This summer, cocktail trends are all about convenience, with an explosion of canned and pre-mixed drinks to enjoy by the pool, at the beach, or lazy days on the lake. And while we love the cute novelty vibes of a canned cocktail, we know we can do it better—without reinventing the wheel.
Punch has existed for, well, probably as long as juice, but it’s fallen out of popular culture despite being the absolute best. Once found at every party worth attending, punch is simply a batched cocktail, usually based on fruit juice, often mixed with assorted spirits and something fizzy. Like the canned cocktail, punch is great for a crowd and even to-go, but you can customize it to your needs (and budget!).
There are surely thousands of punch recipes to be found, but the beauty of punch is that there is no wrong answer as to what you can mix to make something incredible. Especially if you follow these basic guidelines:
Determine the quantity you’ll need. If the punch is the primary cocktail, it’s safe to assume each guest will have 3 to 4 cups of punch, at about 4 oz each. That means for each guest, you’ll want at least 12 oz of punch. That’s approximately 1 gallon of finished punch for every 10 people. Remember: if you make too much, you can freeze your punch for another party, so better to have too much than too little.
Choose your flavors. Consider what you’re serving as food for inspiration, and select fruits and juices that are well-suited. You’ll need one or two juices as a base flavor, but you can add fresh fruit and other flavorings later. Keeping in mind a balance of sweet and acidic flavors, some of our go-to flavor combos are:
- Passion fruit and mango
- Cherry and lime
- Peach and lemonade
- Lychee and raspberry
- Cucumber and lime
Your base liquids can be juice, prepared lemonades or limeades, iced tea; sparkling beverages, like flavored seltzers, ginger beer, lemon-lime soda; or even Champagne or other wines. Today, there are a wide variety of specialty beverages, kombuchas, and artisanal sodas and juices, so don’t be afraid to try something unique.
Make your punch base. Once you’ve added your base liquids, taste the mixture and add ingredients to balance the flavors. If the mix is too sweet, add acidic ingredients like lemon or lime juice. If the mix is very acidic, add a sweet fruit juice or some simple syrup, honey, or maple syrup.
This is also when you’ll add flavoring ingredients to give your punch some depth and dimension.
- Herbs are a great addition to cocktails, and punch is no different. Mint is a classic flavor for sweet cocktails, but experiment with otherss flavors like rosemary, lemon thyme, and lavender, if you like. Muddle the herbs with some of the punch before adding to the mix, or use to make a flavored syrup.
- Liqueurs or syrups are a concentrated dose of flavor that can make a big impact. Elderflower liqueur is a sweet and floral addition to fruity mixes, whereas sweet and bitter liqueurs like Aperol or Campari (or even aromatic bitters, like Angostura) add complexity. Orgeat is an almond liqueur commonly used in tiki cocktails that will make any fruit mixture taste like a party. If you like spicy, add a zesty chile syrup.
- Fresh fruit adds lots of flavor without diluting the mix. Crush fresh berries, diced peaches, or cubed watermelon at the bottom of your pitcher or punch bowl before adding liquids for a pop of flavor and some visual interest.
Choose a spirit, if using. Light, neutral spirits like vodka and rum are common, because they don’t contribute much flavor to the overall mix, but you can use tequila, gin, or any spirit you think best suit your chosen flavors. If mixing alcohol into your punch, it is wise to keep it low alcohol. A mixture that is about 6% alcohol means guests can enjoy several glasses without being over-served. That means for every gallon you make, you should include about 1 cup (or 8 oz) of alcohol.
Of course, not everyone drinks alcohol, so we also like to serve the punch as is, with the option for guests to spike their drink, as desired.
Don’t forget to garnish! You want punch to be cold, and back in the heyday of punches, it was popular to make ice cubes or ice molds frozen with fresh fruit. You could also add frozen fruit directly from the freezer to achieve the same principle without dilution.
Whether you’re serving your punch from a pitcher or punch bowl, serve it alongside plenty of ice and additional individual garnishes, like fruit wedges or herb sprigs. A little party umbrella doesn’t hurt, either!