As I’ve entertained over the years, I’ve come to realize that punch isn’t a Dickensian throwback. It’s the answer to a party-giver’s prayers.
Sure, a couple of steps take a little bit of time, but you can do all of the prep work in advance. Pour it into a big bowl, and let your guests serve themselves. It’s easier than making cocktails and it frees up more time for the hosts to socialize with guests. And the homemade aspect gives the drinks a personal touch.
You can ring in the new year around a hot or cool bowl of punch with the recipes below from Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog and David Wondrich, author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (Perigee Trade, 2010).
Don’t think that you’re treating your guests poorly. Award-winning bartender Charles Joly says notes that at Chicago’s much-loved The Drawing Room, the bar had a punch program. Now the beverage manager of The Aviary, Joly still likes punch — especially for “big charity events” that can mean up to 300 people. “It [punch] makes a nice transition for your guests when they arrive,” he says.
Yet punch still has a bad reputation for some, Joly says. “People think of it as collegiate and gross,” he says. “I think it’s one of the most classic styles of service.”
Naturally, Brooklyn resident and James Beard Award-winning author Wondrich agrees that punch is a classic. Considerate hosts have been serving punch for almost half a millennium. According to Wondrich, you’ll find someone mixing punch if you look in “just about any volume written in English between the late 1600s and the mid-1800s that deals with the details of day-to-day life.”
If you choose to follow this grand tradition while entertaining, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a charming set-up. You’ll find beautiful old punch services in second-hand shops. “I just picked something up at an antiques market or flea market for ten bucks,” Joly notes. “It came with 18 punch glasses.”
Making drinks is as easy as filling that bargain bowl. Wondrich describes punch as “at base a simple combination of distilled spirits, citrus juice, sugar, water, and a little spice.”
Wondrich’s recipes for both hot and cold punch make it easy. Below you’ll find his recipe for Hot Bols Genever Punch, which serves 15 to 20. (If you’re serving hot punch, make sure you have a bowl to withstand the heat.)
New York City has a brand new fabulous punch source — a two-level 19th century style saloon named The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog from McGarry and Sean Muldoon. (It’s named for a street gang of the era.). McGarry, formerly of London’s Milk & Honey, has worked with Muldoon at Belfast’s The Merchant Hotel, named “World’s Best Cocktail Bar” in 2010 at Tales of the Cocktail. McGarry shares his recipe for G.M. Gurton’s Communal Punch.
If you’re intimidated by the oleo saccharum in the communal punch recipe, Joly takes the mystery out of it, step by simple step: Put sugar at the bottom of a bowl. Muddle it with citrus peel. Let it sit. Joly advocates letting the sugar and citrus meld for a couple of hours.
Hot Bols Genever Punch, from Dave Wondrich
Peel of 6 lemons, each cut in a ½-inch wide spiral with a vegetable peeler
1 large lemon or 2 small ones, sliced into thin wheels and de-seeded (discard ends)
1 quart (32 oz) boiling water
1 cup (8 oz) Demerara or Turbinado sugar
1 750-ml bottle (25 oz) Bols Genever
2 teaspoons fresh-ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh-ground allspice
2 teaspoon fresh-ground cloves
1. In a heatproof bowl, muddle the lemon peels and the sugar together and let sit for at least 90 minutes.
2. Then muddle again and add 1 cup (8 oz) of the boiling water, stirring until sugar has dissolved.
3. Fish out or strain out the lemon peels.
4. Add the Bols Genever and stir.
5. To serve, transfer into crock-pot or heated earthenware jug (to heat jug, rinse with boiling water), add remaining (24 oz) boiling water, lemon slices and spice mix (add this sparingly to taste—1 teaspoon is plenty).
6. Ladle into 2½ oz cups and serve.
G.M. Gurton’s Communal Punch, from Jack McGarry
Oleo-saccharum of 8 limes
Pinch (250 mg) muscovado sugar
1¼ cup (300 mls) Myers’s Dark Rum
¾ cup + 1/8 cup (approximately, or 200 mls) Olorosso Sherry
1 ¼ cup (300mls) Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Cognac
1 ¼ cup (10 oz) fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons (2 oz) ginger extract
3¼ cups (750 mls) green tea
1. Prepare the oleo saccharum of 8 limes and integrate with the muscovado sugar.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until all sugar has been dissolved.
3. Remove zest and add to the punch.
What’s your favorite drink to serve at parties?
Photo credit: Gabi Porter