My first experience batching cocktails was last spring, when I worked at El Paso Mexican restaurant in Foley, and I spent the beginning of each shift mixing margaritas in five-gallon buckets. In bar parlance, “batching” means preparing drinks in large quantities and then partitioning them out in single-serve doses when they’re ordered. This saves time and ensures consistency of product.
At El Paso, I used those buckets to refill the margarita machines during service; customers ordered hundreds of margaritas a night, so it just was not practical or efficient to make every one from scratch, on the spot, when the drink ticket came through. Batching makes sense, but it also comes with some controversy on the part of the consumer. If you’re paying $12 for a cocktail, isn’t the show — the ritualistic pours, shakes and stirs — part of the price?
Well, luckily for me, no one was paying more than $6 for a drink at El Paso, so no one complained about the lack of à la minute service. Also luckily for me, I learned a valuable trick for prepping drinks that works equally well at home as it does in a bar or restaurant. Batching saves time and energy. Think of it like weekend meal-prepping, but with alcohol.
Imagine having a bottle of martinis or Old Fashioneds in your freezer, ice cold and ready to dispense at any moment. Imagine having your signature cocktail mixed and ready to pour hours before your next dinner party (not anytime soon, please); you can spend the night flirting instead of fussing over jiggers.
Like scaling up a cooking recipe, scaling up a drink recipe requires a bit of math. If you’d like to batch 10 drinks, you can simply multiply the quantity of each ingredient by 10. For martinis, stick to your preferred ratio of gin or vodka to dry vermouth and scale it up. That’s typically four parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth. (Save the perishable olive juice and garnishes for serving.)
A Negroni is simple enough: one part gin, one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth. You can buy all of these spirits in the same size — fifths, or regular, 750-mL bottles. So, it follows that you can just combine a full bottle of each to make a batch of Negronis.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that traditional cocktail preparation methods (stirring and shaking) use ice to get the drink cold, but also to dilute the spirits. For your at-home batches, you can add water to taste, or you can store them at full strength and incorporate ice or water when serving, like you’d add a splash of water to a finger of whiskey.
Once you’ve mixed up your batched cocktails, you need to store them. The best option is a sanitized glass bottle. Boil an old pickle jar or swing-top homebrew bottle and use a funnel to transfer your batch inside. If everything in your batched cocktail is shelf stable, then you can keep it right on your bar like you would a liquor bottle. If something inside needs to be refrigerated (like vermouth), then store it in the fridge or freezer.
For longer-term storage, consider investing in a box of reusable beer bottles and a manual capper tool, which together cost about $25 online. This arrangement will keep your cocktails airtight, spill proof and portable; you can even give bottles away as gifts.
If you want to experiment further, consider storing part of your batch in a countertop aging barrel, which you can buy online. This will make your drink taste woodier and mellower and will change its color over time.
To serve, pull your batch out of the freezer, pour it over ice, add a splash of water if you’d like, and a garnish. For a Negroni, that’s typically a twist of an orange peel. For a martini, you can add some olives or a twist of lemon peel. At El Paso, I learned to add a splash of orange juice to a premade margarita before serving. I also learned all the words to “La Bamba,” but that’s another story.
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Midtown spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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