When someone mentions “punch,” the image that often pops into people’s minds is a bowl brimming with sticky-sweet, Sprite-spritzed, alcohol-spiked liquid. If clumps of frozen raspberry sherbet in a high-octane whirlpool—disintegrating into ooze that looks a lot like pink pond scum—completes your picture, you know what I mean.
Punch doesn’t have to be like that. The drink is thought to have originated in India; Englishmen in the East India Trading Company in the 17th century mentioned it on their travels. The potent refresher was quickly adopted by sailors because it was easy to mix from ingredients they already had aboard the ship.
Punch is the founder of the modern-day cocktail: as a mixed drink it predates the daiquiri, margarita, Cosmopolitan and more. Although punch’s heyday has fizzled with the advent of other spirited options, according to The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails, the concoction is “an efficient way of getting a well-mixed drink into the hands of a crowd as quickly as possible,” making it useful to have a few reliable recipes for entertaining at home.
The Kress Cinema & Lounge (Greeley) mixes a holiday punch they sometimes serve for New Year’s Eve. A riff on the classic French 75, it’s easy to make at home.
1 1/2 cups gin or cognac
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup simple syrup (equal parts hot water to sugar by weight)
3 cups dry champagne or sparkling wine
Combine liquor, lemon juice and simple syrup in punch bowl, stir and refrigerate up to 24 hours before serving. Pour champagne into punch just before serving; stir gently. Add a large block of ice to bowl and ladle punch into small glasses. Garnish with lemon wheels.
This recipe for Cranberry Daiquiris for a Crowd celebrates the tart cranberry, a feature of winter holiday tables for over a century.
Before that, the red berries were mixed with dried meat to make pemmican, a Native American and fur trade staple because of its portability. The cranberry daiquiri honors the history and tradition of this fruit with a robust cocktail.
1 bag fresh cranberries, washed
3 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups water
6 cinnamon sticks
3 1/2 tablespoons grated orange peel
3 1/2 cups light rum
Dissolve sugar in water in large saucepan over medium heat. Add cinnamon sticks and grated orange peel, bring to boil. Gently mix in cranberries and cook until they begin to pop but retain their shape. Cool and discard cinnamon. Pour mixture into storage container. Add light rum, chill and strain syrup into large pitcher, reserving cranberries.
For daiquiri mix:
(8 3/4 cups each of the following):
Combine ingredients in a large punchbowl. Add a block of ice and serve immediately in martini glasses filled with crushed ice and garnish with reserved cranberries.
Makes 42 cocktails. Can be refrigerated for later use.
COCKTAILS WITH A BITE
If tasting your liquor is part of the experience, tequila, mezcal, bourbon, rye and aquavit are in your wheelhouse.
Luna’s Tacos & Tequila (Greeley) mixes a mezcal old fashioned with Oaxacan flavors. Made with aged Arette tequila and mezcal, the drink has a smokey flavor.
For a classic take on the old fashioned, The Cache at Ginger and Baker (Fort Collins) stirs a spirited and spunky version with Old Elk bourbon, bitters and simple syrup garnished with an orange rind and a Luxardo cherry.
Change up an old fashioned at Social (Fort Collins) with their Marble Rye, with rye whiskey, Bénédictine, Punt e Mes, Cynar and toasted caraway bitters.
For a cocktail with northern flavors, aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit distilled from potatoes or grains but has an earthier character than similar spirits (like vodka) because it’s infused with caraway or dill seeds and assorted botanicals chosen by the distiller. Its name is a derivation of the Latin aqua vitae—water of life—and purportedly has healing qualities.
You can substitute aquavit for gin in a classic Negroni—equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Or shake up a Breck Into Song, a riff on an Aquavit Sour developed by certified sommelier Stephanie Davis. The drink features Breckenridge Distillery aquavit, a clean aromatic spirit with eucalyptus, dried orange peel, caraway and licorice notes.
1 1/2 oz. Breckenridge aquavit
1/4 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 dashes of Angostura bitters mint sprig, spanked (to release aromatic oils)
Combine all ingredients except spanked mint in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with mint. Makes one cocktail.
FLUFFY and FESTIVE
The holidays are all about dressing up to glitter and shine. When you’re primped and polished, putting a fluffy-topped drink in your hand completes the picture.
Delicately floral with a deep blue color, Empress 1908 gin is handcrafted in small-batch copper pot stills by Victoria Distillers in British Columbia. The famous Fairmont Empress Hotel tea blend paired with dried butterfly pea blossoms gives the gin its color. Notes of juniper, rose, coriander seed, grapefruit peel, ginger and cinnamon create a subtle nose of flirtatious mystery, mirroring the roses in Victoria’s beautiful Butchart Gardens.
Butterfly pea blossoms are seemingly magical color-shifters. When mixed with citrus or tonic, the deep indigo becomes lavender or glowing pink.
A gin sour cocktail made with Empress 1908 makes the evening magically marvelous.
2 oz. Empress 1908
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1 (pasteurized) egg white
Combine in cocktail shaker without ice and shake hard. Open shaker and add ice and shake until well chilled. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with an edible flower.
For a sour version with heft, order The Ambassador at Ace Gillett’s (Fort Collins). A coupe filled with amaretto, bourbon, lemon juice, sugar and egg white lends an elegant note to a holiday soirée.
Science note: Egg whites in cocktails add a decadently silky mouthfeel to cocktails like sours. When shaken correctly, the egg white adds a frothy head to a drink. Ingredients are first shaken without ice—a dry shake—to create the foam. The cocktail is then shaken with ice, strained and poured into either an old fashioned glass or coupe. The egg white floats to the top.
Emily Kemme is a Colorado food writer who prizes sour cocktails because she gets too absorbed chatting at parties to eat.