Cocktails for a Crowd

Don't get stuck behind the bar at your next party – here's how to craft perfect, hands-off, scaled-up drinks


Every mixologist worth his or her shaker is trained to craft a delightful cocktail for one. But is it possible to duplicate that delight on a larger scale?

If you’ve ever been to one of the growing ranks of cocktail conferences, such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York, you’ll know the answer is a resounding yes! Every year, scores of talented bartenders flock to these conferences, where they go through the choreography of churning out great drinks for hundreds of cocktail enthusiasts at a go.

Behind the scenes, it’s like watching a buzzing beehive: all those frenetic bartenders pouring out bottles from both hands into enormous buckets, stirring with giant spoons that resemble canoe oars, and dipping straws into the buckets to (hygienically) get a taste, and a taste, and yet another taste as they go. When the drink is deemed ready, it’s decanted into dainty one-person servings that are garnished in a flash and delivered to the thirsty masses on serving trays. Despite the scale, each drink is held to the same standard as if it had been made individually.

In the industry, this scaling up of proportions and mixing drinks for large groups is referred to as “batching.” And it isn’t as simple as taking a favorite drink recipe and multiplying it by the number of tipplers.

I asked a number of seasoned bar pros to share how to batch great drinks. Here’s [some of] the best of their advice.

Beware of “expanding” flavors
“The strong flavors of some spirits expand, so you should use less; for example, fernet, absinthe, maraschino liqueur, and Green Chartreuse. For large batches, start with half as much as the original recipe calls for, then stir and taste it, and add a little more as needed.” — Jim Meehan, managing partner, PDT, New York

Consider the color
“If you get a small drink on the rocks and it’s murky brown, no problem. If you get a punch and it’s from a trough of murky brown? Not sexy. Even a garnish won’t save it. I always think about the tonality of the drink, even if it means not using an ingredient I wanted.” — Scott Baird, founding partner of Bon Vivants cocktail consultancy and bartender, Trick Dog, San Francisco

Most things can be done ahead of time, but not everything
“With garnishes, I always wait until the last minute. I build drinks first thing in the morning, and then right before service I do the garnishes: lemon, orange peel, fresh herbs. Do it too early and it all gets weird.

“If you’re batching a drink that has an effervescent portion (like soda or tonic), add it at the time of service.” — Jason Asher, head mixologist, Young’s Market, Scottsdale

Rosemary Refresher

This sophisticated margarita variation is a wonderful thirst-quenching aperitif. The recipe makes a bit more rosemary-infused simple syrup than needed for the cocktails. Offer the leftover portion in a small pitcher for anyone who isn’t drinking alcohol so they can enjoy it mixed with club soda or ginger ale.


16 ounces (2 cups) reposado tequila
12 ounces (1 ½ cups) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
6 ounces (¾ cup) Rosemary Simple Syrup (recipe below)
4 ounces (½ cup) freshly squeezed lime juice
4 cups ice cubes
8 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish
1 cup sugar
8 ounces (1 cup) water
5 sprigs fresh rosemary


In pitcher that holds at least 10 cups, combine the tequila, grapefruit juice, rosemary syrup, and lime juice and stir until thoroughly blended. Add the ice and stir well to chill.
To serve, pour into old-fashioned glasses and garnish each drink with a rosemary sprig.

Rosemary Simple Syrup

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. When the syrup starts to boil, lower the heat to main¬tain a simmer. Gently roll the rosemary between your hands to release the aromatic oils, then add it to the syrup. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then remove the rosemary sprigs and strain the syrup if need be. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, the syrup will keep for about 2 weeks.

Serves 8. Total volume: 8 ¾ cups

French 75 Punch

The French 75 is a classic cocktail usually made with cognac, though gin is sometimes substituted, and that’s the spirit I call for in this recipe. It typically isn’t served as a punch but works quite well in this format. Serve this fresh, fragrant variation at any occasion that calls for toasting, like a brunch or a bridal or baby shower.

A simple chunk of ice, such as one frozen in a loaf pan or bowl will suffice, but for a special, decorative touch, consider freezing orange wheels inside the ice.


16 ounces (2 cups) gin (preferably a London dry gin, such as Tanqueray)
8 ounces (1 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces (¾ cup) Simple Syrup (see separate recipe)
½ teaspoon orange bitters
32 ounces (4 cups) dry Champagne or other sparkling dry white wine, chilled
1 large ice block or two smaller blocks
8 orange wheels, for garnish


In a punch bowl, combine the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters and stir until thoroughly blended.

Just before serving, pour in the Champagne and stir gently. Add the ice and garnish with the orange wheels.

To serve, ladle into punch glasses.

Serves 8. Total volume: 7¾ cups (without ice)

Excerpted with permission from Cocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman, published by Chronicle Books.

Kara Newman is a spirits and cocktail writer based in New York. She is the Spirits Editor for Wine Enthusiast and her writing appears in publications including The New York Times, Imbibe, Saveur, Arrive, and Sommelier Journal. She is also the founder/curator of the Drink.Think literary reading series. In addition, Kara is the author of two cocktail books, Cocktails for a Crowd and Spice & Ice, as well as The Secret Financial Life of Food. Follow her on Twitter: @karanewman


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