On a long, lazy summer weekend, the only thing better than sipping a refreshing cocktail is having a group of people to share it with.
But who wants to play home mixologist, making complicated drinks for every guest at the summer soiree? There is a way to avoid sore forearms from continuous cocktail shaking: Simply batch up a punch for your picnic, party or backyard barbecue. Only a little advance work can go a long way toward making a delicious tipple to quench a crowd.
“The effort is front-loaded,” said Maggie Hoffman, author of the new book “Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion,” in an interview.
“You look super cool: ‘I made this drink for you, and I’m not going to sweat as I pour it out,’ ” she said. “And it tastes like something you’d get at a fancy bar.”
She’s not kidding. Hoffman surveyed bartenders around the country to come up with the recipes in her book.
“Everyone wants their drinks quickly,” she explained. So, more bartenders are pre-mixing drinks, kegging them and putting them on tap. They might leave out fresh juices and later mix those in to order, “so they just have to pick up two bottles instead of six, and they’re getting these really flavorful drinks that are served super easily.”
At home, it’s all about ease and simplicity.
“Especially for summer parties, it’s OK to be pretty simple,” said Carey Jones in an interview. She’s co-author of “Be Your Own Bartender: A Surefire Guide to Finding (and Making) Your Perfect Cocktail,” which has flow charts to help hosts decide what kind of drink to make for a particular event or mood.
Sometimes a two- or three-ingredient drink can be more of a crowd-pleaser than a 12-ingredient craft cocktail.
“If I’m at somebody’s backyard barbecue, I don’t necessarily want to sit and think about the cocktail and its nuances,” said John McCarthy, Jones’ co-author. “I probably just want to have a drink and talk to people.”
In that sense, a big pitcher of gin and tonics could be all a host needs — no advanced preparation required. But for those who want to do a little more work, a few guidelines can help regular cocktail recipes translate to the punch bowl.
First, don’t go overboard on the booze
“When you’re day drinking during the summer, the key is to not get totally sloshed an hour in,” said Kat Odell, author of “Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz,” in an interview.
She recommends choosing low-ABV (that’s alcohol by volume) drinks, made with wines and light liqueurs rather than full-throttle spirits.
Her light pink Friends With Benefits mixes a bottle of rosé wine with a bottle of Cocchi Aperitivo Americano (a bittersweet Italian aperitif), lemon juice, ginger beer and bitters.
Think about your guest list
At the average party, guests might consume two drinks in the first hour and then slow down, Hoffman said.
Having 20 people over? Come up with two signature cocktails. And don’t forget to have beer at the ready. “I don’t think people are going to drink cocktails all day long,” she said.
Heed the occasion
Nighttime bonfire? Choose something with bourbon.
Brunch? Hoffman recommends the Grand Prix, which combines Campari with cold brew coffee and fresh grapefruit juice.
Make something nonalcoholic, too
A pitcher of a nonalcoholic cocktail can be just as festive and flavorful as an alcoholic one. Hoffman’s Kumquat Shandy combines a homemade kumquat syrup with fresh orange and lemon juices, and can be topped with either regular or nonalcoholic beer.
Mix ahead, but not everything
The home bartender can mix up shelf-stable items, such as liquor, a day or two in advance. Then put the mix in a bottle and refrigerate. Fresh citrus, however, tastes best when squeezed only a few hours before serving.
Is a carbonated ingredient, such as tonic water or sparkling wine, being used? “That should be the last thing you put into your punch bowl,” said Jones, of “Be Your Own Bartender.” No one wants a flat drink.
For a July 4th gathering, Jones and McCarthy recommend a drink called Berries and Bubbles. It’s a French 75 — a classic gin-and-sparkling wine cocktail — but made with berry-infused gin.
It might sound complicated to infuse alcohol, but it just takes enough forethought to slice up some fruit, throw it into a container with the gin and let it sit overnight. The day of the party, mix the strawberry-colored gin with simple syrup, lemon juice and bitters, and top with prosecco.
When individual cocktails are shaken or stirred, a certain amount of water from melting ice dilutes the drink. Batching cocktails before a party skips that vital step, so some larger-scale recipes include water as an ingredient. Jones and McCarthy recommend setting the whole mix over ice for 10 minutes before serving.
Ice, ice, baby
Be sure to plan ahead for the amount of ice you’ll need for your party. Make blocks of ice by freezing large containers of water; you can even freeze a ring of ice in a Bundt pan. If using ice trays, stash your cubes in plastic bags while making more.
“One of my pet peeves more than anything else is when people serve cocktails with a dinky little ice cube,” Hoffman said.
Seriously, keep everything cold
Be sure to leave enough time to thoroughly chill all liquids before serving.
Separate batched cocktails into quart-size Mason jars or soda bottles, keeping one in the refrigerator while another is being served. You’ll be ready with a cold refill when the pitcher empties.
And with these drinks, it won’t be long.