The Perfect Pre-Party Punch

Jim Wrigley give us advice on how to create the perfect pre-party tipple. 

Christmas and delicious mixed beverages go hand in hand, and within the mulled wines, nogs and toddies the punch rests above them all like mistletoe over an doorway. The punch becomes the hub of a gathering; a topic for conversation (and a spur for interaction); a welcome sight for an arriving guest and a farewell glass for those heading out into the cold.

Recipes may be simple at base, but a minor addition or variation in proportion and you have a totally different drink. ‘Secret’ ingredients and handed-down family recipes abound.

Don’t like rum? Use gin!
Something different? Pisco or tequila!

Indeed, it is not just the flavours of a well-made punch that keep one asking for more, but also the practicality and versatility of the drink.

Punches once mixed may be heated for carollers or chilled for revellers – It’s also easy to substitute apple or cranberry juices for alcohol to create a non-alcoholic version for the drivers, pregnant guests or wee ones.

The traditional punch even has its own song as a mnemonic:

One of sour,
Two of sweet,
Three of strong
Four of weak
(‘Spice’ or bitters for the fifth ingredient)

While traditional, this is often a little sweet, so I have prepared the below recipe which, while perfect as a median, can be happily and easily adjusted to taste.

Any fruits using in preparation should be kept for garnishing the glass or bowl, or can be dehydrated for an extra rustic touch.

The Perfect Pre-Party Punch

Perfect Party Punch
Serves 10-20 (Increase or decrease proportionate to requirements)

1 Bottle (700ml) Brandy
Nothing too fancy, Spanish is perfect as it is rich and woody

1 Bottle (700ml) Rum
Heavier rums such as Appleton from Jamaica, El Dorado from Guyana are best for full flavours, but lighter rums or a mix of the two are also more than fine.

1 bottle (700ml) Port
LBV for colour and flavour

1 litre lemon juice & peel
Fresh is best - 48 hours max. Peel the lemons first and add to the mix overnight.

1 litre sugar syrup
Darker sugar = richer punch. I recommend Billington’s unrefined sugar. One part sugar to one part hot (Not boiling!) water. Stir until clear.

2 litres spiced apple juice
Warm in a pan: 2 cinnamon sticks,10 cloves, ½ nutmeg (grated), 3 star anise, 2g rainbow peppercorns. Once the spices start to smoke lightly, add 2 litres pressed apple juice and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain.

10 dashes Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients together and leave to rest in the fridge overnight. Keep a little sugar syrup and lemon juice for last minutes adjustment to taste.

Add a couple of litres to a good sized punchbowl surrounded with waiting vessels and a ladle. Just before guests arrive add ice to fill the bowl and garnishes, then stir and serve. As the bowl dips below halfway, add another litre of punch mix and fill with fresh ice and garnishes.

As an added extra touch, I wait until a few close friends have arrived and make a show of tasting the punch with them, before popping a bottle of bubbles and adding it to the awaiting punch to ‘liven’ the first batch and kick start the celebrations!

(To serve warm, simply heat in a pan until too hot to touch – small mugs are better for gloved hands to grasp. )