Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Punch for the Holidays

When your house or apartment is filled with people this season, and everyone's trying to snag an hors d'oeuvre, find or avoid the mistletoe and, above all, grab a drink, the last thing you want them to do is wait for you to pour glasses for the crowd. Fortunately, there's punch.

In this month's Saveur, wine and spirits editor David Wondrich gives a brief history of the flowing bowl. Punch originated centuries ago as a simple and straightforward mixture of citrus juice, sugar, water, spice and, of course, liquor. Today, the model is still essentially the same, although the basic formula has been tinkered with to make room for richly flavored liqueurs, tea, champagne, and virtually any other flavorful and potent libation you can imagine.

The punches assembled by my parents for holiday parties were very much the stuff of the '70s: frozen concentrated lemonade and limeade mixed with booze and 7-Up, with a big round of ice in the middle that had been frozen inside a Jell-o mold. While the Jell-o mold ice idea is still a good one, punch can be much better, and Wondrich gives recipes for several old standards that would be fantastic for a holiday party: Captain Radcliffe's Punch, which is fuelled by sweet white wine and brandy; the flaming Punschgluhbowle, a red wine and arrack-based punch that is ignited before serving; and Regent's Punch, a delicately flavored (yet desirably potent) champagne punch that is accented with green tea and takes its firepower from a mixture of brandy, rum and arrack.

I've had good luck in the past with Christmas Rum Punch and its relative, Farmer's Bishop, and for the big day I typically mix a bowl of Tom & Jerry. What about you--anyone have good luck with punch recipes for the holidays? What are your favorites?

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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