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Cocktail Party Tips: Making Drinks in Advance

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

Last week, we talked about getting stocked up for a cocktail party, including glassware, liquor, mixers, and ice. Today we'll really get you ready for a good time with this guide to mixing big batches of drinks in advance.

The first time I hosted a cocktail party, I spent most of my time preparing cocktails to order and thus didn't really get to spend time with my guests. The drinks were great, but it prevented me from having much fun. And isn't that what a party is for?

Batching Cocktails: The Role of Water

I usually mix up batches of martinis and Manhattans, but you needn't limit yourself to those. Keep this in mind: there are two ways to batch up cocktails in advance: with and without water.

Water is an essential ingredient in a cocktail. It softens the flavor of the drink and rounds out the rough edges of the spirit. You can add it the way the bartender does at your favorite watering hole—by stirring or shaking the drink immediately prior to service, or you can add water as you're preparing the cocktail for batching, so it's all ready to go.

Batching requires some simple math in advance, but at party time all you need to do is chill the batched cocktail very well and serve—or even better, let guests serve themselves.

So here's how you go about it. First, get a bottle or a lidded pitcher. This doesn't need to be fancy—an empty plastic soda bottle or a liquor bottle would work—but I'd recommend a swing-top glass bottle.

A Little Bit of Martini and Margarita Math

Figure out the bottle's capacity: if you're buying it new, the label should tell you how many ounces it holds. Otherwise, you'll have to measure it yourself.

Now, fix this in your head and don't let go: one quarter of the bottle's capacity will be taken up by water. Yup. When you shake a cocktail, at least one quarter of the resulting drink will be taken up by melted ice. When you're chilling a cocktail, you can just make sure that quarter is thoroughly chilled water.

So, assume you're using a 25-ounce bottle: about six ounces of that will be water. Now, you need to break down the remaining space: three-quarters of the bottle is approximately 19 ounces. How you fill that will depend on your recipe.

Let's assume you're making bottles of martinis, not too dry. Take my favorite ratio: 4 parts of gin to 1 part dry vermouth. That's 5 parts total, 4 of which are gin and 1 of which is vermouth—or 4/5 gin, and 1/5 vermouth. You have 19 ounces left in your bottle. Five doesn't divide cleanly into 17, but as you'll see, it doesn't matter.

19 ounces ÷ 5 parts = 3.8 ounces per part
So, you're going to use 3.8 ounces of vermouth.

For the gin, you need four parts, so:
3.8 x 4 parts = 15.2 ounces of gin

So, you could use 15.2 ounces of gin and 3.8 ounces of vermouth, or you could fudge it a little and use 15 ounces of gin and 4 ounces of vermouth. Fudge it! Go on, you know you want to. You may want to use a funnel to pour all the ingredients into the bottle. Add 6 ounces of water, mix it up, and cool the bottle down until you're ready to serve.

"Wait, Dietsch! My friends are margarita drinkers!" Okay, no problem. Try a ratio of 3 parts tequila to 2 parts triple sec and 1 part lime juice. That's 6 parts total. (Again, we're going to fill the remaining space in our bottle with water.)

19 ounces ÷ 6 parts = 3.17 ounces per part

For the tequila: 3.17 x 3 = 9.51 ounces
For the triple sec: 3.17 x 2 = 6.34 ounces

So, use about 9.5 oz. tequila, 6.5 ounces triple sec, and 3 ounces lime juice. Add 6 ounces of water and chill, chill, chill.

Want to step it up and make a batch of Negronis? I've got the recipe for you right here ».

How far in advance can you mix up the batches?

A cocktail without juice can be batched up a few days in advance, but citrus juice goes off pretty quickly, so be sure to make any drinks with juice the morning of your party.

Another tip: Serve your bottled cocktails as cold as possible. A cooler or tub full of icewater will chill them better than stashing them in the fridge, and you can also keep bottles of water, soda, beer, and sparkling and white wine in the same tub.

Punch

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[Photograph: Michael Dietsch]

In addition to bottled cocktails, consider making a punch! A good punch is always a crowd-pleaser and, because you prepare it in advance, it's another way to keep your guests happy without having to mix cocktails on the fly.

Punch recipes abound on the Web. Cocktail historian David Wondrich just released a book on the topic, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Serious Eats contributor Paul Clarke has also gotten into the act, blogging a recipe for Flaming Holiday Punch that should set guests' jaws a-flappin'.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and technographer. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.

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