The holidays are quickly approaching, meaning it’s time to gather ‘round the cocktails — and lots of them. Because cocktail-making should be the last holiday item to stress about, we’ve called in three pros to help conquer our large-format fears — Alex Renshaw (Dogma Group, Chicago), Clairessa Chaput (Franklin Café, Boston), and Elliott Mizuki (Polite Provisions, San Diego). Each one of them has helped sling thousands of cocktails through Tales of the Cocktail’s Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP), a mentorship program-turned-small army that batches its way through the week-long festival in legendary proportions. Here, the three experts supply their personal tips for big party batching.
Clairessa Chaput: Thank God for Siri, because she helps for conversions when you need them.
Elliott Mizuki: You really only want your cocktail to be 25% water by nature. To chill a punch without leaving ice in for hours, you can add ice to the container, give it a minute-long stir or shake, then strain it off. As you’re serving it at the party, you can throw it over ice, and it’s good to go because it’s already as diluted as you want it.
Alex Renshaw: If you’re garnishing per glass, you can peel oranges and lemons ahead of time and manicure cloves for the holiday season. If you want to have them ready to go fast, you can put a wet napkin on the bottom of Tupperware container, put your peels in and cover them with a wet napkin to keep them from drying up.
CC: Always ensure that you have extra garnishes. If you’re expecting 100 people, cut 125 garnishes because stuff spills, and sometimes things don’t look as nice as they did half an hour ago.
AR: If it’s cold outside, opt for a hot mulled cider, with orange peels, cinnamon, and cloves. You really only need a bottle of wine and a spirit, like a rum or Cognac. It’s good to add the spirit last, just to warm it up, so you don’t burn off all the alcohol.
EM: If you’re making something like a Boulevardier and want to have orange zest in it, you can pre-zest however much you need the day of and put it aside. Top the cocktail with it only when you’re ready to serve, because those zests won’t last overnight, and you won’t want them in there already because it’ll alter the cocktail’s aromatics.
CC: With punches, I’d just put fruit directly into the punch bowl to make it look pretty and skip individual garnishes entirely — it’ll save a lot of time.
AR: You always want to forecast how long your event is going to be. I always try to know how many hours it will last, how many people will be there, and if other drinks will be served — beer, wine, highballs? All those elements play into how much you’re batching.
EM: When you’re pouring bottles, if you give the bottle a tornado-motioned swirl, it pours out three times as quickly. It’s a great trick if you’re in a time crunch.
AR: If an event will also be offering wine, beer, and highballs, I’d batch cocktails for about a third of the crowd. A lot of people will have one or two cocktails before switching over to another drink.
EM: You can mix the liquors and syrups the day before or the day of, but you’re not going to want to put any citrus in until an hour ahead because it’s going to change the cocktail dramatically.
CC: Make sure every single garnish looks the same. If you’re cutting quarter-inch cucumber slices, make sure every single one is done like that. Consistency is key.