Small-Batch Holiday Punches Keep the Spirit Alive and the Spirits Flowing
The 2020 holiday season, like so many other aspects of this year, won't look quite like any version we've experienced before. For one thing, those who love to host festive gatherings at their homes will likely find their guest lists limited by necessity and safety. You may narrow it to only a few trusted family and friends, those in your quarantine pod.
Sure, that may feel disappointing to those who enjoy big parties buzzing with energy, but on the bright side, a smaller fête gives hosts the opportunity to get more creative than usual with their menus, both in terms of food and drink.
This year, try abandoning the big punch bowl-style cocktails of the past and instead whip up a miniature supply of a few distinct punch bases, which guests can then customize to their liking with spirits and garnishes.
Wondering where to start? Read on for a few simple pieces of advice (and a few holiday-perfect flavor profiles well worth considering).
Why Small-Batch Punches Are the Best Holiday Party Choice
By offering a selection of different bases and a few different spirits, you'll provide your quarantine pod with an endlessly customizable drinking experience.
The fewer people you have at a get-together, the more flexibility you have with your menu planning. Cooking and bartending for large groups requires a certain level of restraint and expedience; with limited time and limited resources, you need to focus on efficiency, sometimes to the detriment of flavor. But making party cocktails for a small group of friends allows you to invest more time and attention on each libation, and your punches can benefit from more carefully selected ingredients.
To set up an easy punch station, your best bet involves pre-mixing "punch bases," also known as combinations of juice, sweeteners, herbs, and/or sodas. You can then make the bases available to your guests, along with garnishes (like fruit slices, berries, and herb leaves) and an assortment of spirits.
Making punches for small groups gives you plenty of choices for serving styles and portioning.
Giant, open punch bowls with ladles could easily prompt concerns from guests who'd rather avoid any possibility of germ transmission. Luckily, hosts have plenty of other choices for punch-serving vessels that keep the liquids contained and reduce airborne contact.
You could pre-portion the punch bases into Mason jars ($23/6 pack; amazon.com) and offer each person their own jar, where they can add the spirits and garnishes of their choices.
If you prefer the communal vibes of a punch bowl, a standing beverage dispenser ($29; amazon.com) with a spigot can be easily purchased online. But keep hand sanitizer nearby for guests to clean up after pouring.
In the case of a very small group whose preferences you can accurately guess, you could pick up some drink pouch and straw sets ($17/100-piece set; amazon.com) and add both the punch base and the spirits to these containers, resulting in spiked juice box-like treats.
Cranberry Juice + Simple Syrup + Lime juice + Lime + Seltzer + Mint
The taste of cranberries claims a long-standing connection to the holiday season, making a cranberry-based punch mix an appropriate pick for a holiday gathering. A blend of real cranberry juice (rather than cranberry juice cocktail), lime juice, muddled mint leaves, simple syrup, and lime seltzer lets you customize your base's sweetness while still taking advantage of these complementary seasonal flavors.
Pomegranate Juice + Grapefruit Juice + Ginger Beer + Simple Syrup
For a punch inspired by warmer weather fruit flavors, give this formula a shot. It focuses on pomegranate juice squeezed from a fruit that's in-season during the late autumn. The balance of tartness and sweetness in the pomegranate collaborates well with tart grapefruit juice and spicy ginger beer, and simple syrup can be added as needed to mellow out the sour notes.
Apple Cider + Lemon Juice + Cinnamon + Ginger Ale
Because apple cider's association with fall and winter holidays spans generations, it's both a tasty and nostalgic beverage for any holiday party. The rich apple flavor of an artisanal, small-batch cider will be heightened by the addition of lemon juice, and both cinnamon and ginger ale give this punch an overall profile reminiscent of apple pie.
Black Tea + Honey + Allspice + Clove
Cooler temperatures call for hot cocktails, and the "hot toddy" is a classic for good reason. This spin on the traditional toddy includes black tea, which makes a strong canvas for extra flavors like honey, allspice, and clove. Keep this punch base in a teapot over low heat on the stove, and invite your guests to serve themselves.