Punches are originally from India (panch in Hindi), and were taken around the world by the boozy merchant sailors of the British East India Company. The idea of a cocktail you don’t have to make one at a time is good, so where ever it went, it took. The undiscerning rabble stuck by a charming rhyme to make their punches: “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak.” Easy to remember if you’re already three sheets to the wind, but also handy when the kinds of alcohol and available mixers changed at each docking.
Lucky for us, we’re not limited to what can be dredged up at the port. Here are four punch recipes, dug up or invented (and taste-tested) by Lydia Reissmueller, who’s made cocktail magic in legendary bars from New York to Moscow. Right now, she’s running Tender Bar out of Portland, Oregon.
Stir up these punches for your next dinner party. You’ll feel classy, while sitting back and getting nice and toasted with your friends.
These punches are the opposite of a handle of 5 O’Clock vodka mixed with Dr. Pepper. They’re made with good alcohol and sophisticated ingredients, but are simple to put together. Stick close to the measurements to get the subtleties of flavor. After each spirit, Lydia recommends a brand or varietal.
Cranberry Punch (about 15 servings)
1 bottle of gin (Tanqueray or Beefeater)
10 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier
10 oz unsweetened cranberry juice
10 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons of almond essence (not the fake stuff)
1 bottle of dry sparkling wine (Gruet Brut, cava or prosecco)
Combine all ingredients, except for the sparkling wine, in a punch bowl. Stir together and store covered in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Once you’re ready to serve, stir the the punch again, then add the bubbly. Put an orange twist* into each cup and and ladle in the punch.
*The nicest twists don’t need special tools. Find a ripe, brightly-colored fresh orange with thick, firm skin. With a small knife (or a regular vegetable peeler), slice off a thin, ribbon-like peel, similar to what you’d get peeling a potato. Do this over each cup so the spray of orange oil lands in the cup. Twist the peel into a spiral to release even more oil and throw it in the cup.
Royal Pomme Punch (12 Servings)
(Lydia learned this punch from the able hands of James Meehan at PDT New York)
3/4 bottle Dubonnet Rouge (an herb-y wine aperitif)
12 oz Apple Brandy (such as Laird’s Bonded or Calvados)
24 Dashes of Angostura Bitters (or 3 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram)
3 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
12 oz Champagne
At least two days ahead of time, fill a rectangular plastic container with water and put in the freezer to make a big block of ice. Make sure it fits in your punch bowl.
In a pitcher filled with ice cubes, stir together the Dubonnet, apple brandy, orange juice and bitters. Pour the punch through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a chilled punch bowl.
Pull your block of ice out of the freezer and let it thaw for 15 minutes until it slides out of the mold. Gently put it into the punch. Top with champagne and serve.
Boozy Mulled Cider (makes about 30 servings)
1 gallon of fresh apple cider
2 bottles of amber rum (Appleton’s VX, or a bourbon like Buffalo Trace)
2 apples cored and thinly sliced
4 cinnamon sticks
1 small handful of whole cloves (about 20)
1 small handful of cracked black peppercorns (about 25)
5 cracked green cardamom pods
2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger
Optionally, you can also add 1 cup of lemon juice (and their peels) and 1 cup of brown sugar.
Combine all ingredients — except the booze — in a pot over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30–40 minutes.
Turn off heat, or turn on lowest possible, and add liquor of choice, stirring well. Strain to order with a tea strainer, OR put all the spices (except cinnamon) in a tea sack in the pot. Serve within 3 hours of making.
This is an original recipe by Lydia. Swedish Punsch doesn’t taste like anything you’ve ever had. It tastes like a Dutch sailor’s grog from 300 years ago, with the snappy freshness of a daiquiri, but with more depth and lots of earthy spicy herbiness.
This is high proof for shelf life. If you can’t drink it all the first time around bottle and cork the stuff — it’ll keep in the refrigerator for months.
1 bottle Batavia Arak (available online at Drink Up NY)
1 bottle Aquavit (Krogstad or Linie)
20 oz ginger honey syrup**
20 oz lemon juice
20 oz orange juice
freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
Combine all ingredients well, and serve it cold or warmed over a low flame. Dilute with water just before serving: add 1 cup of water to the mix if serving warm, or 2 cups of ice if serving cold. Ladle cold punsch over ice, or warm punch straight, and grate nutmeg on top as an aromatic garnish.
**Combine 1 cup finely chopped fresh ginger, and 1 cup of water in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Add 2 cups of raw honey, turn off heat and stir. Let cool and strain well through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth.
Image research by Gijs van der Most.