Batch of the day: making the case for pre-batching your cocktails for Christmas
If you’re a cocktail lover looking to economise on time (but not flavour) during a festive season of entertaining, get cracking with batching, writes bartender and drinks expert Tyler Zielinski
I’m the first person to admit that making cocktails for guests at home can be an absolute faff when unprepared. The predicament is always the same: you’re stuck in the weeds because you’re making each drink à la minute, never reappearing from the kitchen, and the night ends with you, the evening’s revered mixologist and hospitable host, never actually conversing with any of the people you’ve invited around. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this exact scenario, while still serving up cocktail bar calibre cocktails for your guests. With proper preparation, instead of channeling The Bear and playing the role of overwhelmed line cook in the kitchen, you get the rare opportunity to sport your best Nigella Lawson impersonation. And I’m not sure about you, but I’d love to waltz gracefully around the room in my bar apron, dropping cocktail-related innuendos and double entendres about wet and dirty martinis, and how the “thick cream on an Irish Coffee gives me deep pleasure,” rather than waste an evening in my own kitchen not spending cherished time with company. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
To set your home bar up for success, pre-batching cocktails is the solution. It’s a method of preparation that’s become the standard at nearly all contemporary cocktail bars for two reasons: efficiency and consistency. Instead of having to pour from four bottles to make one cocktail, batching puts all, or most, of the cocktail ingredients into one bottle for speed.
To do this at home, decide which drinks are on the menu for your festive evening, make all of the necessary cocktail ingredients – fresh juices, syrups, cordials, infusions etc. – earlier in the day or beforehand (fresh is best for things that go off ), scale-up single recipe measurements to the number of drinks you expect to serve of each, and mix each drink’s ingredients in a container before funnelling the batch back into bottles for ease of serving.
Of course, there are some specific guidelines to follow in order to make sure your batched cocktails are of pro-level quality, so follow these tips and you’re on your way to becoming the ultimate home bartender (and god-tier festive entertainer).
The golden ratio
As briefly mentioned above, when pre- batching cocktails for guests, you are simply taking a cocktail recipe and multiplying each measurement by however many drinks you anticipate serving.
For example, if you’re making a Manhattan batch and want to have enough for eight people, each individual ingredient will be multiplied by eight, mixed together in a container, then funnelled back into the bottle. Precision is key to a balanced and delicious batched cocktail, so make sure you’re measuring accurately, since the margin for error is much larger when you are dealing with larger volumes.
Technically, every cocktail can be batched, but some ingredients and styles of cocktails are better pre-mixed than others — especially if you’re planning to prep days ahead of time. The general rules to follow are that egg whites and dairy products should always be left out of any batch; as should citrus and other perishable juices, with the exception being that these juices can be batched if they’re all prepared and used within a day or two (max). For example, if you fancy a festive batch of Tommy’s Margaritas with rosemary-infused tequila, you can batch the infused tequila and agave nectar separately days ahead since the mixture is shelf stable, then add the lime juice separately to order.
Generally, spirit-forward cocktails are easiest to pre-batch because none of the ingredients are usually perishable; and you also have the option to pre-dilute, which eliminates the need to stir for optimal efficiency. If your holiday guests love an old fashioned, try pre-batching a dessert-minded bourbon old fashioned with cinnamon syrup instead of simple, a split of pecan and Angostura bitters, and a bar spoon of amontillado sherry for depth with a flamed orange peel for garnish. And whatever you don’t finish, you can keep for another day without worrying that it will ever go off as the batch is shelf stable.
To go the step further and pre-dilute your old fashioned batch, or other stirred cocktail, keep in mind whether the drink is served over ice or up. If the cocktail is served up, you’ll need more water to reach full dilution since the drink doesn’t get any dilution from ice; and if the cocktail is served down over ice, add less water.
The percentage of dilution required will be somewhere between 20-30% of the drink’s total volume (the higher end of the range being for cocktails served up, and the lower end for ones served over ice), so my recommendation is to play around with diluting a few individual serves of a cocktail you wish to pre-batch and figure out how much dilution you prefer. For this, it’s best to weigh the liquid on a gram scale for pinpoint accuracy, but measuring by volume will also suffice if necessary.
Most importantly, make sure your pre- diluted cocktail chills in the freezer for at least four hours before serving; otherwise, you run the risk of having your guests drink a lukewarm spirit-forward cocktail, which would be a real shame considering all of the effort you put in to making it.
For shaken cocktails, pre-diluting is also possible, but not recommended for the home bartender as it gets overly technical and requires more freezer space; so stick with the pre-batched drink and shake with ice as you typically would.
’Tis the season
By executing pre-batched drinks with excellence, you minimise the faffing about in the kitchen and put the majority of the work in before your guests arrive — it’s the same concept that’s often applied to cooking. Not only can you spend more time with your guests, but you can also put more effort into elevating your cocktails with subtle seasonal twists.
Spice up a syrup with cranberries or allspice for a Christmassy sour or French 75, infuse a spirit with something warming like fat-washing bourbon with bacon fat (remember to refrigerate!), or add an experiential aromatic element like smoking a cocktail, conjuring memories of sitting around a fireplace. These are a few simple ways to transform a classic cocktail into a special holiday serve that is guaranteed to impress your guests. In fact, you might even be asked for your original recipe by the time the night is finished — the ultimate form of flattery for any host.
With some extra time on your hands from pre-batching your signature serves, your guests now get to witness a true domestic goddess at work. Put the fireplace loop video on the TV, crack a few suggestive jokes about your cocktail technique, and enjoy the flow of the evening. You’ll undoubtedly have earned it. f