Food & Drink

An easy way to punch up a party

Bob Peters takes punch seriously at The Punch Room.
Bob Peters takes punch seriously at The Punch Room. Kevin Gavagan

Holiday parties can be incredibly stressful for the host. There are entirely too many things to think about and too many roles to play.

Most people look for the easiest solutions. When it comes to drinks, this usually means just setting up beer and wine in a place where guests can serve themselves.

I employ this method regularly, but when it comes to the holidays, let’s step it up. Punches and other large-format drinks can be a great way to give your guests something special without creating a headache for yourself. While Punch is a specific type of drink, in the interest of time and column space, I’ll use the term in its more general usage to include all drinks served in a large central vessel, be they hot or cold.

Many of you reading this are picturing a large glass bowl and cute little cups. Pinkies out and all that. To be honest, for me, this is half the fun and, yes, I do own one of those sets. But there is no rule that says you must. I know tons of people who do punch in a large kitchen bowl. Or they serve cold punch from a pitcher, or hot punch in a slow cooker. The important thing isn’t how you serve it, it’s how good it tastes.

To that end, I caught up with local punch purveyor and drinks oracle Bob Peters of the Punch Room at the Ritz Carlton. We discussed all manner of good ideas, and bad, on how to use punch to free yourself up at a party.

The best thing about punch for parties is that it is self-serve and self-regulating; because it is pre-batched, you can tune the alcohol content to the group you have invited. If you have friends like mine, you can notch it up a little, or you can keep the alcohol content a little lower and make up for that with bigger flavors. When serving a cold punch, as the ice melts, the punch gets diluted and keeps everyone more on the level as the night wears on.

When it comes to punch and ice, bigger is better. The larger ice you have, the slower it will melt. If you just dump in ice cubes from your freezer, it will melt too quickly and dilute the flavors too much. Make the largest piece of ice you can. You can do this with large molds or plastic food containers. Class it up with fruit wedges or flowers in the molds as you fill them to create a visual compliment to the punch flavors.

As great as cold punches are, you might want to consider something on the warming side in the winter. Bob made me a wonderful take on the traditional Hot Buttered Rum with a spiced compound butter to do much of the heavy lifting, flavor-wise. If you’re in the Punch Room this winter, give that one a try.

For me, nothing sets off a holiday party like a warm mulled wine. Your house smells like the holidays as soon as your guests walk in and you don’t have to spend that much on the wine; I use Charles Shaw from Trader Joe’s and it works just fine.

To keep it warm, use a slow cooker or a large pot over a very low burner. If you want to get fancy, you can use your punch bowl with a warming pad hidden under a table cloth or decorative fabric. (Be careful, though, about putting hot punch into a glass punch bowl.) For serving glasses, I keep a stash of small heatproof glass mugs from Ikea. They are the perfect size and if one gets lost or broken, it’s no great loss.

Parties are great. Let’s make sure that, as hosts, we don’t forget to enjoy ourselves as well.

If I’ve gotten you interested in the subject of punch or you need a great gift for a host or hostess, I suggest Dave Wondrich’s book “Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.”

Kevin and Heather Gavagan are Charlotte cocktail nerds who host public and private cocktail events. Follow them on Twitter (@hauntbarCLT) or email

‘Chai’ed & Gone to Heaven

From Bob Peters of The Punch Room in Charlotte.

4 ounces of small-batch bourbon, such as 1792

6 ounces of double-brewed chai tea

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 1 lemon

6 ounces of sparkling wine, such as prosecco

Simple syrup to taste (see note)

Pour all ingredients into a bowl of appropriate size for the amount you are making and gently stir. Serve chilled, or in a punch bowl with a large chunk of ice.

Note: For simple syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Cool and refrigerate.

Yield: Makes enough for 2 people to have several punch glasses. Can be scaled up for larger groups.

Haunt Mulled Wine

3 bottles inexpensive red wine (such as Charles Shaw Syrah)

6 ounces Amontillado Sherry

8 mulling-spice tea bags or 1/4 cup of mulling spice in a tea ball

3 cinnamon sticks

2 oranges cut into wheels and spiked with whole cloves

2 apples (or ripe persimmons if you can get them) cut into wedges

Optional: A few ounces of dark rum

Put everything in a serving vessel, such as a slow cooker. Stir and heat. Serve warm in small heatproof cups.

Yield: About 16 servings.