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Hot and cold punches to make for your next holiday gathering

Five recipes, and lots of tips, for perfecting a festive batch cocktail.

The punch bowl may not be the wedding registry staple it once was, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be crafting punches at home. Especially around the holidays.

Usually referred to as “batch cocktails” these days, we’re talking party drinks you can make for a group of people. If you’ve ever had the idea to make craft cocktails for your guests and then regretted it halfway through the second cocktail shaker session, you know that mixing everything in a large vessel and putting out some empty cups is a much easier way to entertain.

But there’s a reason most punch recipes from back in the day involve little more than a spirit and a bottle of Sprite: Cocktails for a group can’t always be scaled up from smaller recipes, and there’s an art to making something balanced and sippable.

In November, Hendrick’s Gin brand ambassador Seb Derbomez was in Tampa to host a Hot Gin Punch Cocktail Tournament at CW’s Gin Joint. We caught up with him by phone after the event to get tips for crafting a worthy holiday punch at home.

The beauty of a punch, Derbomez said, is that you free yourself up to interact and enjoy your guests, as opposed to being stuck in the kitchen.

“Making one drink for someone is fun, but when it gets to 10, it gets a little crazy," he said. "It even happens to me.”

For a party, consider something spirit forward but not too boozy.

“You could make a giant punch bowl of a martini if you like, but that’s not going to help anyone,” Derbomez said.

It starts with five key ingredients, according to Derbomez: strong, weak, spice, sour and sweet.

The strong is your liquor, and gin is a good one for punches, able to work well with lots of flavors yet still able to bring its own aromatic notes to the bowl.

The weak is your liqueurs, something like St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur. This element should add another layer of flavor without being too boozy. The spice is something like tea, or whole nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon sticks.

For sour, think citrus like lemon, lime and grapefruit, something acidic. And balance that out with something sweet, like sugar turned into a simple syrup, or honey or maple syrup.

Local beverage consultant Dean Hurst likes to start his batch cocktails with something called an oleo-saccharum, which is when you peel citrus and then let it marinate with sugar to pull out the flavorful oils. It’s a quick way to get to those components Derbomez outlined.

Derbomez said it’s important to treat the punch as its own creation, and not merely double the entire recipe. In general, that can work, but there are certain things like bitters or spices that won’t translate. Add a little to start with, then add a little bit more as you go.

“You’ve got a lot of flexibility with batch cocktails. Taste it as you go,” Derbomez said. “There is always room to make it sweeter or more sour. It’s much easier to control than one cocktail.”

He shared a story about a time he made a hot punch for 60 people. He figured he could double a recipe of his that served 25 to 30 people. But he didn’t think about the white pepper.

“When you’re adding heat, it can go exponential,” he said. “So we doubled the white pepper, and it really was hot. That was really hard to correct.”

Consider presenting your punch like the work of art it is. Place it in a see-through vessel that shows off its colors. Load up on the garnishes, fresh fruits like red berries and fresh leafy herbs.

“Get creative,” Derbomez said. “With something red, I recommend wheels of lemon. And add some greenery right to the punch, basil or mint. It’s going to look fresh and beautiful and it’ll smell delicious, too.”

For cold punches, both Derbomez and Hurst recommend creating giant ice blocks that can slowly melt and permeate the punch, as opposed to using smaller ice cubes that will melt faster and water the punch down.

“Fill a bowl or large container with ice the night before your party, and freeze them,” Derbomez said. “Add one giant cube to the punch before serving, and it will last a lot longer. No one wants an overdiluted drink.”

Don’t want to mess with ice? Consider a warm punch for this time of year.

Derbomez finds the traditional eggnog-type drinks a bit too rich, and urges home cooks to look outside those creamy drinks. He prefers something like a mulled wine, drawing on his experience growing up in the south of France, next to Spain, and drinking lots of white sangria.

To create what became his Hippocras Punch recipe, he started playing around with gin in a warm white punch, combining the liquor with some white wine, spices and chamomile tea. He grew fond of cooked pineapple while living in Australia, and worked that into the punch, too. White pepper came next, to balance that sweetness.

“I’ve been using this recipe for six or seven years, especially for parties,” he said. “It’s my go-to.”

For home cooks, he recommends serving a warm punch shortly after making it, as you don’t want to boil the concoction for too long, because the alcohol will cook out.

“If you can’t serve it right away and want to keep it warm, you can put your stovetop over low heat and leave it in the pot with a lid on to avoid evaporation,” he said.

Placing a vessel on top of a soup warmer works, too. But ideally, you want your guests to drink it before you have to worry about it getting cold. With these recipes, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Hurst likes to use Whitley Neill Gin, the original or quince version, when crafting the cocktails below that call for gin. Derbomez prefers Hendrick’s Gin.

Hot Gin Punch

1 cup demerara sugar

1 cup lemon juice

2 cups gin

2 cups sherry, fino or amontillado

Peels from 1 orange

Peels from 1 lemon

3 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

Whole nutmeg, for serving

Add sugar and lemon juice to a saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients. Increase heat to medium and allow to heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Taste and add water if too strong.

Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Serve in tea or punch cups.

Makes 15 (3-ounce) servings.

Source: Dean Hurst

The Hippocras Punch

The Hippocras Punch, a batch cocktail.
The Hippocras Punch, a batch cocktail. [ Courtesy of Hendrick's Gin ]

1 liter white wine, something dry and fruity

350 milliliters gin

250 milliliters chamomile tea

Half a pineapple, finely chopped

1 cup granulated sugar

3 cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

4 orange peels

1 teaspoon white pepper

Fresh mint leaves, for serving

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Pour into a teapot and serve while hot in teacups. Garnish with mint leaves.

Source: Sebastien Derbomez

Raspberry Gin Punch

Raspberry Gin Punch
Raspberry Gin Punch [ Courtesy of Whitley Neill ]

1 cup Raspberry Syrup (recipe below)

1 cup lemon juice

2 cups gin

2 cups prosecco

Fresh berries, thinly sliced lemons and mint sprigs, for serving

Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl. Taste and water down if necessary.

Garnish with fresh berries, thinly sliced lemons and mint sprigs. Refrigerate until serving. Serve with or without ice.

Makes 18 (3-ounce) servings.

Source: Dean Hurst

Raspberry Syrup

1 cup fresh raspberries

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

Add berries to a bowl, then smash. Add sugar, mix and set aside for 30 minutes.

Warm the water in a saucepan (don’t boil) and pour into the bowl. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Strain in a fine mesh strainer to remove solids.

Makes about 2 ½ cups of syrup.

Source: Dean Hurst

Classic Punch

6 ounces granulated sugar

Peel from 3 lemons

6 ounces lemon juice

750 milliliters cognac, whiskey or dark rum

4 to 5 cups water

¼ whole nutmeg, freshly grated

In a punch bowl or other large serving vessel, muddle sugar and lemon peel together to release oils from lemon. Let sit for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, muddle again, then add lemon juice. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Add spirit and stir. Add water, taste punch and add more or less depending on your preference.

Add a couple of handfuls of ice to vessel just before serving. Ladle into a cocktail glass or holiday mug. Grate nutmeg over top.

Source: Adapted from Punch by David Wondrich

Rum Punch

2 cups strong black tea, freshly brewed

½ cup demerara sugar

½ cup lime juice

2 cups aged rum

Whole nutmeg

While tea is still warm, add to a punch bowl or large serving vessel. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Let cool slightly.

Add lime juice and rum. Stir and taste for balance. Add water if it’s too strong; more rum if it’s too weak.

Add a couple of handfuls of ice to vessel just before serving. Ladle into a cocktail glass or holiday mug. Grate nutmeg over top.

Source: Adapted from David Wondrich