic Countries. Like mulled wine or the German/Alsace traditional Glühwein, it is spices, citrus and wine, often fortified with a strong spirit. Glögg is typically made and enjoyed in the winter months. Spices, such as cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and cloves are infused in red wine, with sugar and citrus for at least an hour, ideally as much as 12 hours, to 70/80 degrees Celsius. At the end, you bring it to almost a boil, then fortify with a strong spirit, such as aquavit or rum. To finish, add raisins and blanched almonds.”
My family’s glögg is made with a white wine base, and the recipe is from Selma Amalie, my great-grandmother, and my grandmother Else-Marie. We add both aquavit and rum, and our base is a cordial and spices.
- 2 bottles of The Pinot Project Pinot Grigio
- 3 cups cordial (1 cup fresh orange juice, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 cup superfine sugar)
- 5 oz Brennivin Aquavit
- 5 oz El Dorado 3 Yr White Rum
- Winter spice mix (one cinnamon stick, 10 cloves, 5 star anise, 10 cardamom pods and 5 allspice kernals)
Put everything except for the Brennivin and El Dorado 3 year rum in a pot and bring it to a boil… the slower the better. I let mine simmer between two to five hours, but at least 30 minutes. Right as it starts boiling, turn off the heat and add the aquavit and rum. Strain, and serve hot. For extra flair, add golden raisins and sliced almonds. This batch can be reheated again, but don’t boil. Let it sit overnight or three days for perfect taste with the peel of the oranges and lemons used for juice. Strain before drinking and serve warm!
Punch and large format cocktails can help clear out the liquor cabinet, are cost effective, and create a feeling of conviviality…. Just be sure your guests are in for the commitment! Have fun, and happy soiree- ing!