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Christmas Cocktails, Part I: Punch

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Punch season is upon us. I’ve been to a half-dozen holiday parties so far this year, and at each one a punch bowl made a guest appearance. This isn’t proof that the year-round punch service trend (see our January ’08 issue) has trickled down into our homes; punch is as much of a Christmas tradition as holly boughs and drunken Santas. As Wall Street Journal drinks columnist Eric Felton points out in his awesome new book (stuff it in your favorite cocktail-lover’s stocking), “For Dickens, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a steaming bowl of punch.” When a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge makes amends with Bob Cratchit, his final reparation is a ladle-full of Bishop, a warm, port-based punch popular in 18th- and 19th-century England (Felton’s book contains two versions of the recipe)—essentially what we’ve come to call “mulled wine.”

At my own holiday parties, I too like to greet guests with a mug of mulled wine: It’s my way of saying “Welcome to my home. Here, defrost your hands, inhale some Christmas nostalgia, and get working on that buzz.” The first glass is usually appreciated, but I can’t remember a single guest ever asking for a second. Why? Because it’s hot wine. No matter how you gussy it up, wine—good wine, at least—is best drunk at much lower temperatures. Same goes for beer: Another punch mentioned in A Christmas Carol is waissail, a bowl of hot ale swimming with roasted apples. I’d rather do shots with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

With this in mind, I developed two chilled, wine-based punches for the Ray Isle's essential Holiday Wine Survival Guide in our December issue. (In the story we call them “pitcher drinks.” Pitcher or punch bowl, there’s no difference.) A third, slightly more complicated punch was left on the cutting room floor. It’s about as Christmasy as punch gets. I hope Dickens would agree.

Plum Pudding Cocktail

8 servings
One 750ml bottle Zinfandel
3/4 cup Becherovka (a cinnamon- and anise-flavored Czech liqueur)
3/4 cup Spiced Plum Syrup, recipe follows
3/4 cup Cointreau
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Orange twists, for garnish
In a pitcher or punch bowl, stir together the wine, Becherovka, plum syrup, Cointreau and lemon juice. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Stir again and strain into punch glasses. Garnish each glass with an orange twist.

Spiced Plum Syrup
1/2 cup plum jam
1 cup water
6 cloves
10 allspice berries, crushed
In a small saucepan, bring all of the ingredients to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain.

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