Food & Drink

How to Make Batch Cocktails and Win at Holiday Hosting

batch cocktails
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For me, the holidays are a time to take stock of what is important in life, gather around family, be reminded of unresolved blood feuds within said family, and drink cocktails in large batches.

Batch cocktails are the perfect holiday drink. For one, they’re so much more festive than beer and wine. But also, they make you seem like you’re putting forth an effort, when in fact you’re expending minimal energy because you can prep them all beforehand and the wander around throwing out witty repartees and rejoinders and winking a lot while everyone serves themselves. 

And if you ask me, batching things is extremely hip right now, and makes for easy wordplay in case you want to order novelty t-shirts to commemorate the event. 

The components of a delicious, well-balanced batch cocktail should be relatively simple: 
A strong booze: The chief alcohol that will serve as the base and the guiding light for your drink 
A secondary booze component: Something to balance and play off of the stronger, base booze
Fresh citrus or juice: An acid to cut the booze. It needs to be fresh, otherwise you’ll ruin everything  
A non-alcoholic water component: Seltzer, club soda, even actual high-quality water. Anything to help open up the other elements and water down the booze a little 
Garnishes: because a drink without garnishes just looks sad and depressing and isn’t very holiday forward. 

Perhaps you’re throwing a holiday party, or having a casual hang with neighbors, or you just want a large bowl of alcohol to help soothe the realization you’re spending hard earned vacation days around cousins who really want to explain to you why they recently got into CrossFit. Whatever your plans, I’ve got the perfect batch cocktail for you. So let’s get to it.

punch bowl
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A Festive Holiday House Party

If you’re the one who managed to get your holiday soiree Evite out early enough to lay claim to one of the hallowed days of Holiday Partying, first of all, congratulations. At one of these parties, you need to impress to keep the partygoers from moving on to Upstairs Ned’s party, and that means going beyond the bowl of spiked eggnog (but definitely have eggnog or your party is pointless). 

For this sort of a party, you need a batch cocktail that screams “holidays!” and is visually impressive. 

One of my favorites is in Maggie Hoffman’s excellent Batch Cocktails book (buy it – there are so many great recipes). The Sneaky Peat combines Scotch, bitters, oolong tea, cranberry syrup, water, and fresh lemon juice, and uses the visual aid of fresh or frozen cranberries and lemon wheels to make it pop. It’s unlike any other standard holiday batch cocktail I’ve had, and that smokiness opens up spectacularly as it sits in a punch bowl. 

Potentially Disastrous Daytime Family Holiday Hangs 

Often during the holidays, you find yourself in a predicament, and that predicament is this: you are sentenced (blessed!?) to spend an inordinate amount of time amongst your extended family (or if you’re even luckier, in-laws) including long periods during the day. And yet, you’re not a teenager and don’t have the excuse to sulk and lock yourselves in a bedroom learning K-Pop dances for Tik Tok.

You need a batch cocktail for these marathon hangs that is refreshing, low ABV, easy to make, and easy to replenish, just in case your Uncle Jeff decides to show up with his new girlfriend whom he recently met on a Caribbean Cruise. 

My go-to in these situations is the White Noise, a cocktail from Portland Hunt and Alpine (one of our best cocktail bars in America!) owners Andrew and Briana Volk’s excellent Northern Hospitality book. The pitcher recipe, which yields 64 ounces, is just 9oz Cocchi Americano Blanco, 6 oz elderflower liqueur, 12 oz soda water, and grapefruit twists to garnish. It is insanely simple to make, refreshing, and balanced, and the low ABV ensures you can keep making batch after batch.

The Casual Neighborhood Party 

If by the glory of Odin, you happen to get along with your neighbors in your building, or on your street, and that sort of rapport extends to the point of hanging out, congratulations. Cool neighborhood parties are the best kind of hangs, because they have a very low bar in terms of expectations, no one has to drive anywhere, and, for the most part, no one will steal your cool vintage Starting Lineup Wade Boggs figurines if they know there’s a chance you will come over to their place soon.

Unlike the fancy holiday party or the casual family hang, you want to split the difference here with your selection and make a batched cocktail that has a little bit of showmanship to it, but isn’t over the top and long in preparation. 

My move here is an old-timey punch. Philadelphia Fish House Punch has allegedly been around since the 1730s. It’s got three kinds of booze in it (dark rum, Cognac, peach brandy), black tea,  lime and lemon juice. Some recipes call for adding maraschino cherries to the mix, which reminds me of the greatest drink of all time, the Shirley Temple. Now this is a boozy concoction, but it benefits from a little time in the punch bowl as the ice melts and dilutes it a bit. Plus, you get to regale your neighbors with how Philadelphia's Schuylkill Fishing Club invented it back in the 18th century, and try and inevitably fail to pronounce Schuylkill correctly. Win-win-win.

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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist’s National Writer-at-Large, Food. His book on the unique mix of people, places, and circumstances that led to the last decade of eating/drinking in America, BURN THE ICE: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End is out now from Penguin Press. He is a 2017 James Beard Foundation Award winner.