Traditionally built on a hefty spirit base such as rum or arrack, punch bears the well-earned reputation for being the potent centerpiece of many holiday parties. But swapping the base for something lower-proof allows for multiple rounds (a holiday gathering must) without the risk of overindulgence (a holiday gathering pitfall). As it happens, the staples of the low-proof cocktail canon—wine, cider, vermouth, sherry—play ever-so-nicely with the quintessential flavors of the season.
Take the See Way Punch, wherein Caitlin Laman hews closely to the traditional five-ingredient punch formula but trades the spirit for a mix of manzanilla sherry and sweet vermouth, resulting in a slightly spiced, low-ABV recipe that gets crowned with Cava for good measure. The Donna Brutta from Barnacle in Seattle is similarly built on a base of sherry (this time, the nutty amontillado), plus cranberry liqueur, Byrrh and a splash of soda—a simple, last-minute solution to, really, any problem.
Out in San Francisco, Thad Vogler of Bar Agricole leans on a base of red wine to keep ABV down in his Queen Charlotte Punch, to which he adds a double dose of citrus, housemade raspberry syrup and sparkling water, while low-proof kings Paul Calvert and Greg Best of Atlanta’s Ticonderoga Club double down on fall with their Poor Richard, which features dry cider and cranberry cordial alongside Italian vermouth, lemon juice and freshly grated nutmeg.
Jim Kearns at New York’s Slowly Shirley takes a similar approach with his Slow Down Shirley, cutting a small dose of Jersey Lightning with cranberry liqueur, lemon and ginger juice, for a rich seasonal punch with a kick that won’t knock you out.