Sunday, December 3, 2017

One for the Road... Batched Drinks.

In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, John discusses batched drinks and a new A&T original: The Margarita O' Love.

Over the past couple of years I've been experimenting more and more with pre-made drinks batched at varying scales. This has included traditional punches - as documented on this very blog back in 2014 - batched cocktails served from dispensers (a quasi-punch), and pre-bottled cocktails. Having a few tried and true recipes in your repertoire can be super useful when you don't want to spend your entire evening behind the bar, or if you're working a large event and want guests to have easy access to a drink without having to wait in line for one that is made to order.

There is a lot of great info already out there on punches. For a detailed read, check out David Wonderich's immensely entertaining book, Punch, which provides a deep dive into the history of beverages in bowls as well as several classic and modern punch recipes.

In this post, however, I'm going to focus on batched drinks: pre-made cocktails in large quantities, served from either dispensers or bottles. To illustrate the concept, I'll take a look at the Margarita O' Love, a drink I created and batched for my brother's wedding weekend earlier this year.

Basics of Batching
Why make one margarita,
when you can make ten?
If you've decided you want to try your hand at batching, you have a few decisions to make before you should even decide what to batch. First, how many people do you need to serve and how much do you anticipate they will drink? This is critical in determining how much you need to make, clearly, but it's also useful in determining what to make. If you're not sure how voracious of an appetite your guests will have for your concoction, a good estimate for a three to four hour period is about 2.5 drinks per person for a crowd of 10 or more people. This should take into account those that will come back for thirds and fourths, and those that won't drink at all. 

Second, how far in advance do you want to make the drink and/or how long do you want the drink to be available to serve? If it's more than 12 hours beyond production, I would advise against batching anything with fruit/citrus juice. The juice starts to degrade very quickly and is going to significantly change the quality and flavors of your drink. So if you want to make something and let it chill overnight or be available for a couple of days, stick with alcohol-only beverages: Manhattans, Negronis, Vieux Carré, etc. If you plan to make, chill, and consume the drink within 12 hours or so, juices are back on the table. Or in the glass, if you will.

Third, should you dilute the batched drink or not? Keep in mind that any time you make a cocktail and shake or stir it with ice, you are diluting it - that's how the thing gets cold. In fact, depending on whether you are shaking or stirring, water will end up comprising 25% or more of your drink (try not to think about that the next time you shell out $15 for a rail Daiquiri). In addition to chilling the drink, the dilution helps take the edge off the alcohol.  Frankly, whether you choose to dilute or not depends on what you plan to serve, and how. If the drink has juice in it, will be served or stored on the rocks, or will be topped off with a sparkling beverage (soda water, champagne, etc.), then you can probably forgo water in the batch. If the drink will only consist of booze but you want to be able to stir and strain in front of guests, once again you can skip the water. But if you're making something with nothing but booze that will be well chilled in advance and served straight, you'll want to add some water. How much should you add? Make a single serving of the drink as you normally would, measure to see what the volume is after mixing and straining, and then subtract the volume of the booze initially added prior to shaking/stirring. As noted above, it should come in somewhere around 20-30% of the total drink volume.

Dispensers eliminate the need for punch 
ladles and reduces concerns that 
Uncle Pablo will (further) spike the punch.
Fourth, how will the drink be stored and served? This is interrelated to the questions of dilution and guest size. If you're serving something punch-like, it can be done from a punch bowl or a beverage dispenser with a large ice block or two to keep things cold (but will increase dilution over time). If you're serving a more traditional cocktail or want to maintain a tight control on dilution, your best bet is serve it from a bottle (an old liquor or wine bottle is a nice touch and cost efficient) that you keep on ice.

Once you've addressed those basic questions, you can make a decision on what you actually want to serve. One last tip: if the beverage will be available on a self-serve basis and you don't want to stand by the serving station telling people what to do, print out some instructions or visual aides. Shake the bottle, pour over ice, add soda water, add a lemon wedge, etc. Regardless of how amazing the beverage is, if people aren't quite sure what to do with it then they won't end up drinking it.

Margarita O' Love
This past August my big brother and his fantastic fiancée - we'll call them K&S - tied the knot in San Clemente, CA and celebrated the affair with a spectacular Weekend O' Love (hence Margarita O' Love). Their rehearsal dinner was held at the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center - a pretty amazing place for a rehearsal dinner - and since the center doesn't have a house bartender K&S asked if I'd be willing to help out. Specifically, they wanted to come up with an easy, hassle-free way to keep their throng of beautiful guests plied with signature margaritas crafted just for that evening. I happily obliged.

Research was a bear.
We sorted out the logistical questions - number of guests, serving time, method of service, etc. - and the stylistic ones over a couple of emails and Skype calls. K&S waxed poetic about a Margarita/Paloma mashup of tequila, Luxardo cherries/syrup, and grapefruit and lime juices that had become a favorite of theirs over the course of the summer. Using that info as inspiration, I jumped into experimentation.

I began by playing around with single serving combinations of tequila (reposado and blanco), grapefruit juice, lime juice, and Cointreau, as well as the Luxardo cherries/syrup. Ultimately I wasn't blown away with how the Luxardo syrup fit in; the flavor didn't quite mesh with the other ingredients, and it significantly darkened the color of the drink. I moved onto other ingredients, including honey, Suze, and Campari, before finally settling on agave nectar and Aperol. The agave nectar added a touch of sweetness and increased viscosity while also complementing the tequila in a way that honey, for obvious reasons, could not. The Aperol also contributed a bit of sweetness while adding just a touch of bitterness that helped to sharpen the drink. I also experimented with grapefruit bitters (both homemade and Bittermens), and while the results were promising for an individual drink, I opted not to use bitters in the final batched version mostly because it was not practical at that scale.

Since I was coming up with the recipe and testing it in South
Africa, my tequila options were far more limited than if I had been working on it in California. I ultimately went with Corallejo Reposado Tequila because it is a fairly easy going tequila that doesn't overpower you with the earthy, agave flavors normally associated with tequila, but packed a little more punch than Corallejo's Blanco version. A more mild mannered tequila also seemed appropriate for a larger group, especially since it was the only cocktail being served. Along those lines, I ultimately opted to go with a slight reduction in the amount of tequila per serving as a modest counter measure against over consumption. The jury is still out one whether that was successful or not. Oh, there are stories.

The boozier side of the Marg O' Love,
awaiting its citrusy companions.
With the recipe for a single serving finalized, the last question to be sorted out was whether to dilute or not. Since a Paloma incorporates soda water (or grapefruit soda, depending on your approach), I figured there was no need to include water in the batched cocktail. Furthermore, I anticipated that most people would want to have their drink over ice, so individual drinks would gradually dilute while being consumed.

The day of the event, we got to work. I say "we" because my incredible wife and several other family members chipped in to help out with what turned out to be a herculean task: 26 cups of grapefruit juice and 13 cups of lime juice, freshly squeezed from about 60 grapefruits and 125 limes, respectively. Mix that up with about 40 cups of tequila and 7 cups each of Cointreau, Aperol, and agave nectar, and you (in theory) have enough Margaritas O' Love to keep 80 or so adults occupied for a couple of hours.

Given the sheer volume of happy juice that was created, we set up a self serve station with several 1.2 liter bottles O' Love presented on ice, with all the necessary accoutrements within easy reach. Reserves were stored in several 3 liter jugs kept on ice in a back room, and from which the serving bottles were topped up periodically as they ran low. 

All told, we made enough for about 214 individual servings, which I anticipated would be enough to last us the duration of the evening, about four hours. The margs were a big hit and the party an especially thirsty lot, however, and we ended up draining the last bottle about two and a half hours into the evening. Never underestimate the drawing power of a good margarita, I guess.

The Recipe

1.5 ounces - Corallejo Reposado Tequila
1 ounce - Fresh Grapefruit Juice
0.5 ounces - Fresh Lime Juice
0.25 ounces - Cointreau
0.25 ounces - Aperol
0.25 ounces - Agave Nectar

Add all ingredients over ice, shake, double strain into an old fashioned glass over a large ice cube, and top with soda water to taste. You can rim the glass with salt, if it suits you.

How you scale this up will depend on what type of serving instrument you want to use. Below are precise recipes for 750mL bottles (i.e. used wine bottles - but make sure you clean those suckers) and 3L jugs, emphasizing ease of measurement rather than maximum usage of the vessel's volume... volumage? Let's go with volume. 


9 ounces - Corallejo Reposado Tequila
6 ounce - Fresh Grapefruit Juice
3 ounces - Fresh Lime Juice
1.5 ounces - Cointreau
1.5 ounces - Aperol
1.5 ounces - Agave Nectar

3L (includes slight reduction in Agave Nectar)
4.75 cups, 1 ounce - Corallejo Reposado Tequila
3 cups, 2 ounces - Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1.5 cups, 1 ounce - Fresh Lime Juice
.75 cup, .5 ounces - Cointreau
.75 cup, .5 ounces - Aperol
.75 cup - Agave Nectar

Once all ingredients are added, shake/agitate the bottle to mix everything together. Immediately chill the bottle and keep cold until it is ready to serve (your best bet for a quick chill is a cooler/tub with ice and a bit of water). Periodically agitate the bottle, as the ingredients will begin to separate over time. To serve, pour 2-3oz of mix into a glass over ice, then top with soda water to taste.

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