'Tis The Season For Punch

 In Food

ALIVE_November_p084-1Once again the holidays are upon us. It’s that festive time of year when friends and family gather around the crackling fire or a table overloaded with tasty dishes. But these picturesque scenes don’t occur without effort. For some, they involve a fair amount of stress behind the scenes before their guests make merry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have a few tips up my sleeve for making an important component of your seasonal soirees less work and more fun. I’m referring, of course, to the drinks.

Batch it instead of spending the evening behind the bar doling out cocktails one at a time, think big: Prepare batches ahead of time so you can enjoy your own party. Essentially, you take the recipe for the individual cocktail you want to serve and scale up by multiplying each component by the number of total servings you want to end up with.

But there’s a catch: Some ingredients, like citrus juices and bitters, can become much more pronounced when mixed up in larger quantities. It’s hard to bring cocktails back from the brink when they’re too sour or when the bitters have been overused, so if your recipe calls for bitters or citrus, take the scaled-up quantity you calculated and reduce it by 25 percent or so. Then, when you mix up the batch, taste it—if it needs more acidity, add the juice incrementally. Same thing for bitters: Add them sparingly and see how it goes.

And don’t forget the water. Proper drinks need to be diluted a bit, so make sure to add water to your creation. Start with about 20 percent of the total volume of the batch and add more as needed. The most important thing is to constantly taste as you go to get a good idea of how your concoction is shaping up. Serve it once you have your creation tasting like you want it to, it’s time to serve it up.

One of the easiest ways is to set out pitchers, so your guests can just pour and go. Another option is to use a dispenser with a spout—the kind you see at picnics and barbecues full of water or lemonade. These usually come in glass or plastic varieties and can be found at big-box retailers around town.

My favorite way to present batch drinks, though, is in a punch bowl. Once upon a time, every family had at least one punch bowl—it was a standard piece of household equipment. Although they might not be de rigueur nowadays, you can still find them in stores. Better yet, there are plenty of them to be found secondhand, along with punch cups to accompany them. Sift through local antique galleries and thrift stores, and you’re sure to come up with some that fit your budget. Remember, vintage just means something has some age on it; it doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different punch cups either. Having a variety of styles lends a bit of quirk to your presentation.

Looking for a fun theme for your next seasonal shindig? My wife, Beth, and I have hosted progressive punch parties with great success. These events are fun, interactive and require little effort once the prep work of making the punches is done.

What I’m drinking now: stouts
Now that the chill of the season has settled in, you’ll find me imbibing plenty of stouts. One of my local favorites is Schlafly’s Coffee Stout, one of the brewery’s core seasonal beers, which is released in November and runs through March.

Progressive Punch Party

Step One
Hit up your favorite secondhand store and pick up several punch bowls.

Step Two
Decide on a selection of punches, making sure to use a variety of flavors so each one is distinct.

Step Three
For the party itself, place bowls in various rooms around the house.

Step Four
When guests arrive, give them their own punch cup—add wine charms to them just in case the cup is put down and forgotten about—then just have them meander around the house, tasting as they go. These types of parties are an excellent way to get people out of their shells and moving and mingling. It’s also a good idea to set out a pitcher or dispenser of water so your guests can keep properly hydrated during all the merriment.

This story appeared in the November 2015 issue. 

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