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Don’t spend all night playing bartender—relax while you entertain. Instead of mixing drinks to order, serve a delicious punch so guests can help themselves.

Whether you’re throwing a backyard barbecue or hosting a holiday open house, punch will be your best friend, because guests can serve themselves. You can easily customize the drink to suit the occasion or season, too. This handy guide will help you whip up a delicious, crowd-pleasing bowl of punch.

No punch bowl? No problem! Regular kitchen equipment is all you need. A large stainless-steel, glass or ceramic bowl will keep liquids cool longer than a plastic one. A 4-quart (4 L) bowl should hold enough punch, ice and garnish for eight to 12 people. You’ll also need a ladle with a lip or spout to avoid dribbles. If you’re hosting four to six people, try serving punch in a 2-quart (2 L) pitcher. Use wide-mouthed glasses—such as lowballs (a.k.a., old-fashioned or rocks glasses) or stemless wineglasses—to minimize spillage.

The Base
Wines: For punch or sangria, choose inexpensive fruity wines. Try a crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc in our refreshing Clementine Sangria or a Spanish Garnacha in our fragrant Mulled Winter Wine. If the recipe calls for sparkling wine, save the Champagne for a special occasion, and use reasonably priced Prosecco or Cava instead—just add it at the last minute to preserve its fizz.

Spirits: The first spirit that comes to mind for punch is rum. White rum is the right choice for lighter fruit mixtures like Watermelon Rum Punch (in which the melon becomes the punch bowl!). Richer aged rums are delicious paired with tropical fruit juices. Mild-tasting vodka can spike just about any punch, whereas gin and tequila are best with citrus juices. Whisky and brandy are great in spicier fall and winter recipes.

When it comes to your juice choices, let your imagination run wild. Orange, grapefruit and cranberry will give the punch acidity, whereas tropical fruit nectars lend more sweetness and texture. If you’re using rum or tequila, you can’t go wrong with pineapple juice.

Soft Drinks: Added at the last minute, carbonated drinks make punch sparkle. Club soda and ginger ale do well in most mixtures. For extra juicy flavour, experiment with Sensation by Compliments Italian Sodas. Lemonade is also terrific with just about any spirit, while tea makes a tasty base for our Blueberry Tea Martini.

Liquid Add-Ins
Liqueurs: Making punch is a great excuse to dust off special bottles of liqueur. Orange varieties are superb in just about any recipe, while spiced and herbal liqueurs partner well with whisky- or brandy-based mixes. Bitter red Italian liqueurs boost colour and give punch a bittersweet edge.

Citrus Juices: Lemon and lime juice, when balanced with something sweet, give punch that lip-smacking quality that keeps guests coming back for more. While you can use store-bought citrus juice, freshly squeezed has a stronger, brighter flavour.

Sweeteners: Simple syrup is an all-purpose drink sweetener made by heating and stirring equal parts water and sugar until dissolved. Depending on your needs, the mixture can be infused with fresh herbs (try mint, basil or rosemary) or whole spices (think cinnamon, allspice or cloves). Honey is also delicious, especially in our Pomegranate Pineapple Sangria ; if the punch is tequila-based, try agave syrup.

Other Tasty Add-Ins
Fruit: From little mandarin oranges to big pink grapefruit, sliced citrus always looks pretty floating in punch. Berries, pomegranate arils (another name for the seed pods) and sliced stone fruits (such as peaches, nectarines or plums) are also excellent. And don’t forget about convenient frozen fruits, which pull double duty as ice cubes!

Herbs and spices: Mint is the workhorse garnish of punch, whether it’s individual leaves floating in a bowl or big sprigs tucked into a pitcher. Whole spices, such as cinnamon sticks or star anise, add flavour and are an attractive garnish in hot punches, like our brilliant red Mulled Cranberry Punch.

Keep It Cold
To chill punch without watering it down, make one large block of ice instead of using ice cubes. Use a 4-cup (1 L) mould, plastic container or saucepan, and be sure to prep it a day ahead so the water has time to freeze. Get creative by adding edible garnishes, such as cranberries or rosemary sprigs, to a ring mould—they make a pretty frozen wreath to chill a holiday punch. You can also freeze pieces of fruit inside ice cubes or use juices, which add an extra hit of flavour as they thaw, instead of water.

Make It a Mocktail
Here’s how to cater to a crowd at your next party: Make a big batch of non-alcoholic punch, such as our citrusy Clementine-Ginger Punch, and then divide it between two bowls. For the adult version, add 1/3 cup (75 mL) to 1/2 cup (125 mL) spirits—vodka is a natural match—for every 1 cup (250 mL) punch. To avoid confusion, clearly label both bowls and place them on separate tables.

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