How to Turn a Cocktail into a Party Punch

Transform Your Favorite Cocktails into an Easy to Serve Punch

Serving punch at a party
Serving punch at a party. Michael Cogliantry / The Image Bank / Getty Images

A punch is a great way to serve a group of party guests with little effort and there are many great punch recipes available. But what happens if you want to take one of your favorite cocktails and transform it into a spectacular bowl of punch? The answer is simple, you just need to do a little math.

You will also notice a handful of cocktails like the Pilgrim's Punch or Planter's Punch have "punch"in the name but the recipe is only for a single serving.

This is because a 'punch' is traditionally defined as a 5 ingredient drink no matter how many people it serves. These recipes are often ideal for multiplying to serve at a party.

How to Turn a Cocktail into a Party Punch

Step 1: Choose the Right Cocktail

The first thing you must consider is which cocktails will work best as a punch and which are best suited for individual servings. 

  • Heavily-spirited cocktails like the Martini and Manhattan simply will not work. They are best left to single drinks because they will lose their spark and become flat in a punch bowl and, frankly, they are too intoxicating for punch service.
  • Drinks that require special techniques like muddling or layering don't make a very good punch.

Cocktails that do make good punches are those with fruit juices, wines, and sodas. In other words, recipes with more non-alcoholic ingredients than liquor.

Examples of Punch-Worthy Cocktails:

Tip: Serving a punch that has too high of an alcohol content is never a good idea. Guests can be caught off guard and become drunk too quickly. You want them to enjoy the party, not become 'that guy' who regrets what he did and will never show his face again. A punch that's 10% ABV or less is ideal and you can add more non-alcoholic mixers to bring it down the strength.

Step 2: How Many Servings Do You Need?

The next part of the equation is to determine the number of servings you will need. Are you entertaining a group of 25-50 people or hosting a small brunch of just 5 or 6? Will there be other beverages offered? How long does the party last?

Tip: It is usually safe to assume that each person will drink 2 or 3 4-ounce servings in a 2-3 hour time period.

By using this average, you take into account those who will not drink any punch, those who will have just one drink, and those who will drink more. It all usually balances out and quite often you will find that you either have just enough punch or a little left over.

Step 3: Do the Math

Once you have estimated the number of servings you need, it is time to do a little math and simple multiplication is the only requirement.

Multiply the quantity of each ingredient needed for a single cocktail by the number of servings.

For example, I want to make a Hurricane punch for 20 people. That means that I need to estimate that about 60 servings are needed.

My Hurricane punch will have 4-ounce servings, so I can divide the 8-ounce cocktail recipe in half and make the math easier right from the start (see tip #1 below).

In this instance, I'm going to need...

  • 60 ounces each rum (or 2-750ml bottles)
  • 60 ounces passion fruit juice
  • 30 ounces orange juice
  • About 1 cup each simple syrup and grenadine
  • 5 ounces lime juice (about 5 large limes)

This will give me a punch of about 231 ounces and when we divide that into 4-ounce servings, that gives us 57 servings. Close enough in the punch world!

Let's take the Sex on the Beach cocktail as another example. For this one, let's start out with one bottle of vodka and see how many people we can serve.

The Sex on the Beach recipe uses 1 1/2 ounces (1 standard shot) of vodka and we know that a 750ml bottle has about 16 shots. From there, the math is easy because we simply need to multiply every ingredient by 16.

Our Sex on the Beach punch would look like this...

  • 1-750ml bottle vodka (about 25 ounces)
  • 12 ounces peach schnapps
  • 8 ounces creme de cassis
  • 32 ounces each orange and pineapple juices

In total, our punch is about 109 ounces, which equates to 27 4-ounce servings. Factor in the ice and we can assume 30 servings or enough for 10-15 guests.

Step 4: Factor in the Ice

The last thing to take into account is ice melt. You can usually get away with a little less punch than the totals you came up with in step 3. This is because your block or ring of ice will melt and add liquid to the mix.

That's why we can say that 27 servings is almost 30 and 57 is almost 60 in our examples.

More Tips for Making a Punch out of a Cocktail Recipe

  1. When making tall drinks of 6 ounces or more, reduce the recipe by half because punch servings are usually smaller (about 3-4 ounces). (see Hurricane example above)
  2. The average bottle of liquor is 750ml, which is equivalent to about 25 ounces. A 1-liter bottle is about 34 ounces.
  3. For large parties, make enough punch in advance for the entire event. Fill your punch bowl to capacity and refrigerate the remainder in pitchers for a quick refill.
  4. Hold off on adding any carbonated ingredients until the last minute. Add your sodas, champagne and the like to the punch bowl directly on top of the base punch. This will keep the "sparkles" fresh.
  5. Always trust your judgment. Converting cocktails to large batches is not a science and it is best to do a taste test or two throughout the punch-making process. This is especially important when it comes to flavor enhancers like lime juice, bitters, syrups, etc.