PUNCH Tips: Batch Drinks

Photos by Paulette Phlipot

Considering the title of this magazine, it seems especially appropriate to discuss punches and other big-batch drinks this holiday season. Although punches started out in Europe as five-ingredient drinks—one part each of something sweet, sour, strong, weak and spicy—the formulas grew to 12, even 15  ingredients, getting more and more extravagant with fruit juices, multiple spices, wines and different types of distilled spirits. When punches crossed over to the New World, Americans scaled down the recipes, resulting in the single-serving drinks that became the cocktails modern drinkers are more familiar with. But punch’s origin was in group drinking, and for good reason. Instead of making individual drinks for your guests, you can simply put out a bowl or pitcher and have them help themselves. Although punch comes in all sorts of varieties (eggnog, sangria and mulled wine could all be considered punches), here are a few general rules to guide your drink mixing this time of year.

If you have a favorite cocktail you’d like to scale up to a crowd, many classic recipes can be converted into a punch. The easiest recipes to “batch” (bartender-speak for creating a large-format drink) are stirred cocktails. Get out a calculator and multiply the ounces listed in the recipe by the number of drinks you wish to make. You can also scale up with this method: Wherever you see “ounces” in a recipe, change it to “cups.” This increases your yield from one serving to eight servings. Instead of stirring or shaking your cocktail, simply add 25 percent of the batch’s total volume in water and chill in the refrigerator before serving. The water will dilute the drink approximately as much as stirring it with ice would. Some cocktail purists believe this method does not get the drink cold enough, and if your refrigerator isn’t at the right temperature, they could be right. Be sure to chill the vessel that you are serving the drink in to avoid a warm cocktail.

While these tips can help you create a traditional iced punch, don’t forget that warm drinks are also perfect to make in big batches. Warm apple cider, mulled wine and a hot toddy are all perfect holiday fare. Make sure that you don’t keep them too hot (boiling will evaporate some of the alcohol in the punch) and trade your punch bowl for an insulated pitcher or heavy pot. If you don’t mind the aesthetics, a slow cooker is the absolute best way to make sure your concoction stays at the perfect temperature all night long.  

ingredients we never batch

Always add these ingredients at the last minute, right before serving the cocktail:

BITTERS: Bitters tend to intensify when added to a batch of cocktails, making them overly bitter.

BUBBLES: Soda water, tonic, and sparkling wine are best saved until the final moment; if you add them too early, they
will go flat.

when you’re ready to serve

The biggest advantage of batching is that you can do it ahead of your event, creating a major time save while you’re entertaining. If you’ve premixed your batch and let it sit for more than 30 minutes, make sure to give it a good stir before you serve it or add individual portions to your shaker; sugar is heavier than citrus juice and booze and will sink to the bottom of the mixture, making your last few cocktails overly sweet.

a final note about batching in advance

Some ingredients, especially liqueurs and bitter spirits, will expand and intensify in flavor when left to sit in a batch. If a recipe calls for maraschino liqueur, Campari, absinthe or Chartreuse, for example, add less than the recipe calls for at the time of preparation. When you’re ready to serve, you can adjust and add more if you’d like.