They’re baaack. Big-bowl batches of the good stuff have made a resurgence just in time for the holidays, promising to give your mother’s sherbet fizz a serious run for its money. Sorry, Ma.
It’s Entertaining 101: Be ready for the onslaught of guests and good cheer by prepping in advance as much as humanly possible. Dig out that punchbowl you got as a wedding gift, mix up a big batch — using only primo ingredients, beginning with the freshest fruits, spices, teas, and juices — and keep reinforcements cold in the fridge or hot on the stove as appropriate. You’ll get extra points for inventive “punchbergs” (large-form molded ice rings), antique punch ladles, and creative glassware, because holiday punch is all about the “Wow!” factor. We talked to some of the biggest names in Chicago mixology to bring you their go-to punch recipes and stories. Here are four can’t-miss options for a very happy holiday season.
Miss Van’s Virtue
Courtesy of Freddie Sarkis, The Gwen
Sarkis is a fixture of the Chicago cocktail scene, having opened Sable Kitchen & Bar, developed Celeste’s cocktail program, and helped launch Chicago’s Broken Shaker. He’s a big fan of a sparkling punch. “Bubbles are always a great way to celebrate anything!” says Sarkis. This particular punch pays homage to Miss Van, an internationally renowned street artist. It pairs well with food, but easily stands on its own. It’s like a fizzy and smoky apple margarita, and that’s a very good thing. Makes 6-8 servings
- 4 ounces Cazadores Tequila Blanco
- 2 ounces Mezcal Vida
- 2 ounces St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- 6 ounces each fresh apple juice and agave syrup
- 7 ounces lime juice
- 5 dashes each orange and lavender bitters
- 1 bottle of prosecco
- Garnish: apple slices
Build (add each ingredient in order) in punch bowl or champagne bucket over ice, omitting prosecco, and then stir. Pour in the entire bottle of prosecco, leaving the bottle upside-down in the bowl for maximum effect. Garnish with apple slices.
Courtesy of Benjamin Schiller, The Sixth
“Punches give your guests a common conversation topic,” says Schiller, who named this hot holiday tipple for his great-grandmother Askeline. “They provide a natural gathering place and allow the host to display a bit of creativity.” Makes 1 quart, can be scaled up
- 10 ounces Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
- 10 ounces Cruzan Black Strap Rum
- 5 ounces Emilio Lustau Oloroso Dry Sherry
- 2 1/2 ounces Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
- 2 1/2 ounces demerara syrup (made with equal parts demerara sugar and water)
- 2 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
- 5 dashes each orange and angostura bitters
- Garnish: orange slices, toasted cinnamon, and whole star anise
Combine all ingredients, then pour into a large bowl with a single large ice centerpiece (the “punchberg!”) and garnish with fresh orange slices, toasted cinnamon, and star anise. For extra credit on the punchberg, freeze any of the garnishes inside.
Warming Holiday Punch
Courtesy of Amit Gilad, GreenRiver
“The holidays embody feelings of warmth, comfort and home,” says Gilad. “This spiced punch is a liquid interpretation of those characteristics.” Makes 10 servings
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
- Peeled zest of 1 orange
- 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 15 ounces Calvados
- 5 ounces Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
- 2 ounces Nocino della Cristina Walnut Liqueur
- 2 quarts + 1 cup hot, freshly brewed tea (try Earl Grey or chamomile)
- Garnish: orange peel, apple slices, and cinnamon sticks
In a medium pot, combine cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, and orange peel and lightly toast for two to three minutes. Add the apples and sugar and stir for one more minute. Combine the Calvados, Domain de Canton, and Nocino and pour into the pot. This will create a flambé, and the apples will start to caramelize. After a minute or so of flambé action, add the hot tea and stir for one minute. Transfer the punch into a heat-resistant punch bowl and garnish with orange peel, apple slices, and cinnamon sticks.
Raspberry Brandy Milk Punch
Courtesy of Jan Henrichsen, Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar
“This punch is a spin on a Victorian milk punch, but I pulled the inspiration from several sources,” says Henrichsen. “It’s a mash-up, and a very American and Chicagoan take on very old traditions.” Makes many small servings
- 3 lemons
- 1/2 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized, or it won’t work!)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups fresh raspberries, bruised
- 2 tablespoons grated chocolate
- 2 cracked cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 bottles St. George Raspberry Brandy
Zest the lemons, then trim and discard the pith. Working over a small bowl to catch the juice, cut the lemon segments away from the membrane surrounding them and reserve with juice and zest. In a large-mouth container, combine all ingredients and let sit — and curdle — in a cool, dark place, stirring once a day. After day five, strain out all the larger pieces, then strain the resulting liquid, twice, through cheesecloth, letting gravity do the work. Let sit once more overnight, then pour off and save the clear red liquid. Serve chilled, in tiny glasses, and garnish with an orange slice.
3 of the Coziest Bars in Chicago
Prefer to sip outside your home? Head to one of these hot spots.
1227 W. 18th St., Chicago
This dark and comfy Pilsen bar is hiding out below Thalia Hall and Dusek’s, and as the name indicates, punch is on the menu in a big way — literally and figuratively. There are nine classic and contemporary punches available by the glass ($10), carafe ($36), and punchbowl ($66). For celebratory parties and dinners, there’s even Tableside Champagne Punch service ($225, serves 6)!
4802 N. Broadway, Chicago
As you’d expect of a place frequented by Al Capone, there’s a real sense of classic speakeasy at this Uptown spot, from the art deco touches and dark wood to the comfortable booths. Live music every night, generally jazz, provides the backdrop, and there’s a reason it’s been around since the Prohibition Era — although the weekly Poetry Slams are decidedly modern.
2728 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago
When a restaurant is patterned after a Tyrolean Inn and its website tagline is “Crusty Bread, Brandy, Fire,” you know you’ve come to the right place. Craft beer and ciders vie with cocktails like the Equinox ($12, made with Old Forester bourbon, CH amaro, anchor eyes, and cherry bark and vanilla bitters) that warm you from the inside out. Toss in a roaring fire, and there’s really no reason to leave.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.