Old-Fashioned Punch and Cider-Rum Punch (Recipe)

Festive drinks for the holidays: Recipes for old-fashioned punch, and sophisticated quaffs for non-drinkers

It’s the boozy party season, and for the semi-boozy party we’re throwing, we’re making punch. By that, I mean a concoction Dickens would recognize as a drink rather than the sherbetted, sweet kid’s stuff it has devolved into. Punch has long been eclipsed by fancy cocktails, but done right it’s the ideal party drink. As the scholarly mixologist David Wondrich points out in his wonderfully readable book, Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, it’s much more than a bowl-sized cocktail. And, as it’s meant to be somewhat watered down and served in small glasses, everyone can slowly sip for hours without getting plastered.

Here’s one of Wondrich’s recipes for a warm punch that’s easy to make, and smells like Christmas. 

Old-Fashioned Punch

  • Peel of 6 lemons, cut in ½-inch spirals with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 large lemon, sliced thin (discard ends and seeds)
  • 1 cup Turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw”)
  • 1 750-ml bottle of Bols Genever (Dutch gin)
  • Spice mix: 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg to 1 tsp each of fresh-ground allspice and cloves
  • 1 quart of boiling water
  1. In a heatproof bowl, muddle the lemon peels and sugar together and let sit for a couple of hours.
  2. Muddle again, add a cup of the boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Fish out the lemon peels.
  3. Add the genever and stir.
  4. Transfer to a crock-pot or heat-resistant bowl, add 24 ounces of boiling water and the lemon slices.
  5. Gradually add a teaspoon or two of the spice mix, to taste.   

Wondrich’s suggested proportions for punch are: “One of sour, one of sweet, four of strong and six of weak,” so you can use that formula to experiment with rum, brandy or whatever suits you.

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Here’s a less potent blend, for a crowd:

Cider-Rum Punch

  • 16 cups apple cider
  • 2 apples, thinly sliced
  • 2 oranges, thinly sliced
  • 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 4 cups dark rum
  1. Combine everything except the rum in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a punch boil.
  3. Stir in the rum.

Let’s not forget the designated drivers, non-drinkers, or anybody who’s hoping to make it to January 1 with their liver intact. The apple-cider punch above is almost as good without the rum, and the ginger gives it a zing. Non-alcoholic ginger wines, like Rochester or Nickleby’s, have the same appeal, and they’re more grown-up and enjoyable than ginger ale. (Stone’s Original ginger wine is the delicious, boozy version, by the way.) Ginger beers, especially those from Jamaica, are good too.

Faux cocktails made with seltzer or sparkling water and fruit juices, fruit syrups, or flavored bitters are far more festive than sugary sodas — and they’re better for you, too. Our friend Chris makes a delicious mocktail with seltzer and pomegranate juice with a dash of Rose’s lime juice — it’s full of antioxidants, and our antioxidant level is probably depleted about now.

For a faux champagne for non-drinkers to toast the New Year, mix roughly equal amounts of chilled club soda, white grape juice and ginger ale. Champagne it ain’t, but it’s bubbly, it tastes good, and it won’t give you a hangover.

Cheers! Salut! Happy holidays!

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