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How to Batch Cocktails for a Crowd

How to Batch Cocktails for a Crowd

Batching drinks for a party allows you to make a large batch at once, chill it, and serve it without stress. Here’s everything you need to know to get it done correctly.

The doorbell goes off. They’ve arrived.

For me, it’s an oh, shot moment. I’ve got a half-assembled lasagna, a half-made salad dressing, a dessert I planned to make before dinner, and an appetizer spread I planned to make before that. But here they are, our friends, and they require refreshments.

I take a big breath, glance around, and proceed to the front door, mentally thanking myself for doing what I do these days: batch drinks.

When you batch cocktails, you don’t have to worry about overfilling shakers, knocking over bitters, rattling ice, and accidentally squirting oneself in the eye with lemon juice when you’re hosting. The drinks have been prepared. Dinner will be served later. So simply pour and mingle with your guests.

What You Need: Essential Tools for Making Batch Cocktails

The good news is that you don’t need a cocktail shaker.

And you probably don’t need to run out and buy a new pitcher just to serve some cocktails. However, you must have a pitcher, bowl, large Mason jar, water bottle, empty liquor bottle, or very clean growler large enough to hold your entire batch (or a combination of several of these). I wouldn’t be too concerned if you’re creating a two-quart cocktail and the pitcher your grandmother got you contains three or three and a half quarts; a little extra room in the pitcher isn’t the end of the world.

Use a glass or plastic measuring cup to count how many cups of water fit in your pitcher or punch bowl. This will also test the vessel for leaks, which is worth checking, especially if you bought that lovely punch bowl at a vintage shop or flea market.

A bowl does not need to be an official punch bowl to work as long as it is food-safe: Perhaps you have a perfect glass or ceramic salad bowl! If your vessels are smaller than the size of your batch, combine all of the components in a big container first to ensure thorough mixing before dividing the drink among smaller storage/serving containers.

In a liter-size bottle or Mason jar, I like to make stiffer drinks, the kinds of cocktails that are usually stirred. These have a good seal and can be frozen. To avoid spills, a funnel should be available when filling a narrow-necked jar.

Of course, you can mix other cocktails in these vessels as well, with the added benefit of sealing them up and giving them a short shake to get some foamy texture.

Liquid cup measurements in glass or plastic work well for measuring. However, a set of precise measuring spoons or a micro measuring cup may also be required.

Aside from that, you’ll need well-sealing jars for storing syrups and whatever equipment you normally use for serving drinks, such as enough glasses for everyone and plenty of ice trays.

You’ll also need a spoon for serving using a bowl. Nobody wants to go cocktail dipping.

Don’t Forget About Water!

I recently attended a gathering where one of my friends arrived with a pitcher of Last Words. They thought they added gin, lime, Chartreuse, and maraschino to all the components. On the other hand, the drink was eye-popping strong, screechingly sour, and sticky-sweet. They had overlooked something crucial, the water.

Water is an ingredient in almost every cocktail you’ve ever tasted, and the bartender commonly adds it by shaking or stirring the drink with ice. Of course, this chills the drink, which you can achieve by putting it in the fridge or freezer. But, more importantly, it adds water, lowering the drink’s proof and sweetness.

When making batch cocktails, you can’t simply multiply every element in the ingredient list from a single-serving recipe by ten. Even chilling the mixture will not make it taste good. Instead, you must add water by pouring it over, stirring it with melting ice, or measuring the perfect amount of water (or, occasionally, soda or tea) and adding it to the initial pitcher.

The proper amount of water is estimated and tested for you in these batch cocktail recipes and my book. However, if you want to batch a recipe you found somewhere else, you’ll need to do some math. I’ll go over it in more detail later in this essay.

Can you use regular tap water? That depends on the taste of your local water. Some bartenders insist on using bottled or filtered water for batch drinks; if you prefer the flavor and aroma of your tap water, I say use it.

What Can I Do the Night Before?

First, make some ice. Make plenty of ice. It can be stored in zipper-lock bags for a few weeks, but don’t use old ice that has absorbed the scents of your freezer for more than a month. If you don’t have extra freezer space, enlist the help of a few friends to bring bags of ice to add to whatever you can produce. You can always dump a few bags in your bathtub; if it’s adjacent to other ice, it’ll mostly stay frozen.

You may also start batching your drinks by putting all shelf-stable components in a well-sealed container in your fridge. Chilling your cocktail components the night before is a smart idea even if you’re not ready to start measuring and mixing. Cooler components will stay chilled longer, and ice in your glasses will not melt as quickly.

Spirits such as gin, vodka, tequila, and whiskey can even be stored in your freezer if you have enough space. However, bottles of vermouth or liqueur should not be kept in the freezer overnight since they are low in alcohol and will solidify.

If you’re making a batch of drinks to serve within a week or so, you can combine the spirits, liqueurs, and syrups with water and bitters. However, if you’re considering a long-aging experiment, I have additional advice below.

What Am I Not Able to Do the Night Before?

Unfortunately, it’s best to save the citrus juice until the day you intend to serve it. It’s pointless to go to the trouble of making fresh juices if you’re going to let them oxidize and taste bad. So instead, I like to prepare juices an hour or two ahead of time and add them to the refrigerated cocktail batch to remain cool and taste great throughout the celebration.

While most non-juice ingredients, such as spirits, liqueurs, vermouth, and Sauvignon Blanc, can be combined ahead of time, you’ll want to wait until just before serving to add fizzy ingredients, such as sparkling wine, beer, or soda, to preserve those bubbles.

Measure With Care

If you need a reminder of why taking shortcuts isn’t a good idea, consider how much a single cocktail in a bar can cost, then times that by the number of servings, you’re making. So if you make a mistake with poor measuring, you could waste a lot of money.

One of the most common errors is measuring liquids while holding the measuring cup directly over the pot. If you spill, you may end up entirely changing the flavor of your cocktail, and not necessarily for the better. When bartenders work quickly, they may use a jigger, but it’s better to use more care at home, especially when mixing a large-format cocktail.

Everything should be labeled!

If you’ve made syrup or begun assembling ingredients for a batch cocktail, label whatever container you’ve placed the mix in. Note whether the jar contains a 1:1 or 2:1 simple syrup and which liquors you’ve pre-mixed in a bottle. A statement on a tape that says, “Simple syrup already in here,” is priceless.

Extra Points for Bottle-Aged Cocktails

We usually make cocktails for a cookout tomorrow or a dinner party on Sunday night. However, some cocktails can be made ahead of time and aged for months or even years.

This nerdy experiment is just for individuals with extra fridge space, but studying how a decent drink evolves over time is interesting. Even after a few days, you may note how the flavors of a drink seem to merge and mingle, and as weeks and months pass, you may be amazed at how the texture and flavor of a drink evolve. Here are some pointers to get you started:

Choose a swirled drink without fresh citrus, as fruit juices do not age well.
If you intend to keep the drink for over a week or two, leave out the water and bitters. If you wish to keep aging the batch, add these the day before you want to serve the drinks or stir individual drinks with ice.
Keep maturing cocktails in a clean container in the fridge.
Reduce your exposure to oxygen. If you want to sample your drink along the way, divide it into smaller containers with less headroom.

How to Make a Batch of a Single-Drink Recipe

Finding your optimal batch version of a cocktail recipe takes some trial and error. Fortunately, the trials include cocktail-tasting, so the voyage isn’t too difficult.

If you’re not good with numbers, I recommend starting with the recipes in my book, which I’ve already tried. All of the best practices outlined in the preceding sections apply to any recipe—don’t produce fresh juices too far in advance, and be precise with your measurements!

Making a large batch of a single cocktail begins with basic multiplication. For most recipes, this means simply scaling up the drink you want to prepare based on how many servings you want to make. For example, if your drink requires two ounces of whiskey and you want to prepare eight, you’ll need 16 ounces (two cups).

However, as previously stated, this does not include the water required for proper dilution in the drink—the water that typically comes from the ice when an individual drink is stirred or shaken. Therefore, you must calculate the water you want in each drink serving and multiply it by the number of servings, exactly as you did with the other ingredients in the original recipe.

One way, let’s call it the physical one, is to rapidly mix up a single serving of the drink in issue to determine how much water it requires. To begin, combine all the non-water ingredients for a single serving of the drink you wish to make, noting the total volume. For example, you could construct a Manhattan with two ounces of rye and one ounce of sweet vermouth for three ounces.

Next, stir in ice until thoroughly chilled and diluted. To be sure, use a small cocktail straw to taste it.

Remove the ice and repeat the measurement of the cocktail. You should see a bigger volume than you started with due to the water melting into the drink by the ice.

The difference in volume between the original three-ounce measurement and this second one is your optimal volume of water per serving. It’s probably half an ounce to three-quarters of an ounce of water per drink for a stirred cocktail meant to be served, and a little less likely a quarter to half an ounce for a drink with ice in the pitcher or glass because the ice will melt and dilute the drink even more. You might prefer the higher end of the range if you’re using a very high-proof whiskey.

Another more mathematical way is to begin with some computations. For example, your three-ounce stirred drink, which you intend to serve without ice in a coupe or martini glass, will most likely require water equal to 17 to 25% of the total pre-dilution volume; that is, one-half to three-quarters of an ounce of water for a typical three-ounce drink. On the other hand, if you’re making a cocktail to be served with ice in the pitcher or glass, you’ll probably want to start with a slightly lower dilution, say, 10 to 15% of the total pre-dilution volume, or about a quarter to a half ounce water added to each three-ounce drink.

It’s a good idea to test the proportion you’ve estimated before mixing a large batch to ensure it works for you. Prepare a sample in a Mason jar with the calculated water, chill it in the freezer for an hour or two, and serve as needed. Taste the drink and decide whether you like it or want to gently adjust the water % in one way or another to make the drink stronger or weaker.

Remember that for beverages served over ice, you may want to start slightly stronger because they will dilute more in the glass. On the other hand, drinks that are served should taste great right away.

You’re ready to multiply and complete your batch recipe once you’ve determined your optimal dilution for one drink. Then comes the fun part: answering the door, greeting your guests, and raising a glass.

Learn more: Health Benefits of Ginger

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