You're a mere 6 ingredients from guaranteed party success.
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A few years ago, at a fall get-together at a friend’s house, I ladled out a cup of what tasted like perfectly PG-rated cider out of a large punch bowl with star anise floating lazily along the surface. After quickly finishing off a cup, my friend warned me to be careful—there was a lot of alcohol in there, which I balked at. This sweet, cinnamon-spiced mixture? There couldn’t be a trace of booze in there.

And yet, after learning the secret to her mixture and practicing it myself, I too became a believer in the powerful concoction. To this day I make this easy, inexpensive, and extremely effective boozy punch for all of my fall and winter parties and gatherings, much to the joy of everyone who imbibes in this adult beverage.

At my own holiday party last year, I served a massive punch bowl full of the strong stuff, prompting a friend of mine to politely ask if they should add their own alcohol to their cup. I assured them that this magical mixture has the quality of completely masking the flavor of the alcohol, allowing you to use cheaper spirits to keep costs low while trying to satisfy a larger group of holiday revelers.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler, or less time consuming. Start with this basic shopping list, doubling, or tripling the recipe depending on how large of a shindig you’re throwing:

  • 1 jug of apple cider
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 3 star anise pods
  • 1( 2-liter) bottle of diet cream soda
  • 1 (750-ml.) bottle of vodka

Pick up a jug of apple cider from your local farmers’ market or grocery store, as well as your favorite fall-friendly spices, cream soda (I prefer using diet in this recipe, as it has a slightly less sugary flavor), and a bottle of vodka (no need to invest in anything too high-end here).

The first step is to infuse your cider with fall spices for a flavor boost. Depending on if you’d like to serve your punch hot or cold, this will require various degrees of effort.

If you’d like to serve your punch hot, start by combining your cider in a large stock pot with your cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise, bringing the mixture to a simmer before reducing the heat to low and cooking for 15 minutes. Add in your cream soda and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes until properly warmed. Remove from the heat, mix in your bottle of vodka, and ladle the mixture into mugs to be served immediately to your guests. Major bonus points if you get fancy and top your mugs with whipped cream and a cinnamon stick.

If you’re planning to keep the punch at room temperature—allowing guests to serve themselves as desired—prep your cider the night before the party by pouring out a small amount and slipping your spices into the jug. Shake to mix and let the spices diffuse into the cider over night.

Then, just before the festivities begin, pour the flavor-infused cider into a punch bowl along with your cream soda and vodka, and be prepared to blow your friends’ and family’s minds.

Trust me, you’ll never throw a holiday party the same way again.