big batch cocktail being poured into glasses

We envy the party hosts who open up a bag of chips and a case of beer, and sit down on the couch to hang out with their guests. Isn’t that what holiday get-togethers are all about? They are the opportunity to spend time with people.

We envy them because the Achilles heel of those of us in Tippler Nation is the desire to craft our own parties with the right mix of ambiance, food, and of course, drinks. But such careful hosting takes away from mingling. At the end of the night, we hear far too often, “Great party! I wish we had more time to talk and catch up.”

Damn. We spend so much time delighting our guests that we can forgot to enjoy them.

Ways to alleviate party perfectionism is the subject of another article (and perhaps therapy), but we can at least give you one proven way to be more of a guest at your own party. Spend less time making and serving cocktails while still providing great cocktails!

Three words: Big Batch Cocktails. This is the concept of pre-mixing a large volume of a cocktail and putting it in a festive bowl, jar or bottle so that all your guests have to do is pour out a glass. As self-serve as a glass of wine, this approach frees you from behind the bar.

Cheating, you say? Boring, you say? No way, we say. Actually, don’t even take it from us. Take it from head distiller of St. George Spirits, Dave Smith. He gave us great advice on making big batch cocktails without sacrificing the creativity that home mixologists enjoy. It’s easy, so long as you respect some important principles.

Dave Smith, Master Distiller at St. George Spirits dishing out big batch cocktail recipes
St. George Spirits head distiller/blender Dave Smith. Photo credit: Andria Lo

Big Batch Cocktails: Prepare to Scale

Not all cocktails scale easily, so pick recipes with a few ingredients (like three to four) and simple proportions. So that’s a yes on Negronis, Boulevardiers and Manhattans. And that’s a no on the Sazarac, the beloved New Orleans cocktail that requires a muddled sugar cube and an Absinthe rinse. You can’t scale if you have to prep each glass.

The Negroni — equal parts gin, vermouth and amaro – lends itself to big batch cocktails, says Smith. “Gin is very stable. Fortified wine will change with time but won’t get worse over time.”

The most famous amaro is Campari, but give St. George’s Bruto Americano a try for a bold bitters taste with a pop of citrus.

The 1:1:1 ratio of the Negroni makes batching easy. Buy three 750 ml bottles of craft spirits, mix them in a big bowl, and return ⅓ of the mix to each of the three bottles. Returning the cocktail to the bottle makes it easy to make ahead and store in the fridge. It’s also easy to transport in case you want to bring pre-mixed big batch cocktails to someone else’s party instead of a bottle of wine. Which if we do say so ourselves, is a great idea!

Batching Manhattans Require A Little Finesse

Pyramid of Manhattan Big Batch Cocktails

Making a big batch cocktail like a Manhattan requires a little more thought since the recipe is two parts whiskey, one part vermouth and a shake of bitters. So think of mixing two 750ml bottles of whiskey and one 750ml bottle of vermouth to get the two to one ratio.

But then the question arises of how much bitters to shake? The answer is part math and part taste. First the math. A cocktail is about 2.5oz. A bottle 750ml bottle is about 25oz, which means you have about 10 cocktails in a bottle and 30 cocktails in three bottles of pre-mixed Manhattan. But don’t just add 30 dashes of bitters. Start with 20 dashes and add more to taste.

You have to proceed with caution with concentrated ingredients like bitters when making big batch cocktails. Why? A batched cocktail often needs less than an individual cocktail. Start with about three quarters and then taste your way forward.

Ready to up your batch cocktails game? Try Smith’s cocktail “The Upper East Side,” a twist on the Perfect Manhattan that uses a liqueur inspired by New Orleans-style coffee. If you want to batch in bottles, then get two bottles of whiskey and one bottle each of vermouth and sherry. Then start with three quarters of the bitters and liqueur and add carefully to taste.

We love this twist on the Perfect Manhattan because it’s not too sweet, but the story behind this particular cocktail is in fact very sweet. Smith was inspired to create a spirit that reminded him of New Orleans because that is where he met his wife and fell in love. Awwww…We at the Crafty Cask are suckers for spirits with a good story, let alone a love story.

Batch Cocktail #1: The Upper East Side

1.5oz B&E American Whiskey

0.75oz Dolin Dry vermouth

0.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry (this sweet sherry replaces sweet vermouth)

One dash of angostura bitters

One barspoon St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur

The Trick To The Mix

OK, we return from this moment of romance to our regularly scheduled cocktail how-to. When making large-batch cocktails, it’s important to thoroughly mix the ingredients, so you’ll need to pre-batch in something that makes it easy to work with the ingredients, like a large bowl. In what order should you mix large volumes of ingredients? There are two ways to think about this, says Smith.

Dave Smith, head distiller of St. George Spirits,  blending and mixing.

First, is to start with the least expensive ingredients and move to the most expensive. If you make a mistake midway through preparation of this great, big, batch cocktail, you’ve wasted the least amount of money.

The second way is to start with the lightest-density ingredient first. Vodka and gin weight less. Sugary spirits like liqueurs are heavy. This way, the light ingredients float to the top and naturally mix with the heavy ingredients, which float down.

Whether you’re pouring your big batch cocktail or leaving it out for self-serve, make sure you have enough ice cubes. Ice is super important not only for chilling your drink but also for diluting it to open up the flavors. Since you’re not stirring or shaking the cocktail individually, there’s no other opportunity for the dilution that is key to a cocktail

“When I pre-batch it, I don’t dilute it usually,” says Smith. “I dilute it at service.”

The Lasagna Theorem: Flavors That Improve Over Time

When Smith is deciding on the cocktail to batch ahead of time, he chooses ingredients that benefit from time together. He calls it the lasagna theorem. “Lasagna is great the day that you make it, but it’s so much better tomorrow,” says Smith.

Here is Smith’s recommendation for a holiday cocktail with a spiced pear liqueur that has hints of clove and cinnamon. If you want to use whole bottles, then you’re looking at 3 bottles of whiskey, and one each of sherry and liqueur. Remember to add the bitters last to taste. You can use any brand of sherry so long as it’s sweet.

“The important element here is that it's a heavily sweetened sherry with viciously earthy and oxidized notes to further develop the warm breakfast character and baking spice from St. George's B&E American Whiskey and Spiced Pear Liqueur,” says Smith.

Batch Cocktail #2: Old Spice

1.5 oz St. George B&E American Whiskey

0.5 oz PX or cream sherry

0.5 oz St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

It’s so rewarding to see your guests enjoy a cocktail that you’ve made especially for them. That’s why home mixologists get into the game at all. “There’s a deeper intimacy when you make a drink and see them enjoy that,” says Smith.

Making easy, large batch cocktails ahead of time is a great way to serve a cocktail you’re truly proud of and enjoy the fun as well. Now, that’s crafty! Happy holidays.

Do you have favorite big batch cocktails you make for parties? Or did you try these for a party you hosted? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!