×

The new punch

Craft-cocktail flavors meet a festive, frugal and time-honored tradition. (Ice ring optional.)

  • Hosts have relied on low-maintenance, help-yourself punches for ages. Renee Jones Schneider



Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Monday, December 03, 2018

The recycling of trends is one of life's beautiful rhythms — and drinking culture is no different. As with fashion, spirits and libations slip out of style only to return a decade or several later with new panache and fresh enthusiasm. Exhibit A: punch. Offering extreme versatility, party-ready proportions and kitschy-cool serving vessels, the centuries-old drink is back in vogue. But while the concept, and many of the bowls, are still old, the contents have changed. Long gone are the sugary, sherbet-filled punch bowls of the 1960s and '70s. In their place is something closer to a craft cocktail, with better balance, more booze and flavors that pack — all right, we'll say it — a punch. That, of course, was the original intention.

The drink was created in the 1600s when British sailors in India found their beer turning rancid and discovered a potent alcoholic concoction made from indigenous ingredients — rum, citrus and spices — that would serve a ship full of men and that could last a long time. As it turns out, there still might be no better way to quench the thirst of a crowd. We've got some tips and recipes for you to serve at upcoming events.

Find the right bowl: Punch might be cool again, but that doesn't mean punch bowls are plentiful. Vintage varieties are often stunning — and a bit of retro flair can be fun — but you'll likely have to do some searching. Online, eBay and Etsy offer options.

Jazz it up with an ice ring: Don't have an ice mold or a gelatin mold? Bundt pans work beautifully. First, arrange some decorative — and edible — accents in the bottom. Try the basics: herbs, citrus wheels, berries or edible flowers, or go nuts with candy canes, gummy worms, whatever you like. Then, fill the pan with water or some pre-made cocktail (the latter to avoid watering down the concoction, if you prefer; if the punch is very strong, you might have to water down the liquid before it will properly freeze.

Don't worry about matching cups: As hard as it is to find the perfect punch bowl, it might be even more difficult to procure one with the ideal number of cups. But don't fret — mixing and matching glassware is hip these days, and doing so further adds to the kitschy feel. Coupes and stemless wine glasses probably say "party" louder than teacup look-alikes do (find cheap and interesting glassware by the piece at thrift stores.

Use your imagination: While punches are intended for crowds, many of whom have varying tastes and preferences for booze strength, just about any cocktail can be made into a punch with the addition of a little juice, soda or sparkling wine. Love Negronis? Why not try a Negroni punch, adding grapefruit juice and Champagne to the normal mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Manhattans can be made into merry multiples by adding pomegranate or cranberry juice — and serving with an ice ring made with the pomegranate arils (seeds) or whole berries.

EARL GREY-BOURBON PUNCH

Note: Allow time for some steps to cool. The syrup and tea can be made up to 3 days ahead; cover separately and chill. The punch can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill.

¾ cup loose Earl Grey tea or 12 tea bags

1 ½ cups honey

12 sprigs fresh thyme

6 sprigs fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish and ice ring

3 cups fresh lemon juice

4 ½ cups bourbon

1½ cups Cognac or brandy

3 teaspoons orange or Angostura bitters

Ice ring Lemon slices (cut into wheels), for serving

Combine loose tea or tea bags and 3 ¾ cups boiling water in a heatproof bowl. Let steep 5 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring glass (you should have 3 cups). Let cool.

Meanwhile, bring honey, thyme, 6 rosemary sprigs, and 1 ½ cups water to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring to combine. Let cool; discard herbs. (You should have 1 ½ cups.)

Combine tea, honey syrup, lemon juice, bourbon, cognac and bitters in a large pitcher or punch bowl. Chill well, then add the ice ring. Serve punch in tumblers filled with ice, garnished with rosemary sprigs and lemon slices. Serves 24.

MOTHER'S RUIN PUNCH

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ¼ cups chilled club soda

4 ½ cups gin

4 ½ cups fresh grapefruit juice, plus thinly sliced grapefruit (cut into wheels), for garnish

2 ¼ cups fresh lemon juice

2 ¼ cups sweet vermouth

6 ¾ cups chilled Champagne or sparkling wine

Ice

In a large pitcher, stir the sugar with the club soda until dissolved. Stir in the gin, grapefruit and lemon juices and sweet vermouth and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Transfer the punch to a large bowl. Gently stir in the Champagne or sparkling wine and add an ice ring. Garnish with grapefruit slices and serve. Serves 24.

CLARET CUP AUX CERISES PUNCH

Note: Plan ahead to make the Cherry-Infused Rum and oleo saccharum, which must sit for several hours or overnight. The latter is a syrup made with citrus oils. Cranberries can be substituted for cherries if desired — in that case, increase the amount of oleo saccharum by 2 tablespoons.

2 (750 ml) bottles Bordeaux red wine

16 ounces cherry-infused rum (see recipe)

¼ cups oleo saccharum (or to taste)

1 liter sparkling water

Ice ring

Lemon and orange slices (cut into wheels), for garnish

Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Place wine, rum and oleo saccharum into container, stir to combine and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Transfer to a bowl and add sparkling water and ice ring. Garnish with citrus and grated nutmeg, if desired. Serves 24.

CHERRY-INFUSED RUM

Note: You will use all of this for the Claret Cup Aux Cerises Punch; frozen cherries can be used when fresh cherries are not available. Cranberries can be substituted for cherries. Makes 2 cups.

1 cups ripe and pitted sweet cherries (see Note)

2 cups dark aged rum

Add cherries to airtight glass container and muddle briefly to expose flesh. Add rum and infuse for at least 3 hours or overnight. Strain through a fine mesh before use.

OLEO SACCHARUM

Note: This can be prepared ahead of time and stored in a resealable, airtight container for up to 2 weeks. You will use about half of this for the Claret Cup Aux Cerises Punch. Makes 1 cup.

4 lemons

1 lime

1 orange

1 grapefruit

1 cups sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, separate the rind of the citrus, trying to avoid as much white pith as possible. The result is "zest." Add the zest and sugar to a bowl and muddle for about 5 minutes, then cover and let rest for at least 2 hours or overnight. Strain the liquid and discard the zest.

MILK PUNCH

Note: The longer the concoction sits, the more the flavors will meld, so consider making this a day ahead. Makes 24.

6 cups brandy or bourbon

12 cups whole milk

½ cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

Freshly grated nutmeg or star anise, for garnish

Ice ring

Combine brandy or bourbon, milk, powdered sugar and vanilla, and chill for at least 2 hours. Garnish with nutmeg and star anise, if desired, and add the ice ring.