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Punch it up: 4 recipes for fancy and refreshing big-batch cocktails

Andrea Behrends

El Diablo Punch from L.A. Jackson at the Thompson Nashville Hotel


Punch it up: 4 recipes for fancy and refreshing big-batch cocktails

Want to know the secrets to making great party punch? Let some of the South's best bartenders share tips and recipes for getting the most out of your punchbowl.

Not only is punch a crowd pleaser, but it’s an easy hack for the host or hostess. All it really takes is pre-batching your booze, chilling it and setting it out for all to enjoy.

After all, says head bartender Stuart Humphries of Houston's The Pass & Provisions restaurant and bar, “Who wants to work while all your friends are having fun?” His secret for a great punch? “Use anything and everything, within reason, of course.”

To keep fuss to a minimum and fun to the max, punches should “incorporate ingredients readily available in your kitchen,” said JD Quioco, general manager of The Fainting Goat in Washington, D.C.

While the basic punch formula is spirit, citrus, sugar, water and spice, Quioco recommends adding unconventional spirits like Pimm's No. 1 liqueur, which he uses in his Shared Cup, to mix things up. “By using this particular spirit outside of its typical context, it becomes a good conversation point for your guests,” he said. “People often say to me, ‘Wow! I never thought of using Pimm's that way.’”

Humphries said that subbing in Italian bitters such as Campari or Aperol for traditional baking spices can also spice up your punch, both literally and figuratively. 

You can also try chai, which executive chef John May of Piedmont restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, uses in his Chai-talian Punch — a drink which also includes another guaranteed summer soiree hit: ice cream.

If your punch doesn’t incorporate ice cream or sherbert, May recommends freezing the punch bowl in advance. You can also line a large resealable container with wax paper or aluminum foil, fill it with water and freeze it overnight. Remove the resulting block of ice from the container and place it in the punch bowl with the drink. “That way," said May, "it won’t melt too fast or water down the punch."

Here, May and other Southern chefs and bartenders share their favorite summer crowd-pleasing punches.

Shared Cup
JD L. Quioco of The Fainting Goat in Washington, D.C.

Serves 4 to 6

Strawberry Mint Honey Syrup
3 large strawberries
6 large spearmint leaves
3/4 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon honey
1 bag chamomile tea
1/4 cup sugar

11 ounces Strawberry Mint Honey Syrup (above)
4 ounces Pimms No. 1 liqueur
4 ounces gin, such as District Distilling Co.
2 ounces fresh lime juice
Ice, for serving
Basil leaves, for garnish
Lime rounds, for garnish

To make the strawberry mint honey syrup: In a bowl, combine the strawberries and mint. With a wooden spoon, mash the strawberries. Add the sugar, honey and tea. Pour in boiling water and let steep until the syrup has cooled to room temperature. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer into a storage container. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the punch: In a punch bowl, combine the strawberry mint honey syrup, Pimms, gin and lime juice. Add ice to fill the bowl, garnish with basil and lime wheels, and serve.

Chai-talian Punch
John May and Rebekkah Huss of Piedmont in Durham

Serves 8

3 cups brewed chai tea
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
6 ounces Cardamaro digestif
6 ounces Disaronno Originale liqueur
Ice cubes
1 quart orange sorbet, brown butter ice cream or vanilla ice cream

Combine the tea, orange juice, Cardamaro and Disaronno in a bowl. Stir in ice cubes until very cold. Scoop one scoop of ice cream into eight individual serving cups, ladle the punch on top and serve.

Allen’s Landing
Stuart Humphries of The Pass & Provisions in Houston

Serves 4

4 ounces water
3 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces London dry gin
2 ounces cognac
2 ounces white rum
2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 ounce allspice dram
1 ounce simple syrup
Lime zest, for garnish

Combine the water, pineapple juice, gin, cognac, rum, lime juice, allspice dram and simple syrup in a pitcher. Refrigerate until cold. Serve, poured over ice, with lime zest for garnish.

El Diablo
L.A. Jackson at the Thompson Nashville Hotel

Serves 1

1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila
3/4 ounce ginger syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce crème de cassis
Ice cubes
Club soda
Candied ginger, for garnish

Combine the tequila, ginger syrup, lime juice and crème de cassis in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice cubes, cover, and shake until chilled. Strain into a Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with the candied ginger and serve. 

Want more punch?

Try these additional recipes from bartenders across the South:

Get the recipe for Royal Flush Punch from Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall in Atlanta

Get the recipe for Canary Island Volcanic Icepick from Borgne​ in New Orleans

Get the recipe for Punch for Two from Whiskey Bird in Atlanta

Get the recipe for Frogs in a Dynamite Pond from Nightbell in Asheville

Photo Credit (Shared Cup): Zoey Rowley
Photo Credit: (Allen's Landing): Stuart Humphries

Author image

Laura Scholz is a freelance writer with a passion for spirits and wellness who believes life, like a good cocktail, is best lived in balance. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, Eater Atlanta, Liquor.com, SevenFifty Daily, Simply Buckhead and Tales of the Cocktail. Laura is also a certified Pilates and TRX instructor who loves running, yoga, live music, traveling, hiking with her dog, and playing the piano and ukulele. She lives on Atlanta's Westside with her husband Tim and freely admits she does more singing, dancing and drinking than cooking in her Southern kitchen.