Setting out a festive bowl of punch can be one of the easiest ways to serve (and please) a crowd when you’re throwing a party, but there’s more to serving punch than setting out a ladle and walking away. Washington, D.C., bartender Dan Searing, who makes punches as often as he can, shares these tips for keeping your punch at its prime.
Play with blocks. Large blocks or rings of ice melt slower than cubes and will keep your punch cool without diluting it too much. Some dilution is desirable, but the larger the ice and the colder the ingredients, the longer it will take to reach the point of being too diluted.
Size matters. When making ice blocks, choose a round form with a diameter that’s several inches smaller than your bowl. It needs to be small enough to allow a ladle in the bowl, but as large as is practical.
Deep freeze. If your tap water tastes funky, use spring water when making your ice blocks and boil it first, which will yield clearer ice. Fill large, clean yogurt tubs, Bundt cake molds or metal bowls to 1-inch below the rim and freeze at least overnight (preferably longer). If time is of the essence, use metal rather than plastic and don’t cover the container. Keep in mind water tends to force the bottom of the yogurt tubs to bulge during freezing, so you might want to set the tub on a flat surface, like a cookie sheet, while it freezes. To release the ice, soak the bottom of the container in warm water for about one minute until it can slide around.
Chill out. To slow dilution, punch ingredients should be chilled for several hours before serving. You can either combine them ahead of time or put the bottles (such as syrups, seltzer, sparkling wine, etc.) in the fridge. When ready to serve, pour the punch ingredients over the ice block in the bowl and stir a bit to ensure the mixture becomes well-chilled.
Make extra. If it will be a long evening, consider adding the punch in parts over the course of the gathering and replacing the ice when it becomes too small. If the punch becomes too diluted from melted ice, adding fresh punch and ice will revive the bowl.
Don’t burst the bubbles. Sparkling punches begin to lose their fizz after about 2 hours, so don’t add the sparkling ingredients until right before serving. If you won’t run through all the punch in that time, just serve half of it topped with half the bubbly stuff. Refrigerate the remaining punch and sparkling ingredients separately (make sure the fizzy liquids are tightly sealed in their bottles) until ready to serve.
Turn up the heat. If you want to make a hot punch ahead of time, prepare it up to the point of adding the spirits, allow it to cool and refrigerate. When ready to serve, bring the mixture back to a simmer and add the spirits just before serving. To keep the punch warm while serving, use a Crockpot set on low.
Don’t forget the garnishes. When serving a crowd, it helps to prepare your garnishes ahead of time, cover and refrigerate. When you’re ready to serve the punch, have the bowl of garnishes ready so they can easily be added to each glass.