It’s true that nothing quite captures the spirit of the season like a large-format, Champagne-topped punch, and today’s renditions—which borrow from that classic, heavily riffed-upon drink category—run the gamut from traditional, high-octane examples to low-proof variations.
Historically built on an arrack base, both historic and modern punches tend to incorporate a variety of spirits from gin to Cognac, often combining several into one drink. Today, too, many bartenders are testing the limits of the classic template, adding nontraditional ingredients to the original formula. Erin Ashford’s bourbon- and brandy-based Parlour Room Punch, for example, gets topped with sparkling rosé, while Ryan Casey’s “Hot” Apple Punch gets a dose of heat by way of ginger liqueur and habanero bitters. Add to that a generous hit of both whiskey and rum, and Casey’s is a thoroughly modern—and highly potent—addition to the canon.
A number of other bartenders opt for low(ish)-proof recipes that take inspiration from existing cocktails; Robby Nelson’s French 75 Punch, for one, is simply a batched version of the gin-based classic—finished with a few dashes of absinthe “for good measure.” Kathleen Hawkins’ Plum Royale likewise borrows from the classic Kir Royale, combining crème de cassis with plum shrub and topping it all with Champagne and orange bitters.
Hewing most closely to tradition are punches from bartenders Xavier Herit and Dale DeGroff, who each incorporate both Cognac and Champagne—two central ingredients in the classic Regent Punch. Whereas Herit calls on cumin-scented kümmel and tart raspberry puree for his Red Rooster Punch, a rose-hued version garnished with lemon wheels, DeGroff’s Classic Champagne Punch works in a slew of fresh fruit (pineapple, orange, grapefruit and lemon), plus Bénédictine and maraschino liqueur. Adapted from a popular 20th-century recipe, this most classic of punches proves that there’s something truly timeless about the marriage of two of the world’s best known celebratory drinks.