I love making cocktails for my friends, but things can get a little out of hand at birthday parties and other large gatherings. Between measuring and pouring ingredients, slicing limes and lemons, getting ice, cleaning out the shaker, and everything else that goes into running even a small home bar, it is all too easy to let bartending obligations overtake the fact that I actually want to spend time hanging out with my friends! When you have a dozen people, all of whom will be having at least two or three drinks, take my advice and skip the made-to-order cocktails by making a delicious punch instead. You can make it ahead of time, it is just as delicious and impressive as a single serving cocktail, and there's even some interesting history that you can use as a conversation starter!
Punch as we know it today made its way from India to the United Kingdom in the early seventeenth century thanks to the efforts of the British East India Company. The original drink referred to a mixture of alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea. We won't be making that exact recipe today, but it is certainly one worth exploring! While early punches were made with wine and maybe a little bit of brandy (think "wassail"), the modern punch was really born in the latter half of the seventeenth century when British sailors began using Jamaican rum in their punch.
British sailors, as you may be aware, actually received a daily rum ration until 1970. This ration was often diluted with water to make grog, and many ship captains began to add lime juice to the grog when citrus's scurvy-prevention properties were discovered. This drink (the origin of the term "Limey" in reference to British sailors, by the way) doesn't have a well-defined place in the lineage of punch, but it does have a suspiciously close relationship to one of the most classic punch recipes: Barbados Rum Punch.
Barbados Rum Punch is a simple, easy recipe and a semi-distant ancestor of the daiquiri. You can remember its base recipe with the rhyme: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. These measurements correspond to one part lime juice, two parts sugar or simple syrup, three parts rum, and four parts water. The punch is often further flavored with nutmeg or a few dashes of Angostura bitters. The sour/sweet/strong/weak ratio can also be used as a guide to make delicious punch using your own recipes!
Now, as much of a history buff as I am, I haven't deluded myself into believing you're going to break out a traditional British Navy rum punch recipe from the 1700s at your next bridal shower. I encourage you to experiment with it for the sake of tasting a bit of history, but don't worry: Here are some delicious and easy punch recipes to impress at your next event.
The first punch recipe I want to share with you is a traditional fruit punch called Planter's Punch. It is only slightly less traditional than the ultra-basic Barbados Rum Punch, but the fruit juices in the recipe make it much more palatable and suitable for just about any sort of party.
- One and a half cups (half a 750ml bottle) of Jamaican rum like Appleton Estate
- One cup of pineapple juice
- One cup of orange juice
- A half cup of lemon juice (fresh if possible)
- A half cup of grenadine
- Several dashes of Angostura bitters
To make Planter's Punch, simply mix all the ingredients together in a large punch bowl. The bitters can be added to the mix or you can put one or two dashes in each individual drink as the punch is doled out. Planter's Punch can be a little strong for people who don't drink often, so I like to keep something carbonated like club soda or even a lemon-lime soda on hand. If anyone thinks the punch is a bit much by itself, top their glass off with some soda to dilute it. Adding soda to the whole punch bowl is even an option if you want to extend the life of the punch—it's really your call!
The tradition with punch, by the way, is to use a massive ice cube or a large ice ring to keep the punch chilled with minimal dilution. It's not too hard to finagle a way to make a giant piece of ice in your freezer, but feel free to just use a lot of regular-sized ice cubes. Another option is to let the punch sit at room temperature and provide ice so your guests can enjoy the punch on the rocks.
It may not be super obvious, but Planter's Punch actually is based on the 1-2-3-4 ratio rhyme. By using sweet fruit juice instead of water, the recipe doesn't need as much straight sugar to balance the flavors. Using the ratio in this Planter's Punch recipe as a guide, you can make delicious punch with whatever ingredients you like! The rum can be swapped out for literally any spirit you can think of, especially vodka, as it makes some of the best best big batch cocktails out there. Rum is traditional, as there are plenty of the best big batch cocktails made with rum too, but use whatever you like, especially a more traditional liquor like brandy of Cognac. The same goes for the sweet fruit juices, though I recommend keeping the "sour" ingredient the same: either lemon or lime. Grenadine can be swapped out for any type of syrup or omitted entirely depending on how sweet the other ingredients are. If you're sticking with rum though, check out the best rum cocktails for parties.
While punch traditionally contains alcohol, punch's versatility means it should not be reserved only for adult parties! If anything, we should be encouraging today's youth to learn to make delicious punch so they know that there's more to it than those cloyingly sweet Hawaiian Punch drinks filled with high fructose corn syrup and artificial fruit juice concentrate. If your party has children or if you're at an event like a baby shower where alcoholic punch wouldn't be very welcome, here's a simple recipe for an alcohol-free punch.
- One cup raspberry lemonade
- One cup orange juice
- One cup grapefruit soda like Squirt or Fresca
- A half cup of lime juice
- Several dashes of Angostura bitters
Simply mix all the ingredients in a punch bowl and enjoy. Like with most punches, I find the addition of bitters to do wonders for the complexity of the drink. While bitters technically contain alcohol, a couple drops in a huge bowl of punch make it a negligible addition. If you are supremely concerned with teetotaling, then consider topping the punch with freshly grated nutmeg instead.