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Jamaican Rum Punch Recipe – Get Ready to Party

Written by the YesChef staff

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Chef Kwame Onwuachi in his Kingston kitchen teaches Jamaican cuisine
Chef Kwame Onwuachi in his Kingston kitchen teaches Jamaican cuisine
Kwame Onwuachi
Teaches his Jamaican Cuisine
The holidays are here and that means one thing: time to party! And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a delicious holiday rum punch. Punch, one of the oldest cocktails in the world, is the ultimate holiday beverage. While it can be made both with liquor and without it, the alcoholic kind is more popular and customary for social gatherings of adults. Fun, fruity, and often deceptively strong, punch has been described by one esteemed mixologist and liquor historian as “The Monarch of Mixed Drinks.” In this article, you will learn some of the best ways to make punch, including a fantastic Jamaican rum punch recipe from Kwame Onwuachi, the James Beard-award winning chef. You’ll also learn about the interesting history behind punch and get some suggestions on how to prepare some fantastic drinks at your next holiday gathering.
Kwame Onwuachi
Teaches his Jamaican Cuisine

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What Is Punch?

Punch is a beverage – usually containing hard liquor along with fresh fruit and / or fruit juice – that is made in large quantities for a number of guests and served inside a gigantic communal bowl. As the punch ritual goes, guests scoop the concoction out of the bowl – bowls can be modern, vintage or antique and made of many different materials including glass, crystal, stainless steel, and crystal – and pour punch into their own individual glasses. Punch is popular on occasions such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthday parties, bridal showers, boozy brunches, and many other types of house parties and celebratory gatherings.

A Brief History of Punch

Punch has a colorful history, both literally and metaphorically. The drink dates back to the early 17th century when British sailors – who were quite fond of their adult beverages, say the least – were allotted 10 daily pints of beer. But beer would go bad whenever they ventured into warm, tropical waters. So these desperate, thirsty mariners, utilizing local ingredients from India and Indonesia, made and consumed punch instead. As one story goes, the term “punch” derived from the Hindi and Urdu word pac (Or, “five,” in English), an apparent reference to how many ingredients the drink had. Those ingredients included a liquor like arrack (a black rum that comes from palm tree sap); sugar; tea or spices; a lime or lemon; and water. As another story goes, the word “punch” comes from puncheons, which were barrels of alcohol found on ships at that time, during the Age of Sail.

Whatever the truth, punch became popular in upper-class British society, throughout which it would be served in big fancy punch bowls. From there the tradition spread across the world, including to the American colonies, where punch was apparently drunk in celebration by the United States’ Founding Fathers right after they wrote the Declaration of Independence. Punch would go out of fashion by the mid-19th century, in part because the Victorian-era Queen of England objected to the immorality of it. But in recent years punch has, as many old-fashioned trends sometimes do, seen a renaissance and it is now quite fashionable once again.

What’s Good About Rum Punch?

For the host or guest, the biggest benefit to making rum punch is that it eliminates the time and effort required to pour individual cocktails. All you must do is make an enormous batch of the best rum punch and let your guests do the rest. And as a guest, you don’t have to mix your own drink or wait for the bartender; you just go to the punch bowl, scoop out the ready-made libation, and generously pour it into your glass.

The communal nature of rum punch, too – everyone is drinking from the same behemoth dish, and the punch bowl becomes a central place to congregate and talk – contributes positively to the atmosphere of a social gathering. In the 19th century, for example, the author Charles Dickens used to make a large bowl of brandy rum punch when hosting social gatherings and would proudly tell guests exactly how he made it.

Why Do We Drink Punch During the Holidays?

If parties are a perfect setting for punch, holiday get-togethers are even better for it. For one thing, holiday gatherings are, of course, meant to be cheerful and spirited occasions and the physical setup of the punchbowl is such that you are encouraged to converse and meet new people and socialize rather than stand off by yourself and sip your drink awkwardly. Also, the versatility of punch bowl ingredients means that you can match the flavor of your punch with the theme of your event or with the season during which the festivities are taking place. For instance, if it’s autumn you can make apple cider or pumpkin pie-flavored punch. For Christmas, you can make something more festive and jolly featuring flourishes of red such as a punch with cranberries and pomegranate juice and sparkling red wine. For your Hanukah Party you can make a Manischewitz Punch, which has ultra-sweet red Manischewitz wine plus some citrus and ginger liqueur.

Types of Fruits for Fruit Punch

Fruit punch can be made with all kinds of fruit. For the best taste and freshness, it is always best – as it is when cooking food – to find ingredients for your punch that are in season and native to the area in which you live. Kwame, for example, uses delicious fresh Caribbean fruits that are native to Jamaica such as mangoes, papayas, hibiscus, tangerines, lime juice, custard apples. If you don’t have fresh fruit available, many types of frozen tropical fruit or juice can contribute to your punch bowl instead. Some of these include orange juice, cranberry juice, lime juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, and even coconut milk.

Different Punch Recipes

Punch can be made in all sorts of creative ways. Liquor-wise, it can be made with rum, gin, vodka, whiskey and a whole host of other bottled booze. Punch can include wine or a sparkling wine such as prosecco, and liqueurs, hard apple cider, or bitters. And you can mix and match your alcohol with various types of non-alcoholic liquids like fruit juices, teas, coffees, syrups, sparkling waters – and even milk! Here are some popular forms of punch that will help bring a festive vibe to your get-together:

Classic Holiday Punch: When you think of a cool and fizzy bowl of red holiday punch, this is likely the kind you are imagining. This classic punch usually has cranberry juice and perhaps pineapple juice along with fresh fruits like cranberries, pomegranates, and a citrusy component like limes and / or orange slices. Rum or brandy or vodka are often the liquors of choice. You can also put sparkling wine, sparkling cider, and ginger ale in it. Ice is to be added at the end – and this merriest of concoctions is to be served in a punch bowl, large pitcher, or drink dispenser.

Warm Milk Punch: An ultimate cold-weather holiday cocktail recipe is warm milk punch. This rich, sweet, and frothy beverage is made with rum and brandy (or cognac) as well as sugar and milk. One version of it is the old-fashioned Tom and Jerry Warm Milk Punch, which has been around for two centuries. Featuring cognac or brandy and dark rum, it consists of a batter combining those liquors with eggs, butter, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and cloves. Hot milk is added to the batter. The resulting beverage is certain to make you feel better and warmer on even the most frigid of winter nights.

Champagne Punch: Often similar to a classic punch, champagne punch features a bubbly sparkling wine and a liquor like whiskey, cognac, vodka, or a fruity liqueur. Champagne punches often center around a particular fruit, such as cranberries, strawberries, pomegranates, or apricots – and ginger ale or light soda are sometimes included to enhance the drink’s fizziness.

Sangria Punch: For a Spanish spin on the punch bowl tradition, try a form of Sangria Punch. Like with other punches, you can use fresh fruits and different types of fruit juice. A Sangria Punch should feature a dry red or white wine, and you can also add rum, brandy, or vodka and a sweetener such as maple syrup or sugar. For a non-alcoholic sangria punch recipe, you can incorporate sparkling grape juice rather than wine.

Jamaican Rum Punch Recipe: Which Type of Rum?

Rum, which is native to the Caribbean, is one of the most popular liquors to put in your punch. When choosing a recipe, you will need to decide which type of rum to buy for your drinks. In their YesChef demonstration, Kwame and his mom go with a combination of a dark rum and light rum to make their Caribbean-inspired cocktails. The main types of rum to consider when making a Jamaican Rum Punch cocktail are various types of dark rum (which tend to be more robust); a white or clear rum, which usually looks lighter and possesses a mild flavor than dark rum; types of gold rum; and a spiced rum or flavored rum, which can be fun and festive to put in your cocktail during the holiday season.

Best Fruit Juice Options for Your Rum Punch Recipe

For Caribbean-flavored cocktail recipes featuring rum, any number of juices will taste great in your glass. Among these are tropical juices such as pineapple juice and pineapple-orange juice, and citrus flavored juice like fresh lime juice, orange juice, and grapefruit juice.

How To Make Rum Punch

One of the best ways to make punch for a holiday party or other social gathering is with rum. And Kwame’s Jamaican Rum Punch cocktail recipe, which he demonstrates for us during his YesChef lesson, creates a drink that is not only gorgeous to behold but also sensational to taste. Kwame makes his Jamaican Rum Punch cocktail by cutting tropical fruits such as mangoes, a papaya, and a custard apple and blending them – with white rum and dark rum – into a puree. After chilling it in the fridge, the puree is returned to the blender along with ice – and more rum – and blended until it’s ready to be consumed. Instead of serving it in a bowl, he serves it in a pitcher.

Tips on Making Punch

  1. Punch Bowl Size: The size of the bowl you put out is very important. If you use a punch bowl that is too small, you will run out of punch and have to scramble to re-fill it while your guests wait. This unnecessary work and stress defeats the purpose of having punch to begin with. As a general rule, the bigger the bowl the better. If you are having a smaller gathering, it’s also a great idea to serve the punch in a pitcher.
  2. Adding the Ice: When you are using an extremely large bowl, you will need larger ice cubes or blocks to keep it cool. Smaller ice cubes will melt more quickly and make your tasty, bubbly bowl of punch taste too watery. Additionally, be sure to add your ice as close to the gathering as possible; doing so too far in advance will cause the ice to melt and dilute your punch.
  3. Adding Fizz: Like with ice, don’t add anything bubbly such as sparkling wine, sparkling water, or ginger ale to your bowl earlier than you must. Otherwise, the fizz might flatten by the time your celebration gets underway. Toss these elements in shortly before your guests arrive.
  4. Not Too Sweet: For the best flavor that is neither too sweet nor overpowered by liquor, try balancing sweet ingredients with more bitter ones. If you add equal parts fruit juice, liquor, and seltzer water in addition to some bitters, your punch likely won’t be too sugary. Like with any good dish in the kitchen, taste the punch as you make it – and add non-alcoholic fruit elements and liquors as needed – to ensure that your punch has the right balance. While you want your guests to have a bloody great time and for the punch not to be too weak, you also don’t want them so sick the next day that they’ll be cursing your name as they suffer through their hangover.
  5. For Appearance: Garnish! Garnishes like sliced fruit – oranges, lemons, limes, and strawberries work great – as do herbs like mint leaves, which will add complexity to the flavor of your bowl while at the same time making it look more appealing.
  6. Choose Your Bowl Wisely: Finally, the appearance of your bowl shouldn’t be ignored. For a holiday gathering in particular, the aesthetics of the bowl will help set the atmosphere of your party. Bowls can be made of glass, and also of nice-looking materials like crystal, copper, and silver.



Chef Kwame Onwuachi in his Kingston kitchen teaches Jamaican cuisine
Chef Kwame Onwuachi in his Kingston kitchen teaches Jamaican cuisine

Kwame Onwuachi

Kwame Onwuachi started peeling shrimp and stirring roux at 5 years old in his mother’s catering kitchen in the Bronx. The James Beard Award-winning chef has received many accolades since then, including FOOD & WINE’S Best New Chef, Esquire Magazine’s 2019 Chef of the Year, 30 Under 30 honoree by both Forbes and Zagat, and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef as both a contestant and judge.

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