“In my humble opinion, there’s honestly nothing more joyful and celebratory than a communal bowl of booze,” says Natasha David, author of the new recipe book Drink Lightly: A Lighter Take on Serious Cocktails. A batched, large-format drink makes celebration that much easier: “All the work goes on behind the scenes—so once it’s assembled, everyone, including the host, can just sit back, hang out and enjoy the sunshine.”
While the large-format cocktail makes for easy drinking, batching the drink itself still requires a bit of foresight. Counterintuitively, scaling up a recipe is not simply a matter of doubling, tripling or quadrupling each component. To pin down a few hard-and-fast rules to remember when approaching large-format cocktails, we spoke to a number of industry experts in addition to David. Here are their best tips for concocting a large-format drink, plus three easy recipes ready-made for outdoor entertaining.
The batched drink is not the time for challenging flavors or experimental infusions. Instead, “bring on the fresh watermelon juice, seasonal fruit and bubbles,” says David. Made with dry sparkling wine, sherry, watermelon juice and an easy-to-make Thai basil–infused vermouth, David’s No Bad Days recipe is “like a peace offering between the Martini drinker and the Sour drinker,” a crowd-pleasing drink that satisfies an array of different palates.
“When you’re building a single cocktail, you usually start with the smallest ingredient first,” says Leo Robitschek, former bar director at The NoMad, where he created several large-format “Cocktail Explosions.” “When batching, you do the opposite,” he notes. The smallest ingredients, such as citrus, sweetener and bitters, often have the largest margin for error. “One drop of absinthe versus two can make or break a drink,” he explains. Start with the largest nonaromatic ingredient, like the spirit base, and work up to the smaller components, adding more to taste.
When combined with alcohol, aromatic elements are amplified. “If it’s anything that has either a super aromatic component—a spice or a bitter—then we definitely don’t just scale up,” says Robitschek. As a rule of thumb, when adding ingredients like bitters or ginger syrup, add about half of what the recipe calls for and work up from there. Or, consider an ingredient, such as kombucha, that incorporates the aromatic flavors in a more balanced way. David’s Jam Session, for example, makes use of ginger kombucha’s spice, acid and effervescence, combining it with watermelon juice and fino sherry for a shortcut to complexity.
No Bad Days
A large-format, crowd-pleasing watermelon cocktail featuring blanc vermouth and sherry.
Get It Done
A smoky, Michelada-inspired cocktail built for a crowd.
Ginger kombucha and watermelon juice make this low-proof drink piquant and refreshing.
“The rule of thumb I always teach when training is that about half an ounce of water [in each serving] should come from dilution,” explains Karen Fu, bar manager at the Maybourne Beverly Hills. The same rule applies when scaling a drink up. For cocktails that are typically shaken, add water directly to the batch, then serve it on the rocks to make up for the typical dilution. For stirred drinks, freezing the entirety of the cocktail in a bottle and pouring it directly is a tried and true method; alternatively, forgo dilution in the batched drink and simply pour the cocktail over ice when ready to serve. “That’s the hands-off, no-effort version of this,” explains Fu.
For drinks that require a sparkling topper, Robitschek suggests slightly underdiluting the base of the drink to allow the soda water or Champagne to act as an additional diluent.
A sessionable drink is easy and ideal for socializing. Low-proof drinking “means you can elongate that afternoon BBQ into a hang around the firepit after dark,” says David. And a low-ABV drink doesn’t have to sacrifice complexity. David’s Get It Done, a scaled-up Michelada that replaces the typical tomato element with smoky Ancho Reyes, makes use of layers of flavor: earthy spice from the chile liqueur, acid from pineapple and lime juice, and a refreshing note from its base of Mexican lager.
Building a batched drink is not a perfect science, says Robitschek, likening it to seasoning in cooking. “You would add salt at the beginning when you’re cooking, but as you’re tasting you would add more salt or pepper in order to balance out [the dish],” he says. “That’s the same thing you would do when batching a cocktail.”