Go Big & Go Home: Make your next party a breeze by pre-batching your cocktails

Make entertaining stylish, sophisticated and oh-so-easy this summer by big-batching your beverages

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023

BY JOANNE SASVARI

Planning a soirée this summer? Me, too. But one thing I’m not planning is getting into a sweat about it. I want to spend my time with my friends, not sweltering in the kitchen or stuck behind the bar. I still want my event to be delicious and memorable, though, and that’s why I’m serving big-batch drinks — and you should, too. Here’s how to do it right.

Make it Your Own

Every really great party should have a signature cocktail. It’s the best way to get the festivities started — just hand your guests a drink as they walk in the door (or into your backyard) and they will instantly feel welcome. Just as importantly, the right cocktail sets the tone for the event to come. 

The only drawback is that cocktails take work. Someone has to make them and it’s not a lot of fun being the one trapped behind the bar when you’d rather be out there mingling with your guests. Sure, you can hire a bartender, which adds a swellegant glam to any event, but as we all know, the hospitality industry is desperately short on staffing, and it’s not so easy finding a pro during summer’s busy season. 

That’s where big-batch drinks come in. Scale up your cocktails, prep them ahead of time, and they’ll be ready to serve when your guests arrive. Not only is a big-batch drink convenient for the host, it’s also arguably the best way to make sure your drinks are consistently well-crafted, properly chilled and perfectly balanced. 

Plus you can make things even easier by pouring them into attractive vessels like decanters, pitchers or punch bowls and letting your guests help themselves. Me, I like to serve my guests the first glass, then encourage them to take it from there. It’s a great way to break the ice.

Make it Punchy

If your event has a theme, it’s easy enough to match it with a drink. Planning a tropical-themed backyard bash? Then pour your guests a Mai Tai or Jungle Bird. An Italian dinner party? How about an Aperol Spritz or Negroni? A yacht rock shindig? Well, that just cries out for something nautical like a Sea Breeze, Salty Dog or Dark ’n Stormy.

Don’t feel you have to create something original — classics are classics for a reason, and you really can’t go far wrong with a crowd pleaser like a Margarita or spritz. You can also make a small tweak to a classic and make it something refreshingly new. That Margarita, for instance, could be made with a chili syrup, passionfruit juice or a pop-rocks rim.

Just keep in mind that ice adds dilution to cocktails, so when you scale up a recipe you will also have to add water to get the right balance. In general, plan on about an ounce of water per drink, tasting and adjusting as needed.

Aside from all that, if the weather is hot, choose something refreshing, thirst-quenching and light on booze. Fruity pitcher drinks like sangria are a no-brainer, while highballs like G&Ts and Palomas are easy to customize and perfect for sunny days. Also remember that not everyone will be drinking alcohol, so be sure to offer a nonalcoholic option or something that could be served either with or without booze. 

And if you really do want to craft something unique, consider a punch. 

Punches date back to the 17th century, brought from the Indian subcontinent to Britain by the sailors of the East India Company. They differ from cocktails in two essential ways. One is that a proper punch has five components (the word “punch” derives from the Hindi word “panch,” which means five): something sweet (sugar, syrup, liqueur), something sour (usually citrus), something strong (spirits), something weak (tea, juice or soda water) and something spicy (bitters, ginger beer, cinnamon sticks). The other is that while a cocktail is designed for one, a punch is always meant for a crowd. (See sidebar for the perfect punch formula.)

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023
Photo By: Caitlin Riley/stocksy.

Make it Pretty

Whether it’s a punch or any other drink, you can serve it in a vintage decanter, cut crystal punch bowl, simple carafe, rustic-looking drink dispenser or pretty glass pitcher. You can make the base the day before and refrigerate it in a large, sealable jar (handy for shaking it, too). Then just before your guests arrive, transfer it into a serving vessel, add loads of ice and top it with bubbly water or wine. (Note that the more ice you add, the slower the ice will melt.)

Have fun with glassware — depending on what you are serving, you can offer tall glasses for bubbly drinks, rocks glasses for spirit-forward ones, tiki mugs for tropical drinks, coupes if you want to be fancy, even vintage tea cups. You can prep the glasses beforehand with garnishes like salted rims, brandied cherries or lemon twists attached with tiny clips. Or you can add the garnishes to the large vessel — citrus wheels floating in a punch bowl, for instance, or sprigs of mint in a frosty pitcher.

And then raise a glass to yourself for being such a smart, thoughtful host.

Big-batching your drinks is arguably the best way to make sure they’re consistently well-crafted, properly chilled and perfectly balanced. 

A Formula for Punch

Here’s a handy little ditty from Barbados explaining what goes into its famous rum punch: 

One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. 

A dash of bitters and a sprinkle of spice. 

Serve well chilled with plenty of ice.

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023
Photo By: Jennifer Blume/StockFood.

Traditionally, that translates to one part fresh lime juice, two parts simple syrup, three parts dark Bajan rum (such as Mount Gay), four parts water, a dash or two of Angostura bitters. Mix and serve over ice in a rocks glass (or in a pitcher or punch bowl), with fresh nutmeg grated on top. Use this as a guide to create your own flavour combinations.

 A punch bowl always looks like a party and it also makes life easy for the host. Consider one like the chicly contemporary Britta Optic 10-piece punch bowl set from Crate & Barrel.

RECIPES

Note: If you are serving a bigger crowd, just double or triple the quantities below.

Big-Batch Pineapple Ginger Margarita 

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023
Photo By: Jeff Wasserman/stocksy.

Who doesn’t love a Margarita? This version adds ginger spice and sweet pineapple to the classic.

• 1 ½ cups ginger syrup (see recipe below)
• 1 ½ cups fresh lime juice (see note)
• 1 ½ cups pineapple juice
• 3 cups (750 mL bottle) blanco tequila
• 1 ½ cups water
• Optional: Salt or Tajín Clasico Seasoning for rim (see note)

Place all ingredients (except salt or Tajín) in a large bowl, jar or pitcher and mix well. Keep chilled, then serve it in rimmed rocks glasses over fresh ice. Makes about 12 servings.

Note: You will need at least a dozen limes — they usually have about an ounce of juice each.

To rim the glass, run a lime wedge around the edge and dip into a saucer of salt or, if you prefer, Tajín.

Ginger Syrup

• 3 cups water
• 1 lb ginger root, roughly peeled and sliced into ¼-inch coins
• 2 ½ cups sugar
• ½ cup honey

In a medium saucepan, bring water, ginger, sugar and honey to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often, until sugar has fully dissolved. Remove immediately from heat, then use a handheld blender to purée. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the pulp. Syrup will keep, chilled and covered, up to nine days. Makes about 3 cups.

Lemon Basil Spritz (Nonalcoholic)

Simple and thirst-quenching, this is a terrific starting point for endless variations. You can replace the basil with mint, thyme or lavender, add lemon juice to make it a fizzy lemonade or, if you want to make it boozy, try one of the variations below.

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023
Photo By: Darren Muir/stocksy.

• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup water
• 3 strips lemon peel (without pith)
• 3 to 5 large fresh basil leaves
• 3 cups (750 mL bottle) chilled soda water (see note)
• Garnish: Basil leaves, lemon wheels

Place sugar and water in a small pot and heat over medium, stirring often, until sugar has fully dissolved. Remove from heat. Add lemon peel and basil leaves, then cover and steep for 30 minutes. Strain. Keep this base chilled until you are ready to serve it. 

Pour it into a pitcher and add soda water and ice. Stir gently. If you like, garnish with basil and lemon. Makes 6 servings.

Note: For a boozier take, replace the sparkling water with sparkling wine, or add about ¾ cup of white spirit such as gin, vodka or tequila. Or, to make it into an herbal Tom Collins, reduce the syrup to about ½ cup, then add about ¾ cup fresh lemon juice and ¾ cup gin.

Raspberry Mint Shrub (Nonalcoholic)

Back in the day, shrubs were also known as drinking vinegars; they still make for a refreshing drink with a pleasantly tart complexity. Note that you will need to start this a day before you plan to serve it.

• 3 cups raspberries, divided (see note)
• 2 Tbsp honey
• 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
• 8 mint leaves 
• 3 cups (750 mL bottle) chilled soda water (see note)

Put 2 cups of the raspberries in a large bowl and lightly crush them with a muddler or potato masher. Stir in the honey, then cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, stir in the vinegar, then strain out the seeds and pulp by putting a large mesh sieve over a bowl, pouring the berry mixture into it, and pressing the liquids through with the back of a large spoon. Discard the solids.

Chill the base until you are ready to serve it. Then pour it into a pitcher and stir in the remaining berries, mint leaves and sparkling water. Add plenty of ice and stir gently once again. Makes 6 servings.

Note: You could also use a mix of berries such as blackberries and strawberries. To make this boozy, replace the sparkling water with dry sparkling wine, or add 1 cup of gin.

Go big or go home - YAM Jul/Aug 2023
tiki glass: cocktailemporium.com.

A Perfect Pitcher of Mai Tais

The tropical classic is seductive and sweet, and a perfect opportunity to pull out your cheesiest tiki glasses.

• 12 oz (1 ½ cups) dark rum, such as Appleton Estate Signature Blend
• 3 oz orgeat (almond syrup)
• 3 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
• 3 oz Cointreau or other triple sec
• 6 oz cold water
• Garnish: Sprigs of mint

Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a large glass jar or pitcher and chill well for several hours. Serve over cracked ice in a rocks glass or tiki mug, and garnish with a sprig of mint. (Slap the mint gently before serving to release its fragrance.) Makes 6 servings.