There’s something about a big bowl of punch that feels especially festive. And while you can make punch any time of year, the recipes tend toward fall and winter flavors. But what makes punch different from just a batched cocktail? Is it the bowl?
Punch by definition is a mixed drink made from a combination of fruit juice, sweetener, water, spirit, and spice. The secret to punch is balancing the components so that no single ingredient is more perceptible than another. This is different from most cocktails that have a star ingredient. But, the best part about a bowl of punch, and the bowl is important, is the communal aspect. Everyone is sharing the same beverage, emptying the bowl is a group effort, and your host is right there with you, not stuck behind the bar.
And yes, you can serve punch in a pitcher, but why would you? Hauling out a big glass bowl to ladle a beverage out of is ridiculous and should be done any chance you get.
Recipes To Get You Started
These two punch recipes are definitely holiday-leaning, and while not the simplest they still come together without too much prep and show off the possibilities of a well-crafted punch. They are also crowd-pleasers with their not-too-sweet, familiar flavors.
The Night Before
Make a large block of ice to keep your punch cold. Fill a small mixing bowl or bundt pan with water and freeze overnight. A bread pan, especially a silicone one, also works great. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also add slices of citrus, fruit, or spices for decoration. The larger the piece of ice the slower it melts and dilutes your punch, so while many larger ice cubes definitely work, they will melt quicker and dilute quicker.
The night before is also the best time to make any syrups, teas, etc so that they have plenty of time to cool before mixing.
This low-alcohol punch has rich, sophisticated flavors inspired by fall. It will go fast, so you may want to double or triple the batch.
2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 oz fresh orange juice
2 oz turbinado or raw sugar syrup*
4 oz sweet vermouth
8 oz double strength black tea** (such as English Breakfast)
8 oz fresh apple cider
1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling wine (such as brut Cava)
1 - 1.5 oz The Bitter Housewife Aromatic Bitters
*Sugar syrup is made by combining 2 parts sugar with 1 part water in a small saucepan and bringing to a simmer until all the sugar is dissolved. Extra will keep in a covered container in the fridge for about a month.
**Double strength black tea is exactly that, use two tea bags or two portions of loose for one cup of tea and steep for about 4-5 minutes.
Once you have your tea and syrup made and cooled (they can easily be made the night before) combine the juices, syrup, vermouth, tea, cider, and bitters in your punch bowl. When you're ready to serve, gently add the bottle of sparkling wine, stir gently to mix, and add ice. You can garnish the bowl with thin slices of apple, orange, and/or cinnamon sticks.
Spiced Cranberry Punch
A classic combo of cranberries, orange, and baking spices make this whiskey-based punch a favorite of mine for the holidays.
Spiced Cranberry Syrup
1 cup cranberry juice
½ cup brown sugar
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
For the punch
~ 1 cup spiced cranberry syrup
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup orange juice
2 cups whiskey
1.5 oz The Bitter Housewife Barrel Aged Bitters
4-6 (12 ounce) cans of sparkling water
To make the syrup: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved and spices have infused the juice. About 10 minutes. Don’t be afraid to taste and cook longer to infuse more flavor. When done remove from heat to cool and then strain.
To make the punch: Combine about 1 cup of the spiced cranberry syrup (that should be most, if not all that you made) with the juices, whiskey, and bitters in a punch bowl.
Taste and adjust sweetness with any remaining syrup, remembering that you will be adding sparkling water. If you don’t feel it’s sweet enough and you’ve used all they syrup. Dissolve more brown sugar in equal parts water over low heat and add until you achieve desired sweetness.
Right before serving add your ice block and soda water to the bowl. Give it a good stir and garnish with fresh cranberries and orange slices.
Basic Punch Formula
If you’re into developing your own recipes here’s a basic formula that provides a good start and also a checklist for all the components to consider. Remember each part can be divided among different flavors.
1 part sour - lemon or lime juice
2 parts sweet - sugar, honey, etc
3 parts strong - spirit (one or more)
4 parts weak - water, fruit juice, tea
Spice - nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, etc
Use this as a guide, but always taste and adjust as you go. Not all sweeteners are equal, some lemons will be more tart than others, tea can also be how you add your spice and even some of your sour. Trust your gut and keep tasting till you get what you want.
The beauty of punch is its adaptability. You can customize any recipe or create your own based on your taste and the season. All it takes is a little creativity and experimentation.
Cheers to excuses to drag out the punch bowl!