With the winter holidays approaching, chances are you’re gearing up to sip your fill of festive beverages at many parties and get-togethers. And perhaps you’re feeling just a little bit of dread at the prospect of mustering new enthusiasm for December’s same-old, same-old drinks: frothy Eggnog, cinnamon-laced spiked cider and potpourri-scented mulled wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with these old standbys. Made well, they’re each delicious in their own right. But sometimes, it’s fun to deviate from the norm.
There’s a reason holidaypunches are so popular this time of year. As guest lists swell to include you mom, dad and cousin, her new boyfriend and the childhood friend who’s suddenly back in town, it becomes a matter of logistical necessity to abandon by-the-shaker cocktails and reach for a punch bowl instead. Brimming with spices and plenty of booze, punches take just a few minutes to make and can easily be doubled or tripled to accommodate crowds of drinkers. You’ve probably got a nice, reliable brandy punch in your arsenal already, but this year, why not flip the script and serve your guests something totally unexpected?
Mexican Ponche Navideño (image: Tim Nusog)
An essential part of Christmas in Mexico, sweet, fragrant Ponche Navideño can be found simmering away on stovetops and at traditional outdoor markets all across the country from December 12 through January 6, the period during which the holiday is celebrated. Featuring traditional Mexican flavorings such as fresh sugar cane, guavas and tejocotes (a crabapple-type fruit), the punch is spiked with a healthy dose of rum and served piping hot to ward off any winter chills.
Here in the U.S., it can be hard to find these items fresh, but that doesn’t mean ponche is an impossibility north of the border. This recipe relies on easy-to-find ingredients that lend their Mexican flair to an irresistible rum punch: piloncillo, unrefined cane sugar that has a distinctly molasses-type sweetness; tamarind, which brings its signature sweet-sour balance to the drink; and dried hibiscus flowers, in Mexico known as flor de jamaica, which have a bright, cranberry-like flavor and a deep garnet-red color. Along with chopped fruit and whole spices, these ingredients come together in a pitch-perfect holiday punch that’s a welcome change of pace.