Your typical party punch is all well and good when the weather is fine. But in winter, when there’s a damp chill that no layering of sweaters can defeat, a hot rum punch is what you want at a holiday celebration.
Other than warming your bones, a hot rum punch has advantages over its icy cousin. Without the ice, it does not become diluted as the evening wears on, meaning the last cup is as potent as the first (though maybe not quite as hot).
Even better, if you want to, you can set a hot punch on fire, which beats a fruited ice ring for theatrics any day.
A note for those interesting in trying the pyrotechnics: Do not be tempted to try this in anything other than a fireproof bowl.
I was once lulled into a false sense of security by the promise of tempered heatproof glass. What I didn’t factor in was the temperature differential between the top of the bowl where the flames were, and the cooler bottom of the bowl filled with liquid. The result? Shattered glass, spilled booze, mournful guests. Metal is your safest bet here, though I’ve used heavy-duty ceramics without incident. A soup pot is a practical though less elegant option.
If you’re not planning to set this punch ablaze, use any heatproof bowl you like, glass included, though avoid anything very fragile because you’ll be mixing in boiling water.
No flames also means you don’t need to search out the 100-proof rum, whose primary purpose is flammability (though it also does add to the potency). A regular proof, good quality white rum can be used instead.
Then I add amber rum, cognac to smooth any rough edges, and lemon and a little tangerine zest and juice for verve.
I adapted this punch recipe from my friend David Wondrich, the cocktail historian, who borrowed it from Charles Dickens, who used it to mitigate the damp winters of Victorian England. (The tangerine was my main tweak.) But even for those of us with modern central heating, nothing warms a body like that first steaming sip.
Hot Rum Punch
Time: 20 minutes, plus at least 3 hours’ infusing
Yield: 12 to 16 servings
4 to 5 lemons
1 tangerine, tangelo or other thick-skinned, small citrus fruit
ß cup Demerara sugar
1 ¼ cups amber or aged rum
1 ¼ cups Jamaica rum (preferably 100-proof)
1 cup cognac
Freshly grated nutmeg, as needed
1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest of two lemons and the tangerine in strips. Drop into a large heatproof bowl (or use a fireproof bowl if you plan to set the punch on fire) and combine with sugar. Muddle together with a muddler, pestle or the back of a wooden spoon. Let mixture sit for at least 3 hours to infuse (or infuse overnight).
2. Halve the tangerine and squeeze juice into a measuring cup. Halve lemons and squeeze lemon juice into the measuring cup to make ¾ cup juice in total. (Save any unsqueezed lemon halves for another purpose.)
3. When ready to serve, bring 1 quart water to a boil. Pour rum and cognac into the bowl with the sugar and peels. If you want to flame the punch, do so now; see note below.
4. Add reserved citrus juice and boiling water and stir well. Grate nutmeg over top of punch and ladle into glasses.
Note: If you want to set the punch on fire, first make sure your bowl is fireproof. Silver or another metal is ideal; wood or tempered glass is not. Just after Step 3, use a fireproof long-handled bar spoon or ladle to remove a spoonful of the alcohol mixture, then light it on fire. Return spoon to bowl to ignite remaining punch. Stir flaming punch to help dissolve sugar; let it burn for a minute or two. To extinguish fire, place a metal tray over bowl. Proceed with recipe.