How to Batch Cocktails to Serve a Crowd

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

If you're looking for big-batch mixed drink recipes to serve at a large gathering, there are plenty of make-ahead options: punches, sangrias, pitcher drinks. But what if you want to take an individual cocktail recipe like the Martini or Manhattan and mix it for several dozen people? Without a team of bartenders? I recently found myself in that very situation. Here's what I did.

I was leading a cocktail workshop in which I needed to serve 36 people sample servings of two different cocktails: first a round of
Gibsons (Martinis garnished with a cocktail onion) and later a round of Manhattans. I'd made both of these drinks at home countless times before, but never for more than a handful of people at one time. Both cocktails require a certain degree of careful measuring, and both are served straight up - that is, stirred with ice (for chilling and slight dilution), then strained into a cocktail glass. The crucial point here: both are best served freshly made, while still ice-cold.

I figured the best strategy would be to combine all the ingredients in large carafes before everyone arrived, saving myself a lot of measuring time once the event was underway. That way, all I'd need to do was the stirring and straining in batches of 3 or 4 as the guests arrived.

Quite honestly, I was a little apprehensive. Could a cocktail poured from a big batch of 36 taste as good as an individually crafted one? Yes! I was quite pleasantly surprised by just how well these mass-produced cocktails turned out. Here's what I did, step by step:

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Before the Event

  1. Calculate: Consult your recipe and multiply the quantities by the number of drinks you wish to mix, rounding up a bit to leave yourself a little leeway. For my event I was making 2-ounce drinks for 36 people - the equivalent of 18 large cocktails (these were sample-sized drinks, although, in my opinion, they'd make a reasonable serving size for a party). I mixed my Martinis 3:1 and my Manhattans 2:1, which translated to about 48 ounces of gin and 16 ounces of dry vermouth for the Gibsons, and 44 ounces of rye, 22 ounces of sweet vermouth, and 44 dashes of Angostura bitters for the Manhattans.
  2. Mix and Set Aside: Pour all drink ingredients into a large carafe. (Before you get started, make sure the vessels are large enough, otherwise you'll need to divide the recipe into a couple of separate batches.) Mix the ingredients thoroughly, and set aside at room temperature.
  3. Get Serving Equipment Ready: Get your glassware and garnishes ready. Do you have enough ice? Make sure your cocktail beakers/shakers are ready to go.

When the Guests Have Arrived and Are Ready to Drink

  1. Stir (or Shake) with Ice: Fill your cocktail beaker about 3/4 full of ice. Pour in batched drink mixture. Stir or shake, according to the recipe.
  2. Serve: Strain into individual cocktail glasses (you should be able to make 3 or 4 drinks at a time - if you have another beaker and another person to help you, things will go quite quickly). Garnish your cocktails and serve.
  3. Repeat: Repeat until everyone has a drink!

Note: This big-batch method isn't recommended for cocktails containing eggs (they won't get uniformly mixed) or fizzy ingredients such as soda or sparkling wine (these should be poured at serving time or they'll lose their effervescence), but would adapt well to drinks with stable ingredients that mix easily. For example:

Gimlets: Pre-batch gin (or vodka) and Rose's lime juice. When ready to serve, pour into ice-filled glasses.
Americanos: Pre-batch the alcoholic ingredients. When ready to serve, pour into ice-filled glasses, then top up with club soda.

Have you ever batched cocktails for a crowd? Any big parties planned this summer?

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

Related: Summer Entertaining: How to Build a Basic Bar

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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