4 Punch Recipes that Won’t Give You Frat-Party Flashbacks

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If you’ve ever been to a college party, then you’re inevitably familiar with the super-sweet, booze-packed beverage popularly known as “jungle juice.” These “punches” typically include some form of fruit juice, a few types of liquor (generally the strongest and cheapest possible versions), and a hearty helping of 7-Up or Sprite to give the drink some fizz. They’re an easy way to get a big group of undergrads tipsy, but their headache-inducing ingredients and massive sugar content make them an all-around terrible idea for anyone over the age of 21.

However, while frat-party punches aren’t an ideal fit for adult gatherings, large-format cocktails can bring a welcome dose of nostalgic fun to a festive event. We asked a group of pro bartenders for some punch-making tips that apply to a grown-up soiree, and they delivered with these seven useful bits of advice, plus four recipes to try at your next big shindig. 

Revamp an existing cocktail for a big group by swapping ounces for cups.

Most bartenders and mixologists design their cocktail recipes for single servings. However, if there’s a cocktail that you particularly enjoy, you can often adjust it to serve a larger group by changing the way in which you measure ingredients.

For example, managing partner Eden Laurin of The Violet Hour in Chicago, Illinois advises replacing the ounce measurements popularly used in cocktail recipes for cup measurements when making a punch. This quantity shift will maintain the proportions crucial to the cocktail while at the same time reformatting it to serve more guests. 

Try an “active batch” cocktail rather than a “passive batch” version. 

General manager and head bartender Jeremy Allen of MiniBar Hollywood in Los Angeles, California says that, when making punches, “you can either make an ‘passive batch,’ which has the alcohol mixed in and is ready to drink, or an ‘active batch’ that is just the mixer and can be shaken with ice and [spirits] to order.” While the “passive batch” incarnation is more common at house parties (and certainly more common at college fêtes), the “active batch” spin on a bulk cocktail can result in fresher-tasting beverages and can allow for more customization.

Alcoholic cocktail with pieces of fruit and berries in a bowl
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“One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.” 

When offering punch-related advice to newbies, founder Will Duncan of Punch House in Chicago quotes the following maxim: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. A dash of bitters and a sprinkle of spice, serve well chilled with plenty of ice.” 

“If you stick with this traditional punch-making rhyme, you are sure to create an expertly balanced cocktail that your guests will truly enjoy,” Duncan tells us.

Be cautious about the ingredients you use to “dilute” the punch. 

“Don’t underestimate the ‘weak’ element, as it is really the most important component of the perfect punch. Always use high-quality ingredients,” Duncan insists. Therefore, it’s crucial to take a judicious approach to selecting the non-alcoholic elements in your large-format libation. 

“[When it comes to diluting a punch] a frat party, I imagine this would [involve] something like a two-liter bottle of 7-Up and or orange juice added to the top of the punch bowl.

“[In order to refine the punch] a bit, [you want to] control the sugar content. I would suggest using a brewed tea. Black tea and Earl Grey have historically been the most successful [teas to use in punches], but chamomile and chai have worked for me as well. Kombucha is also a really great application for this, as the sugar content is usually really low and it is effervescent, which contributes to a pleasant drinking experience,” advises bar manager Rob McShea of Miss B’s Coconut Club in San Diego, California. 

Use high-quality spirits whenever possible. 

“To create the antithesis of those dangerously potent jungle juice punch cocktails that taste like poison, you’ll want to include quality spirits in your punch – avoid the bottom shelf alcohols,” beverage director Rael Petit of The Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, New York tells The Manual. Shelling out a few extra bucks for a smooth and well-crafted bottle will result in a balanced punch with a lower likelihood of causing horrifying hangovers. 

Laid table with punch in restaurant

Don’t skimp on the ice.

The lukewarm temps of frat-party punches don’t lend themselves to a refreshing drinking experience, so if you want to set your large-format drink apart, take care to keep the ice plentiful and regularly-restocked.

 “My biggest tip when it comes to making an upscale version of punch is to make a large block of ice two days before. It will melt slowly in the drink and keep it cool without diluting it,” suggests beverage manager Allison Klug of Rosé Terrace in New York City. 

Pay attention to presentation.

While a big plastic bowl and a stack of Solo cups fit collegiate standards of punch presentation, an adult take on this beverage deserves a more artful display. 

“Batched cocktails are all about the presentation, giving you the perfect opportunity to use those family heirlooms that have been collecting dust in your attic all year. At Punch House, the punches are presented in mismatched vintage glassware, sourced from antique dealers across the country. Hit up your local thrift shop for a punch bowl and teacups to match. Remember that the smaller cups look the most fun and festive and allow for guests to enjoy smaller portions, allowing your punch to stretch a long way,” recommends Duncan.

Now, it’s time to put these tips and tricks to the test. Here are four punches that offer well-integrated flavors, attractive presentation possibilities, and plenty of kick.

Punch Recipes

Give Me All Your Lovin’

Give me all your lovin' | Best Punch Recipes

(Created by Eden Laurin, The Violet Hour)

Method: Add ingredients to punch bowl and stir to combine. Serve with ice.

Market Punch

Market Punch | Best Punch Recipes
Nick Simonite

(Created at Mattie’s At Green Pastures, Austin, Texas)

  • 16 oz London dry gin
  • 32 oz Punch mix*
  • 8 oz lemon juice
  • 4 oz cold sparkling water
  • Rosemary sprigs, grapefruit half-wheels, lemon wheels for garnish

Method: Add all ingredients to punch bowl and stir to combine. Chill with ice before serving.

*Punch Mix:

  • 18 oz filtered water
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 oz by volume dry, loose Earl Grey tea
  • 10 oz white sugar
  • 2 oz ginger juice (fresh ginger root, juiced)
  • 14 oz grapefruit juice (roughly 3-4 grapefruits)

Method: Heat water to just below a boil, then remove from heat, and add Earl Grey and rosemary. Stir occasionally; allow to steep for 10 minutes and then strain off solids. Slowly mix in all sugar. Gently heat the liquid again if the sugar is not dissolving. After sugar has fully dissolved in the tea, allow mixture to cool to room temperature, and then add in grapefruit and ginger juice. Stir to integrate. Lasts 10 days if refrigerated.

Beautiful Chaos

Beautiful Chaos | Best Punch Recipes

(Created by Camille Cavan, Quaintrelle, Portland, Oregon)

Method: Add ingredients to punch bowl and stir to combine. Garnish with pink peppercorns, flowers, cherries, and lime wheels before serving.

*Pink Peppercorn Syrup:

  • Pink peppercorns
  • Simple syrup

Method: Crush pink peppercorns. Add to simple syrup in a 2:1 ratio (2 parts simple syrup to 1 part peppercorns). Cover and let sit overnight. Add to punch without straining out the peppercorns.

Passion of Barbados

Passion of Barbados | Best Punch Recipes

(Created by David Bouchard, Death or Glory, Delray Beach, Florida)

  • 5 oz Jamaican rum (Bouchard prefers Smith & Cross)
  • 5 oz Barbadian rum (Bouchard prefers Plantation 5 Year)
  • 3.5 oz lemon juice
  • 2.5 oz grapefruit juice
  • 2.5 oz honey
  • 2.5 oz passion fruit juice
  • 1.25 oz vanilla allspice 
  • 1.25 oz Falernum 
  • Lemon wheels for garnish

Method: Add all ingredients to punch bowl and stir to combine. Chill with ice before serving.

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