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This Old-School Drink Will Save Your Holiday Party

Photo: Jennifer Causey

NOLA star barkeep Abigail Gullo stirs up holiday hooch with a classic muddling trick.

A holiday crowd needs an array of snacks to keep sated, but one well-crafted beverage can make the whole room happy. Punch has that power—it's fruity, fizzy, and heady enough to loosen tongues but not so high-octane as to tie them. And it's a wonderful vehicle for holiday flavors and aromas like floral citrus and warm ground spices. Our new favorite comes from an award-winning New Orleans bartender—it just may become your go-to party bev.

Cooking Light: Tell us your perfect wintertime drink.
Abigail Gullo: Mine would have deep, rich flavors and quench my thirst but also fill my soul with memories of fragrant spices like allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg—things my mom used making Christmas cookies.

CL: The Port of Call Punch seems to meet that standard. How did you come up with it?
AG: It's based on a classic sailor punch. They used whatever they found in the different ports they'd hit, taking little bits from everywhere they went and using it to make punch.

CL: What does muddling the lemon peel and sugar do?
AG: The process goes back to the 1600s, and it's called oleo saccharum [oil sugar]. The abrasive quality of the sugar releases the fragrant oils from the lemon peel. Not only do you get this complex lemon flavor but also a hint of the floral from the peel.

CL: What's your strategy for constructing the perfect punch?
AG: There's a classic kind of rhyme: one of the sour, two of the sweet, three of the strong, and four of the weak. In a pinch, I'll always go back to those proportions. Sour is fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice, sweet could be sugar, strong is your liquor, and four of the weak could be a big ice block to cool down your punch.

CL: What's the trick to making punch for a large crowd?
AG: Make sure you have enough. Don't be afraid to have leftovers.

CL: Any major punch no-no's?
AG: People forget about the spice. Fresh ground nutmeg in a punch is just delicious. One of the mistakes you can make is using preground nutmeg; it's really not the same.

View Recipe: Port of Call Punch

Try Gullo's punch this month at Compère Lapin in New Orleans.