Cocktail batching horror stories

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Batched & bottled Negronis from yesterday’s event at Grape & Grain.

This past weekend, I visited with the Jacksonville, FL chapter of the US Bartenders’ Guild (USBG). The game plan was to talk about Cocktails for a Crowd — but although much of the book is informed by advice from bartenders, I was worried:  what could I possibly tell these USBG pros that they didn’t already know?

So I prepped for the event by turning to other bartenders, asking them for their craziest stories about batching cocktails. Here’s what they told me (names removed to protect the innocent & lightly edited). In general, I learned three lessons in particular:

Lesson #1: CLEARLY LABEL AND, IF NECESSARY, LOCK UP YOUR STUFF.

“We were batching cocktails for an event once for the Kentucky Derby in a hallway outside the main venue, and had about 35 gallons of cocktails picked up and locked in a closet by a janitor because he thought it was paint left out. We went for sandwiches before the event started. We came back and thought someone took them all. Had to come up with something on the fly. Found out a couple of days later what happened.” –Louisville, KY-based bartender.

“Spent a couple of days figuring out how to clarify lime juice for a pre-batched Moscow Mule.

Ended up making about a half gallon of clarified lime only for it to be thrown out because someone wanted the cambro to make ice-tea. [NOTE FROM KARA: A Cambro is a plastic storage container, aka. “restaurant size Tupperware.”] Two days work literally down the drain right before a busy weekend where the drink was supposed to be featured.

For awhile we would tape down the lids of the cambro with descriptions, dates, and death threats.”  – Oakland, CA-based bartender

Lesson #2: IF YOU’RE OFF SITE – IF POSSIBLE, BATCH AHEAD & BRING IT TO THE EVENT

“A former boss hired me to come to his 10-year college reunion & make drinks & give a talk. About 500 people where scheduled to be there. I got the specs, the menu, and prepared a talk related to historical drinks to the school.

I planned to make 60 gallons of cocktail. I got there at 1PM, the event started at 8PM. I showed up, and the prep kitchen is a porch. There’s one electrical outlet, and it’s as close to the floor as you can get. And the juicer is a $20 Black & Decker for grannies to make juice in the morning.

I made three to four gallons of citrus juice squatting down in a catcher’s stance, then standing up and emptying the container. By the end of the experience, the juicer was broken.

During the event, out of 500 people, maybe 12 had drinks. 98% of the drinks were thrown away. There were maybe 10 people listening to my talk. But one turned out to be one of my best regulars. So I’d say it was 100% worth it.” –NYC-based bartender

Lesson #3: BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS

“I watched a large frozen spider fall into my punch (frozen inside a large chunk of ice). Out in Arizona when I worked at the Scottsdale Princess Hotel as a chef… Spiders would make their way in from the desert just outside because it was cool inside. they would eventually get into the ice block machine and end up quite frozen.” –MA-based author

About a decade ago I ran a Tequila bar. It was a busy joint so I used to make large batches of the many *flavored* house margaritas.

One day while I was doing the deed I had two batching containers on the floor with tops on them. I had a drink in my hand *quality control* when I decided to step over both buckets. My foot got caught on one of the lids which popped it open– my foot fell into the large vessel with a giant splash!

I reflexively threw my hands in the air from shock/surprise throwing my full drink into my face!

Thankfully there were only a few people at the bar to see one of my proudest moments. I proceeded to work the rest of that evening with a red stain up to my right knee.” — New Orleans, LA-based bartender

“I was helping prep for a major consumer event in Chicago and had to squeeze about three cases of limes. The hotel we were staying in was nice enough to let me use their professional juicer – otherwise it would have to be done by hand! – and I was set up in a corner of the kitchen with my cases. Even so it took a few hours, and ran into dinner service. As the kitchen was getting busier and busier, a chef walked by and accidentally bumped into the nozzle where the lime juice was being collected. A slow drip of lime juice started falling on the floor. Luckily we caught it after a few minutes, but still, sad.” –NYC-based PR rep

“Friend of mine dropped her new iPhone in a batch of Bloody Marys — wet and corrosive. Got her a case that is waterproof down to 7 feet, No problems so far anymore.”— New York state-based spirits blogger

Cocktails for a Crowd book signing – 8/11 at Salt & Sundry, Washington DC

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This Sunday, I’ll be in Washington DC, signing books from 2-3:30 PM at one of the most beautiful housewares stores I’ve ever seen:  Salt & Sundry, inside Union Market. I already have my eye on some new glassware.

We’ll also be sampling cocktails from the book and bites provided by The Red Hen. Mark your calendar now!

Where You’ll Find Me This Weekend

There’s no need to stay thirsty this weekend!  (okay, long weekend, since I’m including Monday). Here’s what I’ll be up to – please come out and say hello!

Saturday, December 11: Holiday Spirits Bazaar (Brooklyn, NY). A one-night shopping and tasting extravaganza, benefiting the Museum of the American Cocktail. I’ll be signing & selling books, and serving up some Sparkling Ginger Daisy Punch!  Buy tickets here.

Sunday, December 12: Heritage Radio Network. Along with cheese expert Diana Pittet, I’ll be talking with cheesemonger Anne Saxelby, host of “Cutting the Curd,” about monastic heritage in cheeses and liqueurs. 

Monday, December 13: Monastic Liqueurs and Cheeses, a lecture and tasting event with cheese expert Diana Pittet and me, presented by The Culinary Historians of New York. (National Arts Club, Gramercy Park, New York — Excuse me, but have you seen what the NAC looks like all decked out for the holidays?!? Wow.) An amazing raffle basket also will be available, including a limted edition 500th anniversary bottle of Benedictine. Buy tickets here.

See you in Portland?

Later this week, I’ll be headed to Portland, Oregon, for the annual International Association of Culinary Professionals conference.  I’m excited to be attending for a number of reasons:

1. Seeing in person friends I otherwise only get to see on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail…and meeting new people who enjoy talking about the food world in gloriously geeky detail, as I do.

2. For once, I’m not involved in presenting a panel….so this feels a little like a mini-vacation. It will be great to attend seminars and relax and fully immerse in listening to the presenters, rather than hoping feverishly that all my presenters and critical ingredients have arrived on time and in good condition. (there’s a story in there about AWOL ingredients and presenters in less-than-pristine condition, which I’ll save for another day.)

3. But yes, it’s still a business trip, and I’ll be signing copies of Spice & Ice at the IACP Culinary Book Fair.  I’ll be making drinks too, in case you needed extra inducement to stop by and say hello!

4. While I’m in town, I’ll also be on KATU’s Primetime TV show (that’s the ABC affiliate), talking about the book and demonstrating cocktails. And yes….unlike my last TV appearance, they WILL be cocktails, not mocktails!  (insert cheering sound effects here)

5.  Portland itself. This will be my first time there, and I’ve heard amazing things about the city’s vibrant food and beverage culture. I have a long (and growing!) list of bars, coffee houses, distilleries, and restaurants I’m looking forward to trying out.  And if you’ve got a place (or a drink!) to suggest, I’m all ears.