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[Flickr: ohdearbarb]

Now that spring has made itself comfortable and Memorial Day is only a couple of steps away on the calendar, the season of outdoor entertaining is pretty much upon us. During the indoor months, preparing drinks for your guests can be as simple as splashing some whisky over a few cubes of ice. Or as complex as knocking together a number of well-considered cocktails.

But when everyone's hanging out on the deck with the smoke from the grill rising above the yard, you want liquid refreshments a bit more in tune with the season.

In today's Washington Post, Jason Wilson tackles the sometimes sticky topic of pitcher drinks. Pitcher drinks have a lot of appeal during the warmer time of year: you can ideally prepare them before guests arrive, then simply add ice and place the pitcher on a table with some glasses and encourage guests to help themselves.

But pitcher drinks are also often flaccid, with many recipes too reliant on fruit juices that quickly go watery, fizzy mixtures that rapidly go flat, or bottled mixers that are about as culinarily appropriate as using cream of mushroom soup in your party casserole.

But there's hope out there for those seeking to prepare drinks for a crowd, without spending the whole party stuck inside with a cocktail shaker. As Wilson notes, one way to give a rum-based drink recipe a little vavoom is to replace the white rum with cachaca, a Brazilian sugarcane spirit that's in many ways similar to the more familiar rum but has a bit more rugged character that holds up well when mixed with strong flavors and served with a good slug of ice.

In addition, vintage punch recipes have caught on in a major way among the craft-cocktail crowd, and many older recipes—think pre-1950s recipes, before 7-Up and orange sherbet came to be considered appropriate punch ingredients—are made with flavor (and alcohol) potency that may be overwhelming if the mixture were to be served as a cocktail. But after sitting for a few minutes with a good dose of ice, they're as tasty and engaging as you might hope.

A couple of other points on mixing pitcher drinks:

Don't overdo it with the ingredients. There's a temptation to take the "more is better" approach, putting every juice and fizzy mixture at hand into the pitcher. Avoid it, as this almost invariably leads to murky drinks with unidentifiable flavors.

Also, think about your ice: in general, the smaller the ice pieces, the more rapidly they'll dilute the drink. Some dilution is desired, of course, but it's a fine line between "just right" and "too much."

Try preparing a large block of ice that fits right into the pitcher, using perhaps a plastic mold or a container that once held orange-juice concentrate, fill it with water, then leave it in the freezer overnight. This will melt slower than typical ice, extending the life span of that pitcher drink on the table.

These are just a few tips on preparing pitcher drinks. What are your suggestions on preparing warm-weather drinks that are suitable for a crowd? And do you have favorite pitcher drinks?

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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