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Is there anything more celebratory, festive, or charmingly retro than a bowl of punch? In his new book, Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, Neal Bodenheimer documents New Orleans’ most famous cocktails, many of which he serves at his bar of the same name—including the St. Charles Punch. It’s something you could drink any time of year, but the punch’s ruby-red hue and easy-going attitude are particularly well-suited for ringing in the New Year.
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The aptly-named drink got its start as the house cocktail at the opulent St. Charles Hotel. “When its owners first welcomed guests to 201 St. Charles Avenue in 1837, their ambition was to operate the finest luxury hotel in the country, if not the world,” writes Bodenheimer of the original institution. The recipe for the hotel’s signature drink was first recorded a couple of decades later in 1862, when it was featured in Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks: Or, A Bon-vivant’s Companion—a volume widely considered to be the first cocktail book in the country.
Typically, St. Charles Punch consists of port, brandy, lemon juice, and simple syrup, but the version served at Cure veers slightly from tradition. Instead of a standard simple syrup, Bodenheimer doubles down on the citrus flavor with a lemon and orange oleo syrup. He also adds Angostrura bitters to give the mixture of ruby port, cognac, and citrus juice some spicy depth.
So, why does the St. Charles Punch make such a good holiday drink? “I think that holiday drinks, particularly in colder climates, need to have some weight and texture,” argues Bodenheimer. “A nice aged brandy and textured ruby port can create something rich [and] luxurious, but also refreshing.”
Moreover, it’s a drink that can be made differently depending on your preferences—and the number of people you’re expecting. According to Bodenheimer, “the punch can be built as a single cocktail or made in a classic punch style using a traditional punch base of citrus peels and sugar,” meaning hosts don’t necessarily have to play bartender for the duration of the evening.
He puts it more bluntly in the book. “There are so many ways to make this drink, and honestly, they’re all good,” Bodenheimer writes. “Hell, it’s a punch, so why not scale it up, add some dilution, and serve it party-style in a punch bowl over a giant block of ice?” Sounds good to us.
No matter what you choose to serve, Bodenheimer has a few words of wisdom for hosts this New Year’s Eve: “Make sure your house feels good and the lighting is right,” he says. “Play festive music that gets people moving (a little New Orleans oldies mix never disappoints),” and—most importantly—“be warm, gracious, [and] welcoming.”