Cocktail Expert David Wondrich’s Best Tips for Making Great Party Punch

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Punch is the ideal party drink. Big batches save hosts from playing bartender all night and it’s the perfect excuse to show off that heirloom punch bowl. However, the profusion of punch recipes can seem daunting if it’s your first time dusting off Grandma’s punch bowl. So we checked in with punch expert David Wondrich, author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (see our review here), and Esquire Mag’s drinks columnist to get all the elemental info needed for anyone looking to stir up a batch.

Although punch has gotten a bad rap as a harbinger of headaches and a syrupy sweet sip, it was originally considered a very sophisticated drink and thankfully is regaining that reputation. While Wondrich’s book is laden with historical info regarding all things punch, it’s also jammed with practical advice that will make you a better punch maker.

For starters David says, “Don’t obsess about the bowl.” He has made punch in everything from Igloo coolers to large pots; basically anything big enough to hold the batch will work.

But think small when it comes to serving. He says you should definitely serve punch in little glasses; two to three-ounce sherry glasses are ideal. The whole point is to have people keep coming back to the bowl. He knows it might seem stingy at first but large portions are where guests start getting into trouble.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

As for the garnish he sticks to the classic freshly grated nutmeg — that’s it. His punch bowl is not full of fruit slices and he swears everybody always finishes his punch. Taste is more important than looks and one of the biggest mistakes he finds is when people overdue the fruit or spice garnishes making their punch too cloying. Remember it’s supposed to be a long-term drink, not the strength of a cocktail and not the sweetness of a dessert. He says it should be smooth and pleasant, not a drink that grabs you by the lapels.

More Punch Basics for Beginners

1. Ice: If your punch will be sitting around all day make an ice block that will slowly melt over the course of your party. Use a one-quart bowl, fill it with water and freeze it. Once your block is set, run the bowl under hot water and slide the block of ice into your punch bowl.

If you’re using cubes fill the punch bowl with ice, pour in your punch and serve immediately. (Use 2 quarts of ice for every 6 quarts of punch.)

2. For alcoholic punch Wondrich says to skip vodka and use something with flavor like brandy, rum, bourbon, tequila, calvados, pisco… anything but vodka.

3. If you are using bubbly wine add it at the very last minute. Spritzy punch is delicious but you have to recognize and accept it won’t stay that way forever.

4. Last but most certainly not least: Don’t forget the ladle!

Thank you David!

More from David Wondrich
Follow David on Twitter: David Wondrich
• Find Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl at your local library, independent bookstore, or at Amazon.

Maureen C. Petrosky writes what she knows, food, booze and parties. Author of The Wine Club, she appears regularly on The TODAY show to share her vices, and advice with the world. For more info check out or follow her on Twitter @maureenpetrosky

It’s Reader Request Week at The Kitchn! This post was requested by KRISTI KINKADE.

Related: It’s Your Party! Make a Signature Punch

(Images: Maureen Petrosky)