While there are certain people in this world capable of finding the time to plan and prepare their Thanksgiving bar ahead of time, for everyone else, a few hard-working bottles can make up for it. In addition to bitters, sweeteners (simple syrup will do) and fresh ingredients like citrus, it’s worth keeping on hand two versatile base spirits—one light, one dark—as well as a modifier and a “wildcard” ingredient capable of adding complexity to a variety of drinks.
When scaling up a recipe, keep these simple rules in mind:
1. ) Start With the Largest-Volume Ingredient
The smallest ingredients—citrus, sweetener and bitters—have the largest margin for error. As you’re building, start with the largest, non-aromatic ingredient and work upwards, tasting as you go.
2.) Scale Back Bitters and Other Aromatic Ingredients
When combined with alcohol, aromatic elements, like bitters and ginger syrup, are amplified. Start with about half of what the recipe calls for, adding more as needed.
3.) Don’t Forget About Dilution
When pre-batching and freezing a strong, stirred drink, don’t forget about dilution: PUNCH recommends adding about 1 1/2 ounces of filtered water per serving for Martinis and Manhattans; for lower proof drinks, like the Negroni, dilute with about 3/4 ounce filtered water.
4.) Adjust to Taste
Batching is as much about minding your math as it is about adjusting the drink to your palate: Season and taste as you go, as if you were balancing a dish.
For us, the four bottles we always keep within reach are London dry-style gin and bourbon or rye, alongside sweet vermouth—the modifier with the most mileage—and fino sherry, which adds both salinity and perceived acidity to drinks. In case you want to batch ahead, we’ve also included a few simple rules for perfecting your next large-format cocktail.
Calling on just a few ingredients, a number of stirred, pre-Prohibition classics have proved to be holiday stalwarts. There’s the canonical Manhattan, which can be made with either bourbon or rye, and the lesser-known Jungle Cocktail, an equal-parts drink consisting of gin, fino sherry and sweet vermouth. At the high-octane end of the spectrum Pink Gin, with just two ingredients—gin and bitters—is a no-brainer, while on the lighter side, the sherry-based Adonis makes for a timeless aperitif.
The simple sour template of spirit, citrus and sweetener offers a strong baseline from which to build a number of straightforward shaken recipes with minimal ingredients. Whiskey and gin work equally well in the standard formula (two ounces of spirit, a three-quarter ounce each of citrus and sweetener), while simply swapping the citrus or the sweetener can yield different menu items all together; switch lemon for lime will turn the classic Gin Sour into a Gimlet, while substituting honey syrup for simple syrup makes for a Bee’s Knees. Lengthening the formula with soda water, meanwhile, yields a classic Tom Collins. Or, add an egg white and you’ve got a Gin Fizz. Further additions, like the mint in the Southside or arugula in the Roquette, can up the flavor ante.
When there’s no time for stirring or shaking, there are a few reliable cocktails that can be built directly in the glass. The standard-bearer for built drinks is, of course, the Old-Fashioned, simply whiskey, sugar and bitters. If a tall drink is preferred, try Ryan Maybee’s Horse Feather, a whiskey-based spin on the Moscow Mule built over ice in a Collins glass. And, if you’re looking for something a bit lighter on its feet, try the Soft Shock, a spin on the Gin & Tonic that splits the base between fino sherry and gin alongside additions of fresh citrus and mint.