Be the host with the most—batch cocktails
We are passionate about entertaining guests. Whether it be an intimate dinner party or a college football watch party, sharing our hospitality with friends and family is our love language. And while we strive to provide amazing cocktails to our guests, we don’t want to do it at the expense of spending time with them. Therein lies the host’s conundrum.
But fear not, Teakwood Tavern reader! You can flaunt your cocktail game without playing bartender all night. Just follow these tips.
At their core, batch cocktails are scaled up versions of single-serving cocktails. Basically, take the single serving recipe and multiply it by the number of servings you want to batch. I realize that doesn’t sound daunting nor worthy of an entire article; however, to batch properly, there are essential techniques to comprehend.
Batch cocktails do not require fancy bottles. Mason jars are fine. An empty liquor bottle that has a screwcap lid works too. If it's glass and you can seal it, you can put a batch cocktail inside.
Other than sealing, the other bottle consideration is size. Try to limit the remaining air space after filling the bottle because certain ingredients, like aromatized wines and citrus, oxidize.
Here’s the most important batch cocktail rule: measure your ingredients carefully. Following recipes precisely results in perfect batch cocktails. Adding too much or too little of certain ingredients can drastically alter a batch cocktail recipe. Take your time, it will be worth it.
The Wedding Bouquet cocktail, a Teakwood Tavern original.
We batched this for our wedding.
Water is a key ingredient in almost all cocktails. Usually, a bartender adds water through his/her shaking or stirring the drink with ice. Not only does this process chill the beverage, but the water dilutes the drink. Sure, there are cocktails, like Bobby Heugel’s The Brave, that don’t require dilution. But that’s not the norm. Dilution is also important for decreasing a drink’s proof and softening any citrus or sweetener.
If you plan to stir/shake each drink with ice to order, then skip to the next section. You will add dilution to the batch cocktail through the shaking or stirring. On vacation when it’s only Shen and me, we prefer this batch method. But when we’re entertaining a large crowd, we switch to the dilution method (i.e., adding water to the batch).
The dilution method is preferred for entertaining because your guests can pour directly from the batch container to their glasses. Stated alternatively, by adding dilution to the batch, your guests skip the stirring/shaking exercise.
We recommend using filtered water; however, if your local water is delicious, then use that.
There are two processes used to determine how much water to add, giving each drink the proper amount of dilution. The best part of experimenting with both processes is taste testing the cocktails. That’s my kind of test taking!
Make a single serving cocktail and compare the beginning volume of the pre-chilled, pre-diluted ingredients to the ending volume of the chilled, diluted cocktail. For example, if you make our house Martini, then you would combine 2 ounces of gin, once ounce of dry vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters to a mixing glass, stir with ice for 20 seconds, and strain into a measuring cup. What began as 3 ounces of ingredients (a dash of bitters won't register in volume for the purpose of taste testing a single drink) is now, after chilling and diluting, a more voluminous cocktail. That additional volume is your model volume of dilution per cocktail serving.
To test, prepare a single sample with the water you calculated in a small sealable bottle (e.g., mason jar), and chill it in your freezer for 2 hours. Then serve up and taste. Does it need more or less water? If more, then add in small increments until your reach the desired consistency. If you think it needs less water, well, you get to try this experiment again.
In Maggie Hoffman's book, Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion, she outlines the percentage process. Beyond this process, it’s a wonderful book that confirmed a lot of the previous batch cocktail experiments we undertook for parties. I highly recommend it if you want some tried and tested batch cocktail recipes.
According to Maggie, drinks that are served up, without ice, in a coupe or Nick & Nora glass, require the addition of water between 17 and 25% of the drink’s total volume before dilution. Going back to our 3-ounce Martini recipe, the amount of water for proper dilution would be between one-half to three-quarters of an ounce. To test, make a single sample cocktail with the 17% of water added, in a small sealable bottle (e.g., mason jar), and chill it in your freezer for 2 hours. Then serve up and taste. If it needs more water, then add in small increments until your reach the desired consistency.
Maggie also determined that drinks served on the rocks require less dilution added to the batch because the ice in the glass will melt. She recommends between 10 and 15% of the drink’s total volume before dilution for built drinks. When you taste test batches that are served over ice, remember that your first sip will be different than your last sip because the ice in the glass continues to melt. This is contrary to drinks served up, which receive no additional dilution from ice in the glass. For this reason, drinks served up require an exact measure of dilution added so they taste perfect from start to empty glass. For drinks served over ice, the goal is for the first sip to be slightly too-boozy and the last sip not be too watered down.
Once you’ve determined the proper dilution for one drink (and considered the other topics below), you’re ready to multiply the single-serving recipe, including the dilution, by the number of servings you want.
Only use fresh citrus juice. That goes for all cocktails, not just batch cocktails. Also, as a general rule, use fresh juice within 8 hours of squeezing. Fresh juice oxidizes quickly, and the taste will continue to change as it oxidizes.
Therefore, we recommend adding citrus juice right before your guests arrive. Batch all of the cocktail ingredients, except the citrus, ahead of time so that the only thing left to do is squeeze the citrus and add it to the batch.
If a recipe includes bitters, then you’ll likely be standing over your measuring cup counting out a dash at a time. Unfortunately, dashes of bitters are inconsistent. Bartenders have gone to great lengths to determine a standard, but there are too many variables, including the capacity and fullness of the bitters' bottle, the size of the opening on the bitters' bottle, and the angle and speed of delivery. That’s often why you see bars transfer bitters to a specific set of bottles with precise dasher tops, which allow for more consistent dashes.
Because of this inconsistency, we recommend taste testing the batch cocktail with only 2/3 of the total dashes. If the batch requires more bitters, then add more. Remember, you can always add more bitters, but you can’t take any away.
Simple syrups and honey syrups have a shelf life of two weeks. Technically, they may keep longer, but you’re rolling the dice after two weeks. It’s not worth it in my mind so we date our syrups and toss after two weeks.
If a batch recipe requires syrup, then add the syrup when you add the booze, water, and bitters. Place the batch in the refrigerator and make sure it is well-sealed.
We recommend adding aromatized wine (e.g., vermouth) to the batch as one of your final steps before your guests arrive because aromatized wine is prone to oxidation and spoilage. Still, aromatized wine isn’t as volatile as citrus so you can add it in advance (hours or even days). Since aromatized wine is best when fresh, we recommend always opening a new bottle.
Putting it all together
Not every batch cocktail will utilize all of the tips above. But each tip should be considered before you start mixing ingredients. Start by thinking about the base cocktail recipe and how you plan on serving the drink. The following is our thought process for batching our house Martini.
Step 1: What is the base recipe?
For our house Martini, we use 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of dry vermouth, and 1 dash of orange bitters.
Step 2: How do we plan on serving it?
We want our guests to pour the Martini directly into their glasses. No other work required.
Step 3: Consider dilution
Since the guests will pour directly from the batch-bottle into their glasses, we need to account for dilution. We’ve found that our house Martini, when properly stirred and diluted, increases in volume by ¾ ounce. So we need to add ¾ ounce of water to the single serving recipe that we stated in Step 1. Now, in total, a single-serving of the batch recipe includes 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of dry vermouth, 1 dash of orange bitters, and 3/4 ounce of water.
For clarity, if the answer to Step 2 had been, “stir the drinks with ice to order,” then we would have skipped Step 3 because dilution would occur during stirring. Thus, the batch cocktail would only include the ingredients in Step 1.
Step 4: Consider citrus
Not applicable for this drink.
Step 5: Consider other volatiles (e.g., aromatized wines and syrups)
This recipe has vermouth, which is volatile. The vermouth should be added as late as possible and care should be taken to minimize the oxygen in the final container.
Step 6: Build the batch
Now that we have our single serving batch cocktail recipe, multiply that recipe by the amount of servings we desire and pour into a bottle.
Entertaining is much more enjoyable when you actually have the ability to spend time with your guests. Batch cocktails permit you to step away from the bar and into the life of the party. So make a batch and become a host with the most.
P.S. I realize the irony of writing about batch cocktails for parties when most of the country is not allowed to gather socially in groups due to COVID-19. I am not condoning parties at this time. This post was initially part of another post about traveling. However, due to the length of this post, we felt it better to separate the two.