When you’re trying to provide booze for a crowd, it’s easy to slip into college mode and want to serve your guests cheap beer and trash-can punch. It’s expensive to buy the top-shelf stuff for a crowd, and nobody wants to be stuck behind the bar mixing cocktail after cocktail during their own shindig. Still, nobody likes to go to a party without booze, which means that you’ve got to figure out something for the next time you host book club or throw a dinner party.
Even if you don’t want to spend all night mixing Old Fashioneds and talking about the intricacies of sherry-aged scotch with your nerdy coworker, you can still serve sophisticated drinks that don’t require a whole lot of effort. Pitcher cocktails are a great way to whet your crowd’s whistle. They’re fancy, delicious, and practically idiot-proof. These six tips will get you started down the road of beautiful pitcher cocktails, and allow you to customize your creations based on your favorite flavors.
When you’re trying to provide booze for a crowd, trying to suit everyone’s preferences can be tough. Pitcher cocktails will keep people from raiding your bar cart for the good stuff, and help you save a little cash. If you want to offer a little variety, try making two different kinds of punch, one with a clear spirit, and another with brown liquor. With a base like gin or bourbon, you can easily scale your favorite cocktails that are usually served in a glass. Plan on serving each guest two ounces of whatever liquor you choose per pitcher.
Sure, you can just mix vodka and lemonade, but we’re talking about sophisticated pitcher cocktails here. Outside of the fresh juice that you’ll need to make good drinks, you can also punch up the flavors of your drink with a variety of accoutrements. Liqueurs, fruit syrups, spices, and teas will add complexity to your drinks, and prevent them from being overpowered by the sweetness of freshly-squeezed juice. If you’re too lazy to make them on your own, your local liquor store is stocked with deliciousness — like elderflower liqueur, hibiscus tea, and orgeat syrup — to add to your drinks. Even alternative sweeteners, like honey and agave, can add a different dimension of flavor.
Unfortunately, that cranberry juice on the grocery store shelf just isn’t going to cut it. Freshly pressed juices, like watermelon or lemon and lime, are a must for good at-home cocktails, even if you’re not the one making it. If you don’t have a juicer at home, you can find pre-bottled juice blends at stores like Whole Foods, and even order them online. Project Juice, an online purveyor of juice cleanses, offers 60-ounce bottles of pre-blended cocktail juices, like the impossibly delicious Jalagreeno. Made with cucumber, jalapenos, lime, and raw agave, this blend is a cocktail in a bottle, and all you’ll have to do is add your spirit and stir.
Take a little inspiration from the original pitcher cocktail, sangria, and add plenty of fresh fruit to your own pitcher. Depending on your flavor profile, freshly cut strawberries, peach slices, cucumber, and sprigs of herbs will infuse another layer of fresh flavor into your drink, and make it look beautiful to boot. If you’re really trying to party, soak pineapple or strawberries in gin or rum before serving for a serious boozy punch.
Even if the cocktails aren’t individualized, they should still be memorable. Plan to garnish each glass with sprigs of fresh herbs or cut fruit immediately before serving. You don’t have to get fancy — a simple orange twist or a few fresh berries will do. If you plan to cut a few fancy garnishes to really impress, do that just before your guests arrive and store them in the refrigerator until needed.
They’re usually served in side-cars at tacky restaurants, but a liqueur floater will drive home the flavor of your drink and make it boozier to boot. Keep a bottle of Grand Marnier, Framboise, or Mathilde Peach Liqueur next to your cocktail station, and allow guests to punch up their drinks with a tasty floater. Sparkling water is also a good way to top-off glasses for your friends that don’t want to drink much.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. You can find her mixing pitchers of cocktails all for herself.