Pitcher Perfect

Communal and fun, cocktails served in large vessels appeal to thirsty groups willing to share, and are also an economically feasible option for friends who have the same taste in cocktails. For operators, batched cocktails are easy to make in large quantities, without the measuring, shaking and stirring needed for drinks prepared à la minute. But the classic punchbowl—with its large footprint not exactly conducive to small tables, not to mention its dainty, delicate glasses—now has some competition in a smaller, more portable version that’s popping up more frequently in cocktail bars.

Hollowed Apple Eat the Rich 3 Photo credit Three Chords LLC
Hollowed Apple Eat the Rich - Photo credit Three Chords LLC

“Pitchers serve the same function, but have a more democratic appeal,” notes bartender Derek Brown, who co-owns five bars in Washington, D.C., including The Passenger/Columbia, Room, Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency and Eat the Rich. At the latter, staff serves up oysters on the half shell to slurp with any of four different cocktails in pitchers, which fit in swimmingly with the casual bivalve and beverage atmosphere. “We just wanted to have something incredibly well-made with as little pretense as possible.”

Brown said he also grew tired of searching for vintage glassware (he’s not a fan of what he calls “tiny knuckle buster punch cups,) and believes pitchers work with Eat the Rich’s low-key vibe, including his plans next summer for Maryland crabs served on newspaper-topped tables. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not slagging punch—just saying there are different environments for different things.”

Mixologist Ergys Dizdari of Chicago’s Filini Bar & Retaurant concurs about the easy breezy logistics of the pitcher. “It’s easier to pour out and pass around from one person to another, and also takes less space on the table.” To put it another way, if the punchbowl is an SUV, the pitcher is a Smart car, better able to deftly navigate tight roads and parking spaces. Pitchers go where large, unwieldy punch bowls don’t dare tread, and work especially well on tiny bar tables and banquettes.

The Honey Punch at Filini Bar & Restaurant
The Honey Punch at Filini Bar & Restaurant

So what type of drink recipes work best in pitchers? Dizdari recommends avoiding anything that needs to be shaken before serving, so you don’t end up with residue left at the bottom of a pitcher; also avoid any beverages poured neat, obviously. “Use ingredients that will blend well together.” And, if a drink has a large number of pieces of fruit swimming in it, it may be better ladled out from a punch bowl.

Brown suggests mixing up long drinks whose flavor won’t become watered down with the addition of ice—like the Tom Collins and its variations—as well as any favorite standard punch recipes.  He does caution, however, to “make sure they’re not overly strong, and watch the dilution.” Brown recalls drinking “horrible” batched Margaritas, which remained his association of pitcher drinks for years. But, he says, if you use the same attention to detail and high-quality ingredients to make pitcher cocktails that you do for classic sips, they will be well-made—and well-received. “That’s what we are going for.”

Count on four servings per pitcher—assuming guests are in a sharing, convivial mood.

Hollowed Apple
Courtesy of Derek Brown, Eat the Rich, Washington, D.C.

Brown’s smoky Mezcal-based pitcher cocktail gets mouthwatering appeal from a shrub made with Granny Smith Apples, and a kick from habanero bitters.

6 oz. Fendencio Mezcal
3 oz. Green apple shrub (see recipe)
2 oz. Fresh lime juice
5 oz. Water
1/8 oz. Bitterman’s Hellfire Bitters
Granny Smith apples, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a large pitcher. Add ice, and give a few stirs until chilled. Garnish with Granny Smith Apple.

For the Green Apple Shrub:
Peel and chip 15 Granny Smith apples. Add them to a large pot, along with 6 cups of agave nectar, and 1 ½ cups of Champagne vinegar. Heat the mixture to a boil (do not stir,) and then remove the heat. Let the shrub cool, and then strain out solids. Bottle and refrigerate.

Buck Hunter
Courtesy of Derek Brown, Eat the Rich, Washington, D.C.

Sarsaparilla bitters and ginger syrup ramp up this Bourbon and bubbly batched libation.

6 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon
2 ¼ oz. Fresh lemon juice
2 ¼ oz. Ginger syrup (peeled ginger root to taste, boiled in 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, then cooled and strained)
1 ½ oz. Still water
4 oz. Sparkling water
3 Dashes Bad Dog Sarsaparilla Bitters
Lemon wheels, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a large pitcher. Add ice and give a few stirs until chilled. Garnish with lemon wheels.

Honey Punch
Courtesy of Mixologist Ergys Dizdari, Filini Bar & Retaurant, Chicago, IL

Spiced rum, Bourbon, honey and lemon combine in this mélange that’s the chilled cocktail version of a Hot Toddy.

9 ½ oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
4 ½ oz. Weller Bourbon
9 oz. Honey syrup (1:1 ratio boiled until honey dissolved, and then cooled)
9 oz. Lemon juice
20 Mint leaves

Add all ingredients to a pitcher and stir. Let set in the refrigerator overnight.


Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area.  She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.

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