large format cocktails
The Basics Tips & Tricks

How to Make the Best Prebatched Cocktails

The pros share their tips and tricks for large-format drinks that you can make ahead of your holiday parties.

When entertaining, crafting cocktails à la carte for guests can be a hassle, especially when you’re focused on the food or other details. Instead, break out your pitcher or punch bowl and learn to embrace the premade, prebatched cocktail. 

Whether a classic holiday punch or pulling bottles of made-ahead Martinis straight out your freezer, mixing cocktails ahead of time can save you time, energy, and effort. There are, however, a few rules to keep in mind for doing pre-batched cocktails correctly. Read on for advice from the pros. 

Holiday Martini / Laura Sant

Freezer Martinis, Manhattans, and More

If you’re hosting a small gathering or have guests over frequently, you may want to keep a bottle of a premade cocktail in your freezer to pull out and pour on the spot. This approach works for spirit-forward drinks that would ordinarily be stirred: think Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and the like. “I keep a liter bottle of Manhattans and one of Martinis in my freezer at all times,” says Sother Teague, the proprietor of New York City’s Amor y Amargo

This type of premade large-format cocktail has many advantages: It’s easy to make, elegant to serve, and the ingredients’ high ABV means the mix has a near-infinite shelf life. As long as you stick to mixing nonperishable spirits and liqueurs, you can batch drinks days, weeks, or even months in advance, saving yourself effort and stress on party day. 

“It’s just mixing nonperishables together and creating a larger nonperishable thing,” says Teague. 

How to Scale Up Your Favorite Drink

In most cases, you can simply scale up your favorite recipe. “Converting a single cocktail recipe to large format is pretty simple; you just do math,” says Tom Macy, a bartender and the co-founder and CEO of Social Hour ready-to-drink cocktails. An easy formula, he says, is to change the ounces stated in a recipe to cups. For example, a Manhattan calls for two ounces of gin and one ounce of dry vermouth, so simply expand to two cups of gin and one cup of vermouth. This formula allows you to quickly make eight servings of a drink from one single-serving recipe, as there are eight ounces in a cup.

Macy advises holding back on any bitters, at least at first, because they can come through more strongly in a large-format cocktail. Start with half the usual amount, taste the drink, and adjust as necessary.  

Don’t Forget to Dilute

Water is a crucial component of every cocktail, particularly when prebatched. Once you’ve scaled up your recipe, a bit of additional math is needed to calculate the correct dilution and compensate for what water would have come from stirring or shaking a solo drink at room temperature. Without adding water, you end up with an unpalatably strong drink whose flavors become muted.

“It’s important to realize it’s not just a matter of how strong a drink tastes,” says Rafa García Febles, the beverage director at Hav + Mar. “Dilution changes which flavors come forward or are in the background. It really changes the flavor profile, so it’s an important step.”

When making individual cocktails, stirring a drink’s ingredients with ice provides the necessary water for dilution. Prebatched cocktails are generally kept in the freezer, so there is no need to stir them with ice, and doing so may result in a drink that’s too cold. Since the freezer will do the job of chilling the drink, you need to dilute your mixture with water beforehand to create the right balance.

Stirred drinks aren’t particularly forgiving of significant over- or under-dilution, so it’s important to calculate how much water you’ll need to add. The most precise way is to make yourself an individual serving of the drink you’re batching and measure its weight on a kitchen scale once before stirring the drink with ice and once again after; the difference between the two is the dilution ratio. 

An easier way, however, is using an established ratio and adjusting it to your preferences. Experts recommend starting by diluting about one-fifth to one-quarter of the total drink volume with water, then tasting the mix and adding more water as desired. 

Alternatively, Macy suggests, you could keep the frozen batch undiluted and add water into each drinker’s glass immediately before pouring the cocktail. If you go this path, plan on adding about three-quarters of an ounce of water into a three-ounce glass, then adding two-and-a-quarter ounces of the chilled drink.

Teague notes that a unique advantage of making prebatched drinks is that you can choose the water you use. You’re not confined to what comes out of your refrigerator’s ice-maker; you can use your preferred brand of still mineral water or distilled water, or even other ingredients

Freezer Features

You’ll want to make batched cocktails far enough in advance that the liquid can chill down to freezer temperature, generally at least a few hours before serving. But there are a few things to keep in mind. Most notably, if your cocktail is low enough in alcohol, the drink could begin to freeze. Cocktails with a base of amaro or vermouth can still last for weeks after they’re mixed, but they need to be kept in the refrigerator rather than the freezer. The lower proof of their base spirits means they’re likely to freeze solid rather than merely chill.

Whatever your cocktail, if storing in the freezer, keep an eye on the mix and move it to the fridge if you see ice crystals forming. 

“Freezer Martinis, in particular, tend to do better if they’re lower on vermouth,” says García Febles. If you’re a fan of the 50/50 Martini, you’re out of luck. Its ABV, cut by the high proportion of vermouth, is too low to keep the drink from freezing, and García Febles observes that the vermouth’s flavors can warp at very low temperatures, causing it to taste diluted and flat. Cold temperatures dull a drinker’s perception of flavor, so many elements of a cocktail won’t taste as strong or as nuanced straight out of the freezer, he says. “A very layered, complex drink can stay in the freezer as long as it’s stable, but you might want to let it warm up a bit before you start serving it,” he adds.

Holiday rocks glass / Laura Sant

Break Out Your Punch Bowl

Nothing says “party” like a big bowl of punch: It’s light, bright, often fruity, and always festive. 

Citrusy drinks that would ordinarily be shaken are great candidates for turning into punches. There are, of course, plenty of great punch recipes that exist, but if you have a favorite cocktail that you’re eager to translate into a punch, it’s easy to scale it up in the same way you would for a prebatched freezer cocktail.

The Juicy Details

There are many benefits to preparing a punch. It can be mostly assembled in advance, is easy for guests to serve themselves, and is generally lower in alcohol than spirit-forward freezer drinks, ensuring that your guests will be convivial all night. As Macy says, quoting David Wondrich (who wrote the book on the subject), “The point of punch is not to get drunk quickly, it’s to get drunk slowly.” 

There’s one drawback: Since citrus juice oxidizes fairly quickly, causing its flavor to go off, fruity drinks can’t be prepared as far in advance as a batch of spirit-forward cocktails. However, assembling most ingredients a day or two in advance is fine as long as you have the spare fridge space to keep them chilled. And do refrigerate these drinks rather than putting them in the freezer—their lower ABV means they’re likely to freeze solid. You’re looking to make punch, not popsicles.  

Juicing citrus can be time-consuming, so it can be helpful to squeeze your juices a day ahead. “I don’t think that even the most attuned palate is going to notice that you made your punch even two or three days in advance,” says Teague. “It’s going to be fine.” Just keep in mind that any solids will settle while the punch sits in your fridge, so you’ll want to give the mix a quick stir before serving, and you should wait to add any bubbly component until just before drinking.

If shelf-life issue is still a concern, García Febles suggests employing an oleo saccharum, getting those same citrus flavors in a longer-lasting ingredient, or making super juice to increase both longevity and citrus yield. In either case, he says, “It won’t taste exactly the same, but it’ll taste really good.” 

Shake It Up with Bubbles

If the purpose of the mixing glass is to chill and dilute, the purpose of the shaking tin is to chill, dilute, and aerate. A shaken drink “is aerated and delightful and dances across your tongue,” says Teague, while the same mix can seem overly tart if it’s stirred instead. “So the aeration is certainly part of the quotient of what makes a cocktail palatable and delicious,” he says.

But if you’re making a punch with a fruity mixture that would ordinarily be shaken, how do you mimic the effect of aeration? With effervescent ingredients. You may have noticed that most good punches have a bubbly component, whether it’s sparkling water, soda, or sparkling wine. “When you have a punch with a sparkling product, it’s kind of mimicking that aeration,” explains Teague.

Fortunately, the addition of bubbly doesn’t limit which drinks you can make. “Pretty much any shaken drink is going to taste good elongated by soda water, especially in punch form,” says Macy. “You’re basically making a gin Gimlet into a Tom Collins.” 

“Things with sparkling ingredients translate really well, because they’re kind of tailor-made for a punch,” he says. That list includes the Spritz and all its variations. “Looking at it one way, an Aperol Spritz is kind of a ready-to-go punch,” says García Febles. “Just add sparkling water and sparkling wine to a bottle of Aperol and, boom, you’re good to go.” Macy also recommends scaling up the French 75 into a punch, possibly replacing some of the sparkling wine with seltzer to lower the drink’s potency. 

If you’re using a recipe that doesn’t have bubbles built in and are wondering how much to add, the sparkling ingredients can approximately replace the water in your dilution calculation. The measurement doesn’t have to be exact—“You have a lot of wiggle room in the punch world,” says Teague—but the general idea is to stay near the dilution rate you’re looking for, adjusting as necessary for flavor.  

Crucially, even if you assemble most of the punch in advance, you’ll need to add the bubbles right before serving if you don’t want them to go flat. Macy suggests adding the sparkling component directly to the punch bowl just before guests arrive.  “People love bubbles,” he says. “It’s fun if you have your punch ready to go and right before the party you dump your bottles in. And it’s all fizzy and festive.”

If you’d really rather not add an effervescent component, Teague suggests a couple of alternative techniques. You could add all ingredients into a large pitcher and add a measured amount of ice (equal to the dilution you desire), then spin the mix with an immersion blender until the ice is completely incorporated into the drink, giving it an occasional buzz during the party to keep it aerated. 

Alternatively, you could simply not worry about it. “I think a still punch, if it’s nice and cold and nicely diluted, is totally delicious,” says Macy. 

Apply Ice

As with any cocktail, a large-format punch requires dilution. You should aim for about 20% by volume, which is approximately the same as the water dilution ratio for the boozy freezer drinks. But in the case of punch, if you haven’t prechilled your ingredients and/or your punch bowl will be kept at room temperature all night, you’ll also need ice. 

“I think the best approach is to add a little bit of water and a little bit of ice,” says Macy, who advises adding 15% of the total punch mix as water, plus one cup of ice for every eight servings. “You get some dilution, and then the ice carries you the rest of the way but doesn’t overdilute the mix.” If in doubt, he advises erring on the side of overdilution. “A little more ice or a little more water is not going to hurt.” 

You’ll want to consider how to keep the punch chilled all evening as well. The experts recommend adding a large block of ice to your punch bowl, which will help to mitigate dilution as the reduced surface area causes it to melt slower in comparison to smaller cubes.

What to Punch Up…and What Not To

For the cold-weather party months, Macy likes to make a French 75 riff in which he replaces the usual simple syrup with cinnamon syrup, or whiskey-forward punches with apple and baking-spice flavors. Another favorite he likes to scale up to party proportions is his Port of Call, with a split base of gin and port, lemon, cinnamon syrup, and cranberry preserves. “It is Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one glass,” he says.

Note that there’s a type of shaken cocktail you shouldn’t translate into punch format: Those involving eggs, or egg whites, or cream (with the exception of eggnog). Those drinks really do need to be shaken in order to froth them to an appealing texture. 

The Negroni and Its Variants

The Negroni and its variants—the Boulevardier, Americano, the Spagliato, and more—span both categories of prebatched drinks, but with exceptions to the rules above. 

Stirred and Spirituous

The Negroni and its whiskey-based cousin, the Boulevardier, are both crowd favorites and wonderful to serve at parties. They’re similar in vibe to but lower in alcohol than the Martini or Manhattan, making them a bit more party-appropriate, and their food-friendliness renders them ideal for Thanksgiving celebrations or any gathering where the focus is on the meal.

Both lend themselves well to batching, but the lower ABV means the mix must be kept in the refrigerator rather than the freezer. And since both incorporate vermouth, an aromatized wine that’s best when consumed within days or weeks, these cocktails need to be kept chilled and don’t have the infinite lifespan of their boozier brethren. That’s alright: They’re so delicious they’re guaranteed to be consumed long before their flavors start to go off.

Bubbly Fun

The Negroni Spagliato and the Americano are perfect for parties. They’re bubbly, festive, low-ABV, and incredibly food-friendly. They certainly could be served in a punch bowl, but are perhaps more suited to serving in pitchers. As an alternative, consider mixing Campari and vermouth together in equal portions and setting a pitcher on the serving table along with bottles of sparkling wine and/or sparkling water, with a note to guests to top their drinks as desired.

Holiday highball / Laura Sant

Serving Tips

It’s all about presentation at a party, and you’ll want to dress up your drinks to impress. “Showmanship is an underrated part of home bartending,” says García Febles. “You should be creating a vibe for your guests and ideally be impressing them a little bit. You want to provide an elevated experience. Otherwise, you’d just be serving White Claw.”

Vessel Visuals

If you’re offering a freezer Martini or other spirit-forward drink, it’s nice to serve it out of an attractive vessel, such as an elegant pitcher or even a decanter. Or you could funnel the cocktail back into the bottle the spirit came out of, as Teague does. You’ll also want to keep the mixture as cold as possible during the party. If it’s not practical to stick the vessel back into the freezer between pourings, consider keeping it in an ice bucket filled with ice water for maximum chill.

For the large-format ice block in your punch bowl, Macy suggests filling a bundt pan or other decorative mold (after first checking that it will fit inside your bowl) with water and letting it freeze to create an attractively shaped block. Consider throwing in a handful of berries or other garnish that suits the drink before freezing for visual flair. 

Good Garnish Game

For a festive presentation, you can throw berries, herbs, citrus wheels, or other garnishes right into the punch. Raspberries and blackberries are beautiful, while rosemary sprigs look nice and add an aromatic layer to the drink, says Macy. 

If you’re comfortable with a citrus peeler, you can peel an orange or grapefruit into one long peel to drop into the punch bowl. “It looks nice, and citrus peels are the ultimate garnish because they really add a lot to the flavor profile of the drink as well,” says Macy.

You can also garnish the drinks exactly as you would if they were made individually. If you’re using a recipe that would ordinarily call for the oils from a citrus twist to be expressed over the drink, you should make sure to do so for batched drinks as well, says Macy, as the oils of the twist are an essential flavor component of the drink. You can provide a pile of citrus peel coins for guests to express themselves. 

If you’re hosting a smaller gathering, Macy suggests pre-garnishing each glass with, for example, a trimmed rosemary sprig. “It’s a beautiful presentation and it’s not that much effort, but it assures everyone’s glass gets a garnish,” he says.

No matter if you’re serving your drink punch-style or pouring from a vessel, it’s best to keep your glassware small, with a capacity of three or four ounces. Not only is this size good for helping guests to regulate their consumption, it keeps the room circulating. “People will keep returning to the punch bowl,” says Macy. “It’s a great way to inject some movement into the event, literally.”

Above all, don’t forget that the point of making drinks in advance is to take pressure off yourself, not to invite additional stress by worrying whether the drinks are perfect. Your guests will likely be grateful for any beverage you serve them, whether or not it’s cocktail-bar quality. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” Teague says. “You’re being a good host by inviting people to your home in the first place. If you’re offering them something at all, they’re going to be appreciative.”