Nothing beats a freshly prepared cocktail, whether you’re unwinding at the end of the day or celebrating something special. Cocktails come in literally thousands of varieties, each with its own unique combinations of flavors and spirits. Some of these cocktails lend themselves to mass production – a process known as ‘batching’. Batched cocktails may be convenient, but professional mixologists know that there are superior methods to cocktail preparation.
What is a Batch Cocktail?
It is a common practice for many restaurants and nightclubs to prepare large quantities of popular cocktails each night. These are referred to as big batch cocktails. Batch cocktails are usually combined ahead of time to save effort during busy periods. Favorite ‘pitcher’ drinks like mimosas, negronis, punches, and mules may be prepared in large quantities and stored until needed. Whether you use a blender, a punchbowl, or a large mason jar, there is no doubt that this form of cocktail preparation can be useful in the hospitality sector or for private gatherings. Big batch cocktails offer two primary benefits for the busy drinking establishment: Convenience and consistency. A batch cocktail can be produced ahead of time for nightly restaurant or bar patrons or for large gatherings; preparing the cocktail recipe in advance of the party allows the bartending staff to focus on more complex cocktails and other prep chores. A large batch of cocktails also provides the ability to make popular cocktails uniform in flavor characteristics. Perhaps your tavern or eatery has a signature cocktail that patrons love. Don’t you want it to taste delicious every time your patrons visit? If so, a batched cocktail may be a suitable choice.
Drawbacks to Big Batch Cocktails
It is clear that batched cocktails – a pitcher of sangria, a bowl full of rum punch, or a commercial-sized blender brimming with margaritas – can save time and effort during busy periods in the hospitality industry. There are drawbacks to this time-honored method of preparing large quantities of popular cocktail favorites, however. Convenience and consistent flavor aside, professional bartenders prefer to make their cocktail recipes one at a time.
What are the drawbacks to batched cocktails? First, getting a batch right often takes significant calculation on the part of the bartending staff. Getting the right quantities and the right flavors may take trial and error; this can lead to expensive waste. Some batched drinks are made in a concentrated form and diluted just prior to serving. This also complicates the process. A punch drink may be relatively easy to get right the first time, but add ice and you may wind up serving a watered-down crowd favorite. Waste is the bane of the barkeeper’s profession, and so is an unhappy drinking customer.
Second, flavors may be impacted if the batch is allowed to sit for too long. Mixes with citrus juices, including pineapple juice, orange juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, or lime juice may decline in fresh flavor if stored for more than a few hours at a time. Again, this can be wasteful. Drinks that incorporate carbonated beverage ingredients, like the popular gin fizz or the champagne-based mimosa, lose their sparkle unless consumed immediately. Imagine serving a flat ginger beer rum punch to a customer — what reaction would you get? Certain dairy-based drink ingredients like cream or milk may spoil unless storage temperatures are just right. Failure to use up a dairy-based batched cocktail is not only wasteful, but it can lead to illness.
Finally, you have the ultimate reason to avoid batching… Separation. The ingredients in a complex recipe, especially a big batch, start separating the moment they are set aside (which is usually at least an hour before the party). This separation creates inconsistency, as citric acids (like fresh-pressed lemon and lime) tend to settle and a handmade syrup (like honey or agave syrups) will tend to rise. When you pour at the party, the drinks at the top of the bottle are too sweet and bottom are too sour. Some mixologists could use a stir spoon to regularly mix the recipe before adding to cups (or using soda or ice to mix by splashing after a pour from the pitcher), but regardless of how they serve we’ve found that the flavor of the cocktails never compares, as servings are never as fresh nor refreshing.
Discerning Bartenders Prefer Individual Drinks
Batched cocktail favorites are used by restaurants and bars around the world. Despite the popularity of these convenient drinks, bartenders with experience prefer making their concoctions one at a time, which is called “made-to-order”. Why? First, an individually-prepared drink showcases the bartender’s skill. Mixologists take pride in their creations. Second, an individually-prepared alcoholic beverage is at the peak of its flavor characteristics. It isn’t watered down with ice, it isn’t flat. From sparkling wine punches to summer white wine spritzers, sweet rum punches, and flavorful mules, many of these libations simply taste better when prepared fresh for individual party customers.
Preparing Drink Ingredients in Advance
Bartenders can and do use some of the principles of big batch recipes, however. It is a good practice to prepare large amounts of certain ingredients ahead of time, like simple syrup, garnishes, or fresh-squeezed lime juice. For a garnish preparation that will thrill your customers, stock up on versatile and unique choices like:
- Lemon wedges and zest
- Pineapple rounds
- Orange slices
- Chunked lime
Keep a bottle of handmade sweet-and-sour (lemonade) handy for drinks – this can also be prepared in advance of the event. When the time comes, the bartender can whip up a delicious beverage and serve in cups or pour over ice (usually into a highball glass). Adding a splash of soda to certain punch drinks adds sparkle and viscosity. With practice, there is no need to prepare large batches of drinks ahead of time. Your customers will appreciate your efforts, and you will reduce waste and off flavors by creating made-to-order, individual cocktails according to your and your clients’ favorite drink recipes.