Hot Gin Punch
Charles Dickens wrote an awful lot about what people didn’t have back in Victorian England, be that money or morals, but there is one chapter towards the very end of the dizzyingly righteous A Christmas Carol so filled with sumptuous food and drink that even self-professed Grinches yearn to fall through its pages.
The drink element of this feast was a Hot Gin Punch; a delightfully wintery cocktail that home drinkers, bartenders and gin brands have been recreating with great gusto in the 200+ years since A Christmas Carol was published. We thought it was high time we all got in on the action, so let’s raid the spice cupboard and get that stove on. Winter beckons!
How to make a Hot Gin Punch:
200ml cranberry juice
6 – 10 dehydrated orange wheels
The peel of one lemon, studded with cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1 apple cut into wheels
1-2 pieces star anise
A pinch of ground nutmeg
3 tbsp molasses (or brown sugar)
Add the lemon, cinnamon, apple, star anise, nutmeg and molasses to a pan with cranberry juice and heat, slowly, for around 20 minutes, allowing all of the flavours to infuse. Once this is near boiling, turn the stove down to its minimum heat and add in the sherry. Cook through for another 10 minutes, then add in the gin. Keep on the stove for another 3 – 5 minutes, then serve up, being careful not to ladle too many of the fruits and spices into the glass (though the apple will be delightfully stewed by now, so make sure that gets eaten!).
A Brief, Inebriated history:
It would be wrong to discuss the history of this drink without delving back into Dickens territory, so we’ll kick off there. Just as soon as they finish their festive feast of goose, apple and Christmas pudding, the money-poor but love-rich Crachit family head on over to the hob to retrieve a hot mixture, made ‘in a jug with gin and lemons.’ It went like this:
“At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Crachit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Crachit’s elbow stood the family display of glass; two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
‘These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed: ‘A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!’”
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol, 1843.
If that doesn’t make you want to stand around a fire glugging punch and eating freshly popped chestnuts then nothing ever will. Now, Dickens didn’t quite invent the drink – Gin, as we know, was being drunk by the pint at the time, so Gin punches were a handy cure for winter – but he certainly solidified its place in history, and far outside of his literary works was known to host punch-heavy parties throughout his days. In 1847, he wrote his entire punch-making process out for the wife of a friend, which Esquire have dutifully recreated here.
There are other interpretations around; Hendrick’s has a great recipe in their Field Guide, while even the oldest of cocktail books go some way to document the Hot Gin Punch, though drinkers were a much hardier sort back then, so the recipe is usually something along the lines of ‘Get some gin. Make the gin hot. Put the gin in a glass with a sugar lump. Good luck.’
One of the more notable exceptions to this is a recipe for a Hot Gin Sling from Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler (1895). This is perhaps the most likely to emulate that of the Hot Gin Punch drunk by the beloved Crachit family. It reads as such: Dissolve a lump of cut-loaf sugar in a hot-drink glass half-full of boiling water. Add one jigger of gin. Mix, then add a piece of lemon peel and grate a little nutmeg on top.
That same book also has a recipe for a Hot Spiced Punch, which is the same as the Sling, with ‘a few cloves and a little ground allspice’ added in to the mix too. You can have a read of the digitised book HERE. It’s definitley worth your time, painting as it does a great picture of the mad libations pub-dwellers were drinking way back when.
Basically, as with all batch drinks, the Hot Gin Punch is a drink very much open to your own culinary skills. Tweak, fiddle and play around with flavours until you have a winter warmer that tastes almost exactly like Christmas feels: a sweet, spiced and nostalgic fuel for laughter.
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