When I entertain, I love picking a classic cocktail to feature. One year, for a holiday happy hour, I mixed Old Fashioneds. For a meet-and-greet in Northern Michigan, where the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls spent his summers, I shook Hemingway Daiquiris. For another occasion I went with a crowd-pleasing Sidecar. But each time, even with just one tipple to feature, I spend a great part of my evening making every cocktail to order. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to play bartender, but it can be inhospitable (and messy) as a party goes on. I was thrilled to recently learn that many of these cocktails would fare just as well being made in bulk.
While flipping through the current issue of Food & Wine, I saw that Tasty n Alder steakhouse in Portland is serving Manhattans, Negronis, and Boulevardiers in bottles for “up to five people to share.” It certainly isn’t the only restaurant “batching” drinks, as it is known in the industry. Booker and Dax in Manhattan and Service Bar in Denver offer a similar thing; more and more bar lists around town feature cocktails that have been made in volume then aged in a barrel; and the punch trend is trickling over to the Front Range as well, with Ste. Ellie serving premixed crowd-pleasers such as Philly Fish House, Arrak Bombay Presidency, and Planters punch. What caught my attention about the Portland steakhouse, however, was that they are doing potent, high-alcohol classics in volume.
“Most ‘spirituous’ or alcohol-only cocktails such as Manhattans or Negronis translate very well into batching,” says Ace Eat Serve bar manager Randy Layman, who has given his friends recycled wine bottles of Manhattans as housewarming gifts. It makes perfect sense. Take a Vieux Carré (pictured), a well-balanced classic that I’ve been turning to often during these cold-weather months. The drink is equal parts rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth; with a bar spoon of Bénédictine and four dashes of bitters. The main ingredients are pure alcohol. So, what difference does it make if they’re sitting in your liquor cabinet in their original, separate bottles or are already mixed together just waiting to be poured over ice, topped with a splashes of Bénédictine and bitters, and stirred? “You don't need to keep them chilled, [and] they don't need to be constantly stirred or shaken to homogenize like a cocktail with juices or syrups would need,” Layman continues.
Chad Michael George, a bartender at Williams & Graham and the current president of the Colorado Bartenders Guild echoed this advice. “Citrus can be a tricky devil in batches, but drinks that are all booze make for pretty easy batches,” he says. In addition to citrus, I was warned about cocktails with simple syrup, bitters, and even certain liqueurs. “Certain spirits play games in bulk, like St. Germain in my experience,” George continued. “Fresh juice goes bad, so does simple syrup,” Melissa Durant, a bartender at Acorn, advises. “Sometimes, depending on the bitters, if they sit in a cocktail for too long, they will start to turn cloudy and can become more concentrated,” Durant loves the home-entertaining idea of making a punchbowl of Old Fashioned, with extra bitters around the bowl.
“I love serving ‘large format’ cocktails,” Matty Durgin of punch-happy Ste. Ellie says. “It works for parties, tastings, receptions; really any group setting where you'd need to dispense a large number of drinks in a timely manner.” Cheers to that…and to any remains my guests might foolishly leave for the cleanup crew. “In a glass bottle that's been sealed, your batch could last quite a while,” Layman says of these all-alcohol recipes. “No need to worry about throwing out leftovers.”