I keep three main goals in mind when making cocktails for a gathering. First, I want them to be simple to prepare, without the need to make several trips to the grocery store, co-op, or liquor store. Most ingredients should already be in my kitchen or home bar. This is particularly true during the holidays, when prep time is limited, or nonexistent due to other food and hosting tasks needed that night.
Second, I want to be able to mingle and socialize during the gathering, instead of being stuck at the bar or in the kitchen, making single drinks to order. Last, and most importantly, I want them to be delicious and something a bit out of the ordinary. After all, holiday drinks are particularly celebratory: we are toasting family and friends and marking the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.
With these goals as a starting point, I've been experimenting with making pitchers of pre-mixed drinks. These can be made hours in advance and then kept in the fridge until needed. Think of them as being similar to a punch, but not as elaborate (see goal number one above.) Also, they don't require attention throughout the evening (goal number two) and they are made in smaller batches, so you can prepare several separate recipes before the party begins and serve them throughout the night.
Each of the recipes included below is designed to make six drinks. These are just a starting point – the recipes are easily adjusted to your own tastes and preferences.
The formula and approach is simple: make a batch of drinks in a pitcher (glass works best) and set aside. When serving, fill a 10 oz. highball halfway with ice, add one ounce of the liquor, fill the rest of the glass with the punch itself, then garnish. Repeat five more times as needed.
As always, drink responsibly.
Mango Rum Punch
This drink combines the sweet and sour tastes of mango juice, limeaid, and bitters, and then incorporates a slight cinnamon edge. I used Bittercube's Door County Hops Bitters, which gave the punch an added dimension while retaining the juice and rum's inherent sweetness.
1 cup mango juice
1 cup limeaid
7 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon bitters
Champagne or other sparkling wine
Combine the juice, limeaid, and bitters in a glass pitcher. Add one of the cinnamon sticks and stir. Set aside until needed. When serving the drinks, add ice to a high ball glass, add a shot of dark rum, fill with punch, and top off with some sparkling wine. Add another cinnamon stick for garnish.
Lemon/Lillet Gin Punch
Lillet, a fortified white wine usually served by itself as an aperitif, is a great addition to a mixed drink. It is sturdy, sweet, and a bit salty. Paired with fresh lemon, gin, sugar, and raspberries, it makes for a great punch. I've also added some Earl Gray tea for more depth (any black tea will work in this recipe, just brew a 6-10 oz cup of it and let it cool before mixing in).
1/2 cup Lillet wine
1 cup orange juice
1 cup brewed Early Gray tea (or other black tea)
1 freshly squeezed lemon
10-12 raspberries, frozen or fresh
1 tablespoon sugar (preferably turbinado or raw sugar)
6 lemon slices (for garnish)
Combine the wine, juice, and tea in a glass pitcher. Muddle the raspberries with the sugar and add. Mix well. At time of service, add ice to a high ball glass, add a shot of gin, fill with punch, and garnish with a lemon slice.
Apple Whiskey Punch
This punch has many of the same flavor profiles of a Manhattan: whiskey, sweet vermouth, and some bitters. Apples and whiskey naturally complement each other, and their sweetness is further highlighted here by the addition of maple syrup. A small amount of port adds sour notes and depth. If you don't have any port on hand, use a strong red wine (Cabernet Sauvingnon or Nebbiolo will work well).
1/2 cup port wine
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1 oz shot of maple syrup
a few dashes of bitters
6 slices of apple, for garnish
Combine the port, sweet vermouth, cider, and maple syrup in a glass pitcher. At time of service, add ice to a high ball glass, add a shot of whiskey, fill with punch, and garnish with an apple slice.
Peter Groynom is a graduate of Carleton College and the San Francisco School of Bartending. He is an avid home cook, a writer, and a Photoshop enthusiast. His photography can be found at Arts and Hovercrafts. He lives in Minneapolis.