One of the best parts about spending time in the kitchen is realizing that there are certain patterns or structures to dishes that, once you know how to use them, open up the possibility of improvisation. Once you realize that lemon juice, olive oil and garlic pair well together, for example, there are endless marinades, dressings and sauces in your future.
The same is true for cocktails — especially when you realize that certain flavors cover a multitude of sins. Case in point: ginger beer. Unlike ginger ale, a lightly ginger-flavored and sugary carbonated beverage, ginger beer is brewed and fermented with an unprecedented, well, gingery flavor. It can be a little overpowering if you’re too heavy-handed, but packs an inherent warmth and spice, making it an ideal base for a winter or holiday cocktail.
It’s also cheap enough that it’s perfect for batched cocktails, which is why I’ve been experimenting with it as a key flavor in a New Year’s punch. Here’s how to build your own personalized punch perfect for a crowd.
Start with a ginger beer base
So, there’s some simple math to keep in mind for this recipe to work. Whatever else you add, you’re going to want 4 parts ginger beer over ice for every 1 part champagne or sparkling wine (so 4 ounces of ginger beer for every 1 ounce of sparkling wine; 4 cups of ginger beer for every 1 cup of champagne, etc.).
Reed’s Ginger Beer is a pretty readily available brand all across the country, but feel free to experiment with locally-brewed brands, too, from brands like Austin’s SoCo, Empire Bottling Works or Butchertown Sodas.
Add a fruit juice
Add two parts fruit juice for color and just enough sweetness. Some of my favorites are orange (for a brunch-y mimosa variation), peach nectar, cranberry, pomegranate and apple — or you can even go with a combination of flavors that adds up to two parts juice.
Some potential additions
If you want to go sweeter, or add some additional flavor dimensions to your punch, consider a simple syrup. It’s — of course — simple to make: Boil down equal parts sugar (white or brown) and water. You can add any number of different spices to your syrup, but for this cocktail, think about what works well with ginger: cinnamon, rosemary, orange zest, star anise. For a full punchbowl, five to six tablespoons of simple syrup is ideal; just be sure to strain the syrup well before adding.
Bitterness or acidity is another nice dimension to add — a few drops of Angostura bitters and or a hint of citrus juice will do the trick.
Top it off with sparkling wine or champagne
This step is pretty self-explanatory: finish the punch bowl with Champagne, Prosecco or any sparkling wine. You can also create a separate non-alcoholic punch bowl by using sparkling grape juice or even a neutral-tasting kombucha.
Choose garnishes that are simple, seasonal and nod to your ingredients: citrus slices, dried apples, pomegranate seeds, rosemary sprigs.
Here are some potential pairings to get you started:
Ginger beer + pomegranate juice + black pepper and rosemary simple syrup + lemon juice + champagne
Ginger beer + peach nectar + brown sugar simple syrup + lemon juice + champagne
Ginger beer + orange juice + angostura bitters + champagne