Why It Works
- Becherovka, a cinnamon-y herbal bitters from the Czech Republic, adds an automatically complex spice profile in a single pour.
- Diluting the marmalade helps it blend smoothly into the other liquids.
- Prebatching most of the drink cuts down on last-minute stress; adding citrus juices at the last minute ensures they won't oxidize before the height of the party.
A cocktail needs to be more than the sum of its parts. If you wanted to drink Scotch, you'd drink Scotch. If you wanted to drink fruit juice, or fortified wine, or an herbal liqueur, you'd get a decent version and drink those.
A really good cocktail offers a special alchemy, transforming its disparate elements into one new, delicious thing. Maybe you can tell there's fruit in there. Maybe you notice the spice. Maybe you can rule out some spirits to guide you toward the base. But mostly what you taste is that charming, unfamiliar harmony of flavors.
As I went through the process of testing different versions of this punch, which was created by Matthew McKinley Campbell of A Mano in San Francisco, everyone I served it to was a little mystified. Most couldn't quite put a finger on the whisky or the oxidative sherry in the mix. There was something malty and caramel-laced and a little nutty there, but it melded into the whole. Some sniffed out the tart cranberry and lemon, and one even acted not-too-surprised when I explained that it was spiced with Angostura and Becherovka, an herbal, cinnamon-y digestif from the Czech Republic. He'd had some in a drink at a bar the week before.
But while they couldn't identify its separate elements, they couldn't help but love it, and the batch disappeared far before the end of the party. Which is to say, you may want to make a double batch.
If you're the sort of person who likes to be organized in advance, you'll want to gather your ingredients and your serving vessels ahead. Start with a big punch bowl (or a salad bowl that's not easily stained with red liquids), plus a cake pan or food storage container that fits inside it. That'll be what you use for your ice block; fill it with water (filtered if you usually drink filtered water) a day or two before and freeze.
You'll also need to hit up the liquor store for blended Scotch, nutty oloroso sherry, and Becherovka. I know, I know, it's a pain to add another bottle to your booze collection, but Becherovka is showing up in cocktails all around the country for a reason: It's really, really delicious. It tastes like everything holiday wrapped into one, but especially freshly made gingerbread and baked apples with cinnamon. What you have left over can be used to spike cider, tea, eggnog, or cocoa. You won't regret owning it.
While Scotch subtly provides the malty backbone of the drink, its counterbalance is super-tart unsweetened cranberry juice. You don't want a cran-anything blend here—just the straight stuff. Campbell does a fancy move where he blends it with whole cranberries then strains the whole mix, which yields added tannin and brighter color, but I prefer to skip that step in the interest of less overall fuss. The punch doesn't suffer.
You'll also be stirring some hot water into a jar of marmalade. This is to thin out the preserves, so that they don't show up chunky in your punch bowl. If you prefer a pristine punch, you can blend the water and marmalade together with an immersion blender; I don't mind the citrus swaths in my drink, so I just use a regular ol' spoon.
Most of the punch can be prepared a day ahead: Batch all the liquids excluding citrus and Angostura bitters, seal completely, and let it chill in the fridge while you do other things. When you're ready to go, you'll add in fresh orange and lemon juice to further brighten the drink, a little Angostura to amp up the spice, and a pinch of salt to round off the bitter edges. Stir and add to your pretty punch bowl with your big fancy ice, and serve it up with a ladle.
Be sure to snag a glass for yourself: Even if you're not trying to unravel the mystery ingredients, it's a drink that deserves to be savored.
4 1/2 ounces (130ml) marmalade
9 ounces (270ml) unsweetened 100% cranberry juice, such as Knudsen Just Cranberry
12 ounces (360ml) Oloroso sherry
6 ounces (180ml) Becherovka (see notes)
6 ounces (180ml) blended Scotch
1 pinch kosher salt
3 dashes Angostura bitters
3 ounces (90ml) fresh juice from 3 lemons
6 ounces (180ml) fresh juice from 3 to 4 oranges
Thinly sliced lemon wheels and whole cranberries, for garnish
In a small saucepan, bring 4 1/2 ounces (130ml) water to a boil over medium-high heat, then add marmalade and whisk until fully incorporated. Remove from heat and let cool. (If you prefer a punch without any orange bits in it, use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.) Refrigerate in a sealed container up to 1 week.
At least 1 day before serving, make a large ice block by freezing water in a cake pan or food storage container that will fit in your punch bowl. Alternately, make several trays of large ice cubes. In addition, you'll want about 4 standard trays of ice cubes for serving.
In a 2 1/2- or 3-quart pitcher or other large container, stir together marmalade syrup, unsweetened cranberry juice, 8 ounces (240ml) water, sherry, Becherovka, and Scotch. The punch can be refrigerated, covered, up to 24 hours.
When ready to serve, stir punch well. Add salt, Angostura bitters, lemon juice, and orange juice and stir again. Pour into a large punch bowl and add ice block or large ice cubes. Garnish bowl with lemon wheels and cranberries. Ladle into ice-filled glasses to serve.
Becherovka is an herbal Czech digestive.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 12g|
|Vitamin C 50mg||250%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|