The Timing Mistake You're Probably Making With Alcoholic Punch

Punch is a perennial crowd-pleaser. Easy to make and simple to serve, alcoholic punch can keep a large party imbibing for hours. But even expert party planners might be making a simple mistake that leads to sub-par punch.

There is no one right way to make a punch, and that's the drink's appeal. According to Better Homes and Gardens, punch refers to any combination of juice, fruit, soda, seltzer, alcohol, and myriad of additional ingredients. Served hot or cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch lets home bartenders creatively explore new flavors and ingredients while entertaining a large group. The punch maker is free to mix their own combination of flavors using whatever ingredients they desire.

Punch is such a popular party drink because it's easy for the host to prepare before the party gets started. Their guests are free to serve themselves instead of bothering the host for a drink or attempting to play bartender in an unfamiliar kitchen. But while preparing the punch in advance of guests' arrival might seem like a good party-planning move, getting too much of a head start can be a bad thing.

Why is mixing punch early a bad idea?

Though you may think you're saving time by mixing your punch early, you're probably sacrificing its quality. A cold punch typically contains frozen ingredients, whether it's ice, sherbet, or ice cream. If prepared too early, those ingredients will start to melt and ruin the balance of your punch before the party even starts, leading to watered down drinks. Nordic Spirits recommends using one large piece of ice to chill your punch. The large piece will melt more slowly than several smaller ice cubes. If your punch contains a carbonated ingredient, like seltzer, soda, or champagne, the carbonation will bubble away and not be as strong later. For these reasons, it's recommended to wait until serving to add frozen and carbonated ingredients to the mix. The exception to that is frozen fruit pieces, which may need time to thaw before serving.

Even when you're making a hot punch, you don't want to just leave it sitting on the stove or in the slow cooker for too long before serving. If your hot punch is kept at too high a temperature, it will slowly burn off the alcohol and water. It's better to wait until guests arrive to heat your hot punch. Then, turn the temperature down to a low simmer to keep it warm without burning off ingredients. The Farmer's Almanac recommends simmering the punch at a low temperature inside a slow cooker for no more than two hours before serving.

When should I mix punch?

Ideally, you would finish mixing your punch right before your guests arrive. But since we live in a world where "fashionably late" is still part of the social vocabulary, it can be hard to perfectly time your punch preparation. However, there is an easy solution.

Instead of mixing all the punch ingredients together ahead of time, only prepare the ones that won't affect each other. For instance, if you planned a punch recipe using multiple fruit juices, you can mix those juices together ahead of time and wait until guests arrive to add any frozen ingredients or alcohol. By keeping different ingredients separate until ready to be served, you prevent your punch from becoming watered down.

If your punch includes fresh or frozen fruit pieces, you can also cut those up ahead of time and store them in a high vitamin C juice, like lime, lemon, or orange. According to research performed by Penn State, ascorbic acid prevents fruits from oxidizing (or turning brown). Though the browning doesn't affect the fruits' taste, it's not appealing.

It's a good idea to keep a little extra of each ingredient, particularly the juice or alcohol, to top up the punch during the party. Farmer's Almanac suggests making a quarter extra of the punch and saving it for later. That way, if you notice the punch is starting to get watered down from melting ingredients, you can rebalance the mix and keep the party going.