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I think the reason that punch is served at so few parties is that people have such low expectations for it. I blame the countless movies and television shows that portray punch as nothing but liters of booze and fruit juice poured into a giant bowl (or, heaven help us, a frat house trashcan). Gross.
But punch is the ideal beverage for entertaining, especially during the holidays, and you may be surprised how sophisticated it can taste, given the right ingredients. The shared experience of an flowing communal bowl is part of the charm—a charm that was recognized for ages until we somehow lost the tradition. The fact that you can (and should) do the majority of the work ahead of time is another holiday hosting bonus.
This punch celebrates the beginning of winter citrus season, starting with an easy oleo-saccharum. Don't worry, it's just a mix of citrus peels and sugar that coaxes the citrus oils from the peels, yielding a fragrant liquid which will impart sweetness and fruit flavor into the punch without adding actual fruit.
Punches tend to bring together an element of sour, a bit of sweetness, something boozy, and something weaker to carry the flavors through (and make sure people can drink cup after cup). That stretching element here is earthy, smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, which provides unusual depth without stealing the spotlight.
The end result features bright citrus and fresh, woodsy sage aromas that finish with a lingering hint of smoke from the tea. While you can use whatever gin you have on hand, I really prefer a subtle botanical New American gin, which adds a potpourri of flavors like rose and coriander to the standard juniper.
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