What is a Punch Bowl?

The punch bowl is a classic serving vessel used for “large-format” cocktails and mixed drinks—that’s bartender-speak for “literal buckets of booze.” Punch bowls are great for any pre-batched drinks, and are typically used for parties or other festive get-togethers.

Punch bowls come in many shapes and sizes, and can range from flimsy plastic to fine crystal or ceramic. They’re usually presented with a ladle for serving the drinks (unless you feel like being lazy and just dipping your cup into the bowl, though we can’t recommend that for reasons of sanitation), and higher-end sets often come with matching cups or mugs.

The concept of “punch” reportedly originated in South Asia, and was brought to Europe by British sailors and employees of the British East India Company in the early 1600s. The name derives from the Sanskrit word for “five” (पञ्च, pañc), in reference to the original five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon juice, water, and spices (often including tea).

While punch is popular among partygoers and college kids (Wapatui, anyone?), it has once again earned its place in craft cocktail culture over the last few decades. Thanks in part to recent work by historian David Wondrich, we now have access to hundreds of classic punch recipes that date as far back as the seventeenth century, and modern-day bartenders are constantly inventing new concoctions at bars around the world.

Drinks served in the Punch Bowl