Party season is fast approaching, with three days until December, and with it the stress of party planning. From potlucks to posh dinner parties, enough pressure is placed on meticulous meal prep that some leniency when it comes to (and in the form of) booze is a welcome relief.

Look no further than an ingenious answer to the holiday season that has been around for time immemorial: punch. A means to serve a delicious, potent cocktail to a large number of people, this classic solves demanding December woes with ease and grace. Antique bowls (find them at flea markets, antique stores or on sites such as Etsy and eBay) are a simple, striking way to add drama and act as a beautiful centrepiece.

Punch gets its name from the Hindu paanch, meaning five, in honour of its necessary components of sweet, sour, alcohol, water and spice. If the word “punch” conjures memories of high school proms or bland office Christmas parties, there is an underlying, sophisticated saga behind the drink. While the first appearance of the cocktail dates back to the late 18th century, punch was around as early as 1632, when the first pilgrims were settling in New England.

David Wondrich, in Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl explains that the very craft of cocktailing, on which libraries of books and schools of philosophy centre, descended from punch-making. He also speaks of when he first made punch. Familiar with cocktailing and its disgust for dilution, the spirits historian cut back “the seemingly excessive amounts of water the recipes called for. The result, of course, was chaos”. You have been warned.

Here is a failsafe recipe from our head mixologist to get you through the holidays with minimal tears and general merriment. Plus, no-one will notice if a few ladlefuls go missing while you’re prepping the entrée.

  1. As we discovered last week, ice makes all the difference. Punch calls for a large block for slow melting, and if you want to invest in a Hoshizaki like the pros, be our guest. Otherwise, use mineral water frozen into spheres, cubes, or, you know, giant koi carp if that’s what floats your boat. Prepare this a few days in advance so it’s ready to go.
  2. When it comes to booze, get the good stuff. No-one wants to relive the aforementioned prom or frat party where paint stripper fails to be masked by saccharine cordials. This recipe calls for the following:

-300ml Port wine (Graham’s is good)

-130ml Falernum, such as Bitter Truth

-100 ml Orgeat (you can use Amaretto, but you’ll probably notice the difference)

-300ml freshly squeezed orange juice (approx. 2-4 medium oranges)

-100ml freshly squeezed lime juice (approx. 4 limes)

  1. Mix all ingredients, then taste. If you feel it needs more or less sweetness (fresh fruit can of course vary), tweak as necessary. Taste again, just in case.
  2. Set your (thoroughly washed and dried) punchbowl in place. Artfully arrange your cups and ladle.
  3. Pour in your ingredients one by one, cover with cling film until your guests arrive and set aside. Rejoice in not having to sacrifice precious fridge space.
  4. A few minutes before that inevitable early guest shows up, add your ice.
  5. Consume responsibly. Avoid next-day shame and regret by watching this handy how-to, and as recommended, “DO drink the punch. But proceed with caution”.

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