How to Make Balanced, Large-Batch Cocktails For a Crowd

Building a cocktail assembly line for effortless entertaining is easier than it seems.

How to make batch cocktails for your next event
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In 2011, California lawmakers led by then-California State Senator Mark Leno amended a section of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act that prevented bars and restaurants from removing spirits from their original bottles in order to infuse, or pre-batch multiple spirits, or barrel age cocktails. In short, it meant bartenders could now legally batch, infuse, or barrel-age spirits in large batches without fear of violating any statute of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. For Scott Beattie, now beverage director at Michelin-starred Barndiva in Healdsburg, it meant that he could leverage batching to take the art of the extreme craft cocktail to a fast-paced bar environment.

For the next time you find yourself hosting and looking to keep a crowd in high spirits, read on for a few of Beattie's tried-and-true batching tips that translate from restaurant bar to holiday party with ease.

Pre-Batch Your Cocktail Ingredients

"Take a drink like 'The Last Word,'" says Beattie, "If you want to feature that on your cocktail menu, you would need gin, chartreuse, maraschino, and lime juice. For easy access purposes, I would have to put three bottles into the well just to make that one drink. Now, multiply those bottles by a program offering multiple drinks that require three or more bottles each, and you'd need hundreds of bottles around every time to make a drink."

The fix, he found, was to pre-batch all stable ingredients in bottles labeled with the cocktail's name and instructions for assembling it. The labels included the list of ingredients in the batch and directions for finishing the drink, which might involve citrus, a fizzy mixer, and garnishes. Anyone working behind the bar could follow the instructions to make the drink consistently during service. On their opening cocktail menu, they did this for fifty drinks in April of 2012.

Similarly, one restaurant Beattie worked at had a take on a Mai Tai with three different rums, Cointreau, and sugar syrup, finished with Small Hands orgeat and lime juice. "We would blend the three rums, Cointreau, and syrup ahead of time, and all we'd have to do is add lime juice and orgeat to order. That turned a five-step process into a one-step process," Beattie says. The same process works like a charm with Negronis, Manhattans, Sazeracs, and Vieux Carres — any drinks that don't involve juice or fizzy mixers. They all become one-step stirred cocktails.

"People marvel to this day at how we are able to crack out that many cocktails at that high quality over and over," he says. "We were mixing shelf-stable ingredients that didn't go bad, which gave us extra time to do gorgeous garnishes. We increased output, saved time, and brought in more revenue."

Build an Assembly Line for Your Drinks

Whatever the drink, it all begins with ice. "I designed these boxes that we filled with crushed ice," explains Beattie. "Then, we'd take a cocktail glass and make an imprint in the ice, then in the mold of that glass, we sprinkle in kosher salt and replace the glass." The salt ensures that the ice won't stick to the glass. Once the molds are produced, it takes about 45 minutes in the shade to "build the cocktail in the glass."

The first thing that goes in the glass is the pre-batched base cocktail. Next goes the ice and beautiful garnishes; once those are ready, the servers grab trays and form a line. Sixteen to twenty servers all standing with a tray that has six or eight drinks on it, and each server would make two complete trips of handing out drinks to the first rush of people — who would be "stoked to have a pretty-looking cocktail" — and it killed the opportunity for a line to form out the gate.

Plan for the Classic Cocktails

On top of the passed drinks, Beattie says they would prepare up to ten different batched cocktails that might not even be featured in case someone orders a Cosmo or the like. Just as he'd done at Goose & Gander, the recipe for each drink would appear on a label on the bottle along with the type of glassware to use, garnish, and whether it should be shaken or stirred.

Although batching dramatically sped up service for weddings and events, others in the craft industry in high-volume bars began tapping cocktails to keep up with demand. The trick for a successful tap program, just as in batching, is not to use ingredients that degrade quickly—like fresh citrus, which oxides quickly.

Batch What People Drink the Most Of

But aside from batching and tapping, and outside the world of events and weddings, if the central experience of coming to a bar is to see the bartenders put on a show, "batch your most popular drinks," says Beattie. "At a restaurant where ninety percent of guests are seated at a table, and you have a well-regarded cocktail program, selective batching can save time, saving money."

With the events and weddings he oversees as with any event during which a cocktail is to be served, Beattie says the ultimate goal is to make the cocktail process seem natural. "You're not supposed to wait in a long line. Someone should walk up to you with a tray of beautiful cocktails. In the era of Instagram and TikTok, you must create systems that allow this to be done as efficiently and beautifully as possible," he explains. "Guests want to remember the day and do so by snapping a photo of themselves enjoying a drink. I ensure those drinks are beautiful, delicious, and delivered very quickly."

Updated by Jonathan Cristaldi
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