Counter-intuitively, scaling up a recipe is not simply a matter of doubling, tripling or quadrupling each component.
“It’s not a perfect science,” says Leo Robitschek, bar director at The NoMad, where several large-format “Cocktail Explosions” are featured on the menu. And he’s not alone in that sentiment; a number of industry experts agree that there’s more to batching than meets the eye.
To pin down a few hard and fast rules worth keeping in mind when approaching batched cocktails and large format drinks, we spoke to a number of industry experts. Below, tips on how to factor in dilution, preserve effervescence, and which drinks best lend themselves to the practice of scaling up.
1.) Start With the Largest-Volume Ingredient First
“When you’re building a single cocktail, you usually start with the smallest ingredient first,” says Leo Robitschek. “When batching, you… do the opposite.” The smallest ingredients, such as citrus, sweetener and bitters often have the largest margin for error. “One drop of absinthe versus two can make or break a drink,” he explains. Start with the largest, non-aromatic ingredient, like the spirit base, and work up to the smaller components, adding more to taste.
2.) Avoid Scaling Up Bitters or Aromatics
“If it’s anything that has either a super aromatic component—a spice or a bitter—then we definitely don’t just scale up,” says Robitschek, adding that when combined with alcohol, aromatic elements are amplified. “It can become overwhelming in large amounts.” As a rule of thumb, when adding ingredients like bitters or ginger syrup, add about half of what the recipe calls for, and work up from there.
3.) Don’t Forget About Dilution
“The rule of thumb I always teach when training is that about half an ounce of water [in each cocktail] should come from dilution,” explains Karen Fu, beverage director at Brooklyn’s Donna. When scaling up, it’s important to factor this into the large-format recipe. For drinks that are typically shaken, this translates into adding water directly to the batch, which can then be served on the rocks. For batched drinks served over crushed ice, Fu and Robitschek recommend tiki or punch-style recipes that can withstand a greater level of dilution. “[Those cocktails are] supposed to evolve in the glass so the first sip will actually be very different from the last sip,” explains Robitschek.
4.) Pre-Freeze Stirred Drinks
For stirred drinks, one technique calls on freezing the entirety of a cocktail (water included) and pouring it directly from the bottle. Alternatively, forego dilution in the batched drink and simply pour the cocktail over ice when ready to serve. “That’s the hands off, no effort version of this,” explains Fu.
5.) Add Extra Soda Water or Champagne
When building a large format drink that calls for a sparkling topper, Robitschek suggests slightly under-diluting the base of the drink and allowing the soda water or Champagne to act as an additional diluent. “If you dilute [a large format cocktail] to the normal amount and then add the soda or Champagne what’s going to end up happening is that the effervescence is going to dissipate in the drink and it’s not going to be as lively.”
6.) Adjust to Taste
Fu concludes that “there’s a lot done to taste,” and Robitschek echoes this sentiment: “It’s not an exact calculation,” he says, likening it to seasoning in cooking. “You would add salt at the beginning when you’re cooking, but as you’re tasting you would add more salt or pepper in order to balance out [the dish] and that’s the same thing you would do when batching a cocktail.”