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Punch up Thanksgiving: A How-To Guide for the Holiday Cocktail

As families and friends gather on Thursday to give thanks and celebrate the most food-centric of national holidays, Americans will drink more wine than on any other day. But for those of us who find wine uninspiring — or who have palettes that can't differentiate between a $10 and $100 bottle of wine — Thanksgiving will be celebrated with cocktails.

The Thanksgiving cocktail is a natural showcase for seasonal ingredients and can personalize a menu that's heavy on convention. And if the thought of tending bar while also plating dishes and finishing the gravy sounds arduous, we'll do you one better by offering up a recipe for Thanksgiving punch that can be made well ahead of time.

For any old-school guests inclined to tut-tut, mixologist Eben Freeman says that few drinks are as traditional as punch.

"The colonial Americans created drinks from Jamaican rum, which was newly available with trade to the spice islands," he said," and it featured locally made Applejack, a liquor created when you freeze-distill apple cider. So this is a punch that the settlers could have enjoyed."

Freeman, who was a creative mind behind the drinks at WD-50, is now the director of bar operations and innovations at Altamarea. His unexpected concoctions include a smoked Coca-Cola gelatin, which is a key ingredient in his Cuba Libre Rum and Coke cocktail, and Kahlua Rice Krispies, a dessert that involves breakfast cereal and coffee liqueur. For seasonal fall cocktails, he's experimented with Thanksgiving staples like butternut squash and pumpkin pie spices.

We asked Freeman to design a special Thanksgiving punch for WNYC, one that would create a communal gathering at the punch bowl (away from the busy kitchen) and infuse our meals with something to drink beyond the standard Beaujolais red wine.

He came up with Cornucopia Punch, and here's what you need to make it:

  • 1 cup citrus juice  (can be a blend of oranges, lemons and limes) 
  • zest from citrus fruits
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 cups Jamaican rum 
  • 2 cups Applejack 
  • 3 cups brewed tea
  • 3 cups sparkling cider 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp nutmeg 
  • pomegranate seeds and citrus slices to garnish

Learn how to make the punch in the video below. (Video by Amy Pearl)