Batch cocktails will make you a better holiday host and gift giver
The festive season is kicking into gear, and I am already tired. Which is a bummer, because I love this time of year. I love cooking and entertaining. I love juggling a ladle to stir the punch and a wooden spoon to mix the gravy and a spatula to serve the pie and a scissors to curl the ribbons and the car keys to drive myself to the store because I forgot the pecans and it’s cheaper to just go back and get them than it is to go to therapy and figure out why I feel like I can never do enough to celebrate and spoil the people I love at the holidays.
I’ve been trying to be less obsessive with each passing year, repeating little affirmations to myself, like “Sweet potato casserole, cornbread stuffing and Hasselback potatoes on the same table is an act of arterial hostility,” and “The Thanksgiving meal already contains enough fat to deep-fry Hoboken; do not add a cheese plate,” and “Two dessert pies is plenty. We’re hosting six people, not 30 to 50 feral hogs.”
If there’s any part of the holiday menu that allows for the clouds to part and admit a beam of sanity, it’s the cocktails. No one who isn’t being paid should be trying to make bespoke cocktails for a big group of people. Remember, not only are bartenders professionals, they don’t really care about socializing with your party — no matter how witty you think you are. But you probably do care, otherwise you wouldn’t be spending time with these people.
Trying to simultaneously make good drinks and good conversation is a recipe not for merriment but for chaos, and for regret that you prioritized the trappings of the feast over its celebrants.
Pre-batching drinks is the solution
I most frequently turn to making a giant bowl of punch, which can serve as both socializer and centerpiece at a party. But maybe you want to share crisp martinis without messing around with jiggers all eve. Maybe you’re headed to a dinner party and want to present a cocktail “gift,” even though you know your host may serve something else that evening and Scrooge-ily hoard your offering for later consumption.
I called Maggie Hoffman for thoughts. Her book “Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion” is one of the tomes I turn to regularly. It’s loaded with sophisticated but approachable cocktail recipes categorized by flavor profile, and as useful for prepping drinks you plan to keep in your own freezer as for those you intend to tote and tipple elsewhere.
Talking to Hoffman was a nice reminder that others are afflicted with the hosting overachiever vice. “Even just to have people over, I tend to be a person who is doing too much,” she admitted, noting a desire to set out little snacks and three different dips. “But the last thing I want to do is shake cocktails. ... What I want to do is show up to my own dinner party or someone else’s house and be mellow and be relaxed.”
Here are some guidelines for batching drinks so they’ll shine whenever and wherever they’re consumed:
Water it down. This is Hoffman’s top tip, and the thing she sees people get wrong most frequently in batching. “Maybe it’s sort of a macho thing, but people discount the importance of dilution,” she says. If you plan to serve your batched drink directly out of the bottle, you should include the water that drink would get from shaking or stirring with ice.
Without that inclusion, even if a drink is served over ice, the dilution won’t be ideal. “The flavors are not going to come out. Cocktails are meant to have water in them; it’s part of what balances them and keeps them from being too sweet or too strong,” Hoffman says. So plan to either include water in your batched drink or to add it via shaking or stirring when serving.
So, for example, when you’re batching a drink to fill a 1-liter bottle, you’ll want to include just enough of the non-water ingredients to allow space for proportionate dilution of water (at least 15 percent of the overall liquid should be water, especially if it’s a boozier drink).
Batching is bendable. Large-scale batching provides opportunities to play with traditional recipes in interesting ways, Hoffman notes. Try two different vermouths or add a sherry in a Manhattan. Maybe a yuzu-orange liqueur combination would liven up a Sidecar. If she’s batching Boulevardiers, Hoffman says, “I’m not just going to do Campari, sweet vermouth and rye. I’m going to split that Campari and do part Cynar or Fernet to make it a little different, and since you’re batching you’re not pouring out little quarter ounces” to do that.
Know what ingredients will tolerate. Drinks that include only spirits, liqueurs and fortified wines are going to be stable for longer. If it’s all spirit and liqueur, you can keep the batch cocktail at room temp, and you can keep a Martini or Manhattan refrigerated for months (some such cocktails will even age nicely, Hoffman notes). Bitters are best added at service, but they can be included in a drink that will be consumed within a few weeks. Juices oxidize quickly, which can create off flavors. I generally only batch citrus-inclusive drinks if I know they’ll be served within a few hours.
What I’m making this year. For holiday gatherings, I’m often torn between bringing something baked or something boozy. (Why not both? says my Inner Overdoer.) But in the spirit of doing less, here’s a cocktail that splits the difference: an Old Fashioned that echoes holiday pies.
You can make apple pie milkshakes by throwing a slice of pie into a blender with ice cream. And I love a good vegetable puree for lunch. But textures I love in those contexts are generally not what I want in a cocktail. Every fall, a bartender hands me a pumpkin drink that’s autumnal and spicy and roasted-gourdy, but has a starchy puree texture that causes my brain to cry out, “This is soup! SOOOOOOUP!”
You can choose between apple and pecan here, and no need to roll out any pie crust: The sweetener, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, adds a buttery baked note. In the United Kingdom, it is a common baking ingredient — one I came to love during the pandemic, when I made approximately 3,471 batches of chocolate chip cookies, making tiny recipe tweaks each time. Substituting golden syrup for some of the sugar adds a flavor somewhere between buttery honey and salted caramel.
Like honey, it’s too thick to add directly to a cold drink. You have to water it down for a cocktail-friendly syrup. With its faint salinity, it’s a great substitute for simple syrup in many other cocktails, so you may want to make more than this recipe calls for and play around with it.
The final batched Old Fashioned will keep for ages. I like storing mine in the freezer, where it takes on an appealing, silky texture and is ready to pour tonight or a month from now, when I’m tied up in ribbons and splattered with molten cranberry sauce and it’s clearly time to have my pie and drink it, too.
Too busy to batch? If you’re headed to a party with cocktail-enthusiast friends, there are a few bottles you can grab that will make their evenings bright: The Negroni Insorti is a lower-ABV, wine-based take on everyone’s favorite crimson cocktail.
Crafthouse’s Rum Old Fashioned is a ready-to-drink comforter, and Hochstadter’s Slow and Low Coffee Old-Fashioned will wake up your guests. Or you can grab a couple of bottles that aren’t technically cocktails, but might as well be: Sorel Hibiscus Liqueur, a sweet and spicy quaff that mixes well but warms up cold nights beautifully on its own, or if you happen to spot it, most cocktail people would consider entering a monastery to get their hands on a bottle of yellow Chartreuse.
Apple Pie Old-Fashioned Batch Cocktail
Serves 10 (about 1 liter). Total time: 10 minutes.
Infuse your Old-Fashioned cocktail with flavors of apple pie, plus make it batch-size for relaxed, nearly effortless entertaining. Make a batch before you head to your holiday get-togethers, to be consumed the night of or stored in the fridge for later enjoyment by your hosts. Lyle’s Golden Syrup, with its buttery flavor and hint of salt, is a baking staple in the U.K. and is worth seeking out here. Like honey, it’s too thick to use in drinks without dilution, but can be easily made into a thinner syrup.
Easy ingredient substitutions let you choose between bringing apple or pecan pie to the festivities — in classic cocktail form.
Make ahead: The thinned golden syrup can be prepared and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. The assembled drink can be made and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Storage note: Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks; freeze for up to 3 months.
Where to buy: Lyle’s Golden syrup can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, specialty shops and online. Angostura Bitters can be found at specialty drink stores and online. Substitute with pecan or pimento bitters in a pinch.
Servings: 10 (makes about 1 liter)
For the thinned golden syrup
100 milliliters (scant 1/2 cup) Lyle’s Golden Syrup
50 milliliters (scant 1/4 cup) hot water
For the cocktail
650 milliliters (2-3/4 cups) apple brandy, such as Laird’s
100 milliliters (scant 1/2 cup) apple liqueur, such as Berentzen
100 milliliters (scant 1/2 cup) thinned golden syrup
100 milliliters (scant 1/2 cup) water
7 milliliters (1-1/2 teaspoons) Angostura bitters
Make the thinned golden syrup: In a microwave-safe measuring cup with a spout, combine the syrup and water. Microwave on HIGH for 15 seconds, then stir together until the syrup is fully dissolved.
Make the cocktail: In a 2-quart (2 liter) pitcher or bowl, stir together the apple brandy, apple liqueur, thinned golden syrup, water and bitters until combined. Use a funnel to pour into a 1-liter bottle with a top and transfer to the fridge or freezer until ready to serve.
Serve over ice in Old-Fashioned/rocks glasses, each garnished with an apple slice or cinnamon stick.
Variation: To make a Pecan Pie Old-Fashioned, substitute 650 milliliters of bourbon for the apple brandy; and 100 milliliters praline liqueur or pecan whiskey for the apple liqueur; El Guapo Chicory Pecan or Miracle Mile Toasted Pecan bitters for the Angostura; then mix with the same amount of thinned golden syrup and water as directed. Garnish each drink with a cinnamon stick.
Nutritional Facts (per serving, about 1/2 cup) | Calories: 261, Carbohydrates: 22 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Fat: 0 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 0 g, Saturated Fat: 0 g, Sodium: 37 mg, Sugar: 11 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
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