Halloween is, admittedly, a little stupid. That’s also what makes it so fun.
We all understand why children like Halloween, but it’s not immediately clear why adults do. After all, we have jobs, don’t we? Jobs that pay us money with which we could just go and buy candy whenever we want? You know you could throw a costume party in April if you liked dressing up so much. Nonetheless, come Halloween, millions of otherwise normal Americans will plan for it and dress for it and party around it and drink to it. Even people who love it have to admit it’s a little ridiculous.
For me, the ridiculousness of the whole thing makes Halloween so fun, because we revel in absurdity together. It’s like Disneyland: suddenly, being a grown adult wearing plastic mouse ears on your head makes a certain amount of sense. No one is judging you, because everyone is doing it. The shared culture gives us license to be silly and childish and fun. Which is why we’re still making a Halloween Punch this year, even though it’s practically illegal to hang out with anyone.
Halloween punches, like Halloween itself, are gaudy. They’re the drinking equivalent of cotton cobwebs and rubber severed fingers. They’re the word spooky with four ‘o’s. They’re invariably lurid and must contain at least one gimmick, but they’re also fun, and traditional, and as such one of the best things about Halloween. It’s a way to get into the spirit, in every meaning of the phrase.
The rules of balance still apply, but the rules of good taste take a week-long vacation. Lean into the absurdity. For color, you want it unsettling. Any self-respecting Halloween punch has to be a color that doesn’t occur in normal edible things. Make it deeply blood red with a hibiscus infusion, or with blood oranges, just now coming into season; for a nearly incandescent orange glow, infuse your spirit with candy corn, about a cup per bottle for 24 hours; if you want it jet black, dissolve a little activated charcoal in there, which will make your punch look hatched fresh out of the depths of hell (if doing this, heed medication warnings); or go full Ecto Cooler and use green food coloring, which has both the benefits of using Midori (color) and the benefits of not using Midori (flavor).
Definitely have fun with the ice as well. Dry ice is cheap, easy to find, easy to use and gives your punch an ominous smoky bubbling. It’s best deployed as supplemental—it can actually be too cold and get encased in frozen punch, at which point it stops working (also, use too much and you might risk accidentally ladling it into someone’s cup, which can be very dangerous if ingested). Instead, use dry ice in addition to an ice mold: take a bundt cake pan and fill it with water. Put spooky items in there: rubber fingers, little spiders, glass eyes, whatever, and freeze overnight, then use it to keep the punch cold. Or, for a zombified touch, fill unpowdered rubber gloves about 75 percent with water, tie them off and freeze them overnight. Remove the rubber before serving and the punch will look like a portal out of which the desperate frozen hands of the undead claw.
Whatever you choose, consider reclaiming whatever fun is available to you in this wretched year and make one. Not in spite of its ridiculousness, but because of it.
Blood Moon Punch
- 16 oz. tequila (or spirit of your choice)
- 8 oz. blood orange juice
- 6 oz. lemon juice
- 1 bag hibiscus tea (or 1oz dried hibiscus flowers)
- 4 cinnamon sticks, broken up
- 4 oz. sugar
- 10 oz. water
Peel lemons, trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Add sugar to peels to a medium pot and stir to combine; the sugar will leach the fragrant oils out of the peels. Let sit 30 to 60 minutes. Then remove peels. Add water, cinnamon and hibiscus and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. You should have a sweetened, spiced hibiscus tea.
Strain out solids, add juice and spirits and chill in the refrigerator. When it’s time to serve, put in a punch bowl with dry ice and ice mold and invite family and friends to have a glass, if they dare.
Notes on Ingredients
Spirits: Almost everything will work here. A darker, oak-aged spirit like bourbon or dark rum will accent the citrus, while a lighter spirit like vodka, gin or tequila will play more on the hibiscus and spice.
Citrus: It should be freshly juiced.
Hibiscus Tea/Flowers: I’m not particular on brands. Try to get pure hibiscus if you can. A blend of hibiscus and black tea wouldn’t be bad, but it’ll distract from the bright tart juiciness of the flowers.
Every week bartender Jason O’Bryan mixes his up his favorite drinks for you. Check out his past cocktail recipes.