I have developed a bit of a reputation when it comes to punch. I, personally, describe my punches as, “classic,” and “quaffable.” Others describe it as “deadly.”
The thing with punch is that it’s supposed to, well, pack a punch. The traditional formula for punch is: high-proof spirit, sugar, citrus, spice, and water. A traditional punch is opulent in its use of booze, to say the very least.
But, just in case you want your holiday party guests still standing at the end of the night (and I know you do), there are ways to hew to tradition while keeping the alcohol content of your punch lower. The key is to focus on low-proof spirits for building your punch, rather than the typical players like rum, brandy, or gin.
Just like when you are making low-proof cocktails, in a low-proof punch you can exploit the wonderful and unique flavors of sherry, cider, vermouth, bittersweet aperitifs (like Aperol, Campari, Lillet, Cocchi Americano), and wine. Thinking of these as building blocks to mix-and-match will keep your low-proof punch from falling into the trap of trying to elongate your punch by using a little spirit and a lot of fruit juices. This therefore also avoids your punch tasting like liquefied Smarties rather than something proper.
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My favorite approach is to take a page from the playbook of the spritz, which commonly combines a still or sparkling wine with a bittersweet aperitif, and sometimes a splash of soda to open up the flavor. All of these elements work beautifully in a punch, especially if you bolster the flavor and volume with some citrus juice, tea, or other interesting flavorings.
I recently created a punch I’m calling the Velour Parkour (long story) from a handful of low-proof ingredients I happened to have in my fridge. The combination of sherry, Cappelletti (a rich, red Italian aperitif), and cava is basically a negroni sbagliato with more obscure ingredients. (As a side note, a big batch negroni sbagliato, while not quite following the tenets of a traditional punch, makes a great low-alcohol-by-volume holiday cocktail.) Then I added blood orange juice to brighten everything up and contrast with the velvety flavors of the sherry and Cappelletti. It’s a festive color, sparkly, and not too much higher in alcohol than a glass of wine.
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (www.vikredistillery.com), where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.