Is my calendar playing tricks on me, or is it almost Thanksgiving? That’s madness. Seems like it was just yesterday that I was and because the weather was all kinds of loco. I don’t know where the time went, but I’m happy to adjust to this season of stretchy pants, lots of socializing, and lots of family, which means… Everybody needs a drink. Whether it’s for maximum jolliness or just maintaining sanity, it still needs to be delicious — and because casual drinking is best for January 2 — late Novemberish, we need to do something a little more special.
The advantages of punch are many. It’s low-maintenance, it doubles as a centerpiece, and it doesn’t need to be your basic spirit-plus-lemon-plus-sugar-plus-bubbles combo. For the base, I used Templeton Rye Whiskey here, which is a favorite of mine: dry and spicy, with lots of toffee and caramel notes. You can up the complexity with bitters, amaro, or in this case, some nutty Oloroso sherry and orgeat. Orgeat is a nut (almond, usually) syrup that’s a little milky, traditionally used in tiki drinks to add sweetness, but a better sweetness. This all adds up to a beverage that’s halfway to milk punch, without any actual dairy, with a bit of richness and a real nutty flavor.
I made orgeat with rosemary and hazelnuts, but those little buggers are more appropriately called hazelnut$$$, amiright? It was delicious, but I think you could absolutely get away with using something less pricey, or even infuse a with rosemary for a hot minute. Just warm it up on the stove (don’t boil it), add a few sprigs of rosemary, cover and steep for a few hours, and boom. Halfway there.
As for presentation, you’ll want a big block of ice, and if you have a fancy-ass bundt pan, it can do double duty as an ice mold. Sliced lemons and rosemary are a given, and some in-shell nuts look nice too — plus they alert any allergic guests to stay away. Sending somebody to the ER is not really on my holiday party to-do list, you feel me? We can do that in March or whatever, when everything is boring and stuff.
Also, since orgeat has some natural nut oils in it, it’ll want to separate, so give this a good stir once in a while. It probably won’t be necessary, because tiny punch cups + delicious punch = constant refills. So there’s that.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!
(Note: I was provided with complimentary Templeton Rye whiskey and ingredients, but opinions are my own. I really like Templeton and wouldn’t tell you to buy stuff that sucks.)
- 4 cups shelled hazelnuts
- 3 cups organic cane sugar
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 4 4-inch sprigs of rosemary
- 2 tablespoons vodka
- A couple drops orange flower water
- 24 ounces Templeton Rye whiskey (that's just about the whole bottle)
- 16 ounces Oloroso sherry
- 16 ounces hazelnut-rosemary orgeat (although you could also infuse a store-bought quality orgeat with rosemary — go easy on yourself if you'd rather!)
- 12 ounces lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
- A bottle of sparkling wine, for topping (I like Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and spread out hazelnuts on a cookie sheet. Toast for about 6-8 minutes in the oven, tossing occasionally. Let nuts cool.
- Process nuts in a food processor until ground to a fine meal and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add ground hazelnuts and rosemary and lower the heat to low, then simmer for a couple more minutes, but do not let the mixture boil. When it's about to boil, remove it from heat, cover, and set aside.
- Steep mixture overnight, or at least 4 hours or so.
- After mixture is steeped, strain it through a cheesecloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Stir in vodka and orange flower water.
- Combine whiskey, sherry, orgeat, lemon juice, and bitters in a large punch bowl. Add a giant block of ice. Top off with sparkling wine and stir. You'll need to stir this occasionally to keep it looking nice, as orgeat will want to separate after a while.