House & Home

Give your New Year’s party a punch of flavor

A bowl of Warm Mulled Wine, created by Affäre bar manager Chelsea Almeida, nestles in a festive display. The glass dispenser sits atop a cake stand surrounded by evergreen branches, string lights, paper fans from Paper Source ($24.95 for several in multiple sizes) and brass candleholders from Pryde’s of Westport (three sizes: $19.99, $29.99, $39.99).
A bowl of Warm Mulled Wine, created by Affäre bar manager Chelsea Almeida, nestles in a festive display. The glass dispenser sits atop a cake stand surrounded by evergreen branches, string lights, paper fans from Paper Source ($24.95 for several in multiple sizes) and brass candleholders from Pryde’s of Westport (three sizes: $19.99, $29.99, $39.99). Photo by Allison Long,; styling by Gloria Gale

It’s time to ramp up the spirit for the inevitable countdown to the New Year. Kick off your shoes, raise a glass and prepare to dance on the table.

Forgo fancy food in favor of a potluck or easy rounds of appetizers. Then opt for a big bowl of help-yourself punch, the easiest way to avoid tending bar.

Punch actually has a long history far different from its often maligned frat house reputation.

Recipes were derived from an old East Indian alcohol formula with five ingredients: tea, spices, sugar, water and lemon. Stored in barrels known as “puncheons,” the formula, which gave rise to the term “drunken sailor,” eventually made its way to England in the 1770s and proliferated throughout Europe and across the pond.

Consider locating the main drink station in the dining or living room; few will then bother to congregate in the kitchen.

All eyes will be drawn to the centerpiece, in this case the punch bowl. Select something suitable for the occasion and find some easy and winning recipes here.

Bartender tips

To ensure sparkle from the carbonator — sparkling wine, seltzer water or soda — pour it in last. Mix all ingredients gently to ensure maximum fizz.

Caitlin Corcoran, bartender and general manager of champagne bar ÇaVa, gives a nod to punch for a crowd, explaining, “If the recipe is Champagne, you don’t have to use the most expensive. You can find sparkling wine like Domaine Collin or Segura Viudas for under $20. The cheaper the Champagne or sparkling wine, the sweeter, so keep that in mind if you prefer a drier punch.”

At Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, lead bartender Kenny Cohrs loves the nuances and textures in a hand-crafted cocktail. With punch, he thinks it’s a personal choice whether to use the most expensive products or something less pricey.

“We just batched cocktails for a large party using a rose Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, which is less expensive than high-end label Champagne,” Cohrs says.

Instead of sugar, which is difficult to dissolve, use simple syrup. Combine equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue cooking for one minute until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. Cool. One cup sugar and one cup water equals 1  1/3 cups simple syrup.

Corcoran likes to jazz up her simple syrup. “For layers of flavor, I’ll often use cinnamon, which lends a subtle aromatic note to the batch,” she says.

Cubed ice won’t cool the punch adequately because it melts quickly. Chill the punch bowl and all ingredients in the refrigerator before mixing. Use large blocks of ice or ice molds.

“An Igloo or Styrofoam container will keep the ice from dissolving and free up freezer space until ready to pour,” says Scott Tipton, beverage director for Bread and Butter Concepts.

Cohrs uses silicone molds for chilling drinks. “These cubes keep cold longer and won’t dilute the punch,” he says.

Depending on the size of your party, cold punch can be served in any bowl with a wide-rim opening.

Hot punch is best presented in a metal server or a heat-tempered bowl.

“Actually, the no-fuss way to keep hot punch warm is using an electric kettle or coffee urn,” Tipton advises.

Chelsea Almeida, lead bartender at Affäre restaurant, goes for the practical. “I’ve used a Crock-Pot — it’s not great-looking, but it does the job. One thing to be aware of: The heat magnifies alcohol, so adjust accordingly.”

Mulled or chilled, spiced and iced, punch is a delightful way to toast in the New Year.

Author, cocktail guru and historian David Wondrich writes in “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl”: “We expect a cocktail to be big and bold and concentrated in flavor. If you make a punch with the same intensity, it gets pretty cloying over time. The whole idea with punch is that it should be a little — well, not bland, but definitely subtle. You want your guests to be able to drink it to the bottom of the bowl. The best way to banish that cocktail expectation, I find, is to give people a real bowl of classic punch and let them work their way through it.”

King Harvest Punch

(Makes 18 servings)

1 bottle of J. Rieger Kansas City Whiskey

8 ounces Oloroso sherry

8 ounces Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur

4 lemons, sliced thinly, studded with cloves

Half a pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into rings

1  1/4 cups sugar or more to taste

6 cups water

Large ice block (freeze in large bowl overnight)

Edible flowers (optional)

Grated nutmeg

Combine the whiskey, sherry, apricot liqueur, lemons and pineapple in a large bowl and let sit overnight. Add sugar to water and add to batch, refrigerate at least one hour; add ice block and flowers for service and grate nutmeg on individual servings.

From Scott Tipton, beverage director for Bread and Butter Concepts

Warm Mulled Wine

Makes 10-12 servings

2 bottles red Burgundy wine

1 sliced orange

2 tablespoons cloves

6 cinnamon sticks

1 cup brandy

1/2 cup dry Curacao

3 or 4 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker on low for about an hour to blend flavors. Pour into a glass container to serve. Strain out fruit and spices to keep flavors from getting too jammy.

From Chelsea Almeida, bar manager at Affare

Sparkling Rum Punch

1 pint anise/cinnamon simple syrup (recipe below)

1 pint fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 bottle (750 milliliters) dark Jamaican style rum; I used Plantation Original Dark

3 pints cold water

1 bottle (750 milliliters) sparkling white wine; I used Segura Viudas Spanish Cava

Prepare the anise/cinnamon syrup by combining 1 pint of water, 1 pint organic raw sugar, 1 handful of star anise and half a dozen cinnamon sticks in a pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until volume reduces to 1 pint. Strain solids and chill.

Stir together simple syrup, lemon juice, rum and cold water in a punch bowl. Add Cava just before service.

From Kenny Cohrs, lead bartender at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar