I have dear friends who go all out at the holidays, turning their home into a spectacle of festive lights. I love to bask in its glow when we visit, and admire their commitment to bringing good cheer — especially right now, when we all can use some. Their spirit warms and shames me, since somehow I never seem to get it together to snag even a premade wreath for our door. A meme I saw floating around recently captures our comparative decor dynamic: It’s a photo of a house gloriously done up for the season, splashy with Christmas lights and Santas and snowmen and icicles. Next door, the closest neighbor has used one spartan strand of white lights to spell out the word “DITTO” across the front of their house.

I haven’t even managed that much.

When my dormant holiday decor gene comes out, it’s in punches. In years when we’re socializing normally and when Thanksgiving tends to kick off a month-long marathon of work and friend and family get-togethers, I usually make three or four by the moment the Times Square disco ball shimmies downward.

I’m aiming for something rewarding for both palate and eye, a drink that’s delicious and can serve as a holiday centerpiece. The boozy world is full of delicious punches that, when mixed, turn out varying shades of warm brown. And in the autumn, I’m all about those rustic hues, virtually inevitable when you’re mixing with whiskeys or other spirits that have spent some time in the barrel.

But for winter holiday parties, especially during this dark year, I want to see some color in the punch itself, something to brighten the room and the mood.

This creates a number of compositional challenges. It suggests a need to limit the base spirits mostly to white ones (gin, vodka, unaged rums and tequilas), lest you muddy the hue of the drink. And then you have to figure out what you can pour into the flowing bowl that will taste good, play well with other ingredients, make your punch pop with holiday color and not completely break the bank. Heck, if I could afford to make a green Chartreuse-based punch for every holiday party, I would. Those bottles of herbal monastic magic glow green and gorgeous, but at $60 a pop, I tend to dole out their contents in Scrooge-like dollops. If three ghosts come to visit to warn me about the direction of my life, I’ll offer them shots of Fireball. They may add that to my roster of sins, but at least they won’t get my Chartreuse.

I have more options if I go red, where I can get the color from juice, syrup, liqueur or all of the above. This year’s offering, Persephone’s Punch, is rouged up with both pomegranate and scarlet Fiero, an aperitivo that complements it nicely. Pomegranate was the fruit eaten by the goddess Persephone when she’d been kidnapped by Hades and was stuck in the underworld — a myth once used to explain the seasons, and now perhaps a good one for our covid moment, when we keep hoping to surface into sunlight only to get dragged back into the hole.

If you’ve seen the inside of a pomegranate, you’ll understand why someone would be tempted: Cutting into one is like opening a purse full of rubies. If you’re not a regular pomegranate eater, you may have had pomegranate as a kid if you ever had a Shirley Temple — the most famous mocktail of all, red as Rudolph’s nose — or later in a Jack Rose or Tequila Sunrise. The grenadine syrup that gives that pop of red is, in theory, pomegranate-based — the name grenadine derives from pomegranate — but many commercial grenadines long contained little if any of the fruit. You can now find better craft versions of grenadine, and the availability of fresh pomegranate juice has also made it easier to make your own, or to incorporate the juice directly. The juice tastes like a cranberry upgrade, with a similar sweet-tart tannic note but deeper flavor.

This was the first time I’d mixed with the Martini & Rossi Fiero, which I’d been eyeballing for a while. Its color had me assuming it was a red bitter Italian liqueur, but it’s actually a citrus-forward vermouth — the smell of this stuff is reminiscent of what you get when you express an orange peel over the surface of a cocktail. Aperol would be a reasonable substitute if you can’t find the Fiero, but the Fiero works great for bumping up the orange note in a drink without adding as much sweetness. Allspice and Benedictine add richness and complexity before you dry things out with a bottle of Brut-style bubbly.

Try to bring some sliced pomegranate in as a garnish here. The seeds will sink on their own, but the pith is buoyant. If you slice up some quarter-inch wheels and then cut them in half, those will float in your punch, the crimson seeds shining, along with whatever else you want to use to brighten things up: wheels of orange and lemon, sprigs of rosemary and thyme, a few whole star anise and a scattering of allspice berries.

It’s probably clear I’m more Team Pomegranate than Team Cranberry, but I’ll acknowledge raw cranberries have one advantage: They’ll float. So if you happen to have some around after executing all those other cranberry holiday recipes, throw a handful in the brew, too. Go all in. When you haven’t gotten around to decking the halls, decking the bowl is the next best thing.

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Make Ahead: The punch base can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated. The big block of ice needs to be frozen 1 day before you plan to serve the punch: Fill a cereal bowl with water and place in the freezer.

Where to Buy: Pomegranate juice can be found at supermarkets. Martini Fiero, an orange-forward vermouth, can be found at liquor and some wine stores, but if you can’t find it, Aperol makes for a decent substitution.


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup silver tequila (or vodka)
  • 3/4 cup Martini Fiero citrus vermouth (can substitute Aperol)
  • 1/2 cup allspice dram liqueur, such as St. Elizabeth
  • 1/2 cup Benedictine liqueur
  • Star anise pods, allspice berries, rosemary sprigs, citrus wheels, slices of pomegranate, for serving (optional)
  • Ice (preferably a large block; see Make Ahead)
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle brut-style sparkling wine, chilled

Step 1

In a large bowl, stir together the pomegranate juice, tequila, vermouth, allspice liqueur and Benedictine until combined. Cover or bottle the punch base and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Step 2

When ready to serve, prepare whatever garnishes you plan to use: Rinse the herbs and fruits, trim the brown stem part of the pomegranate, and slice the fruits into thin wheels, then set aside.

Step 3

Set the block of ice in the punch bowl and gently pour the punch base over it. Stir gently, then garnish as you like. Gently pour in the chilled sparkling wine. Stir again gently, then, ladle the drink into punch cups or coupes.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (1/2 cup), based on 15

Calories: 161; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 3 mg; Carbohydrates: 12 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 0 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.

Tested by M. Carrie Allan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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