And just like that, summer is coming to an end. It hurts, but it doesn’t have to hurt that bad, and that’s where cocktails come in. Whether you’re planning one last outdoor barbecue, or keeping cool inside, whatever your game plan is for Labor Day weekend, it’ll undoubtedly be better with a few drinks. They key here? Don’t get stuck playing bartender. Keep it simple by setting out your favorite sessionable beers, a couple of crowd-pleasing wines, and a batched cocktail or punch. Your guests won’t mind serving themselves while you get started on the food.
To help you in the cocktail department, we’ve tapped Laurie Harvey, veteran barwoman and beverage director at State Fare Kitchen and Bar in Houston, Texas, for some of her essential tips—and two easy, crowd-pleasing, make-ahead recipes.
Batch your drinks ahead of time
Like we said, there’s no sense in making every cocktail to order. “The key to doing cocktails for a cookout is to make sure you don’t have to keep running back and forth,” says Harvey. “Batching is always easiest.” If you’re using fresh citrus, take some time to juice those lemons and limes while waiting for food in the oven. Using a homemade cordial in your cocktail? You can make these weeks in advance—just keep them in the fridge to use them again.
Consider your ratio of dilution
As any bartender will tell you, the water content of a cocktail is actually an unwritten part of the recipe. That fancy ice they’re using to shake your drink? It’s not just for show—ice is to a bartender what the flame is to a chef. “When batching a cocktail, you’re taking out the stirring and shaking process, so dilute the mix by about 20 percent,” advises Harvey. Combine all your ingredients in a serving bowl—without ice—and allow guests to add ice to their cup when ladling in the drink.
Go lower on the ABV
Make something easy and quaffable that guests can enjoy over a few hours without getting totally hammered. “I like to call them ‘patio pounders,’” says Harvey. “Easy cocktails you can sip on all day—a little lower ABV is nice for that.” Consider cocktails that split a base with a spirit and liqueur, or opt for something wine-based like sangria.
Dedicate more time to your garnish game
Citrus wheels, seasonal berries, or fresh herbs—the possibilities for garnishes are endless. Once you’ve batched the cocktail, decorate your pitcher or bowl with colorful ingredients that’ll make the drink pop visually and add important aromatics.
And now for the recipes…
Texas Peach Tea
1 part Deep Eddy peach vodka
1 part Deep Eddy sweet tea vodka
1 part house peach cordial (see below)
1 part fresh lemon juice
4 parts fresh brewed iced tea
1.5 parts water
Instructions: Combine ingredients in a pitcher with a few ice cubes and stir. Garnish with fresh peach slice and thyme sprigs. Serve in tall glass with ice.
1lb frozen peaches
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Instructions: Combine ingredients in sauce pan stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and comes to slow bubble. Remove from heat and cool. Store in refrigerator up to 1 month. (Tip: it also tastes great with fresh brewed tea and lemon juice for non-alcoholic version).
1.5 part reposado tequila
.5 part wholesome blue agave
.75 part fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit
.75 part fresh squeezed lime juice
1 pinch per part of chili powder
3 parts Squirt grapefruit soda or Topo Chico soda water
1 part water
Instructions: Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir with a few cubes of ice. Garnish with lime wheels. Pour in tall glass and add ice.
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