How to Use Your Slow Cooker to Make Cocktails
When you're juggling appetizers, a main course, sides, and dessert in hosting a dinner party, the last thing you have time (or an extra hand) for is mixing individual drinks. That's where big-batch cocktails come in: These are the perfect beverage for any party because they can easily be made ahead in sharable quantities. But what if you could take things one step further, making large-format cocktails in a countertop appliance you already have and love, from which guests can serve themselves? Enter: the slow-cooker cocktail, a method of home barkeeping that will change everything — especially when nights turn cool and there's nothing cozier than sipping on a warm, boozy drink with family and friends.
As any dedicated slow-cooker fan knows, these gadgets follow the set-it-and-forget-it mantra, making them a no-brainer tool for crafting drinks ahead of time. "Sure, you could make big-batch cocktails in a Dutch oven on your stove top, but you'd have to pay more attention to it," says Sam Block, chef and digital test cook with America's Test Kitchen. Plus, if you're busy cooking and need your burners and oven, it makes even more sense to turn to your slow cooker for cocktails, saving that valuable stovetop real estate for food.
And if you're preparing drinks for a party crowd, it's obvious that a slow cooker is a simple way to make a lot. "With most slow cookers averaging 5-6 quarts, you won't need to worry about running out of cocktails for your next party," says Marta Rivera, chef and creator of Sense & Edibility.
A good rule of thumb when making warm cocktails in your slow cooker is to heat up the ingredients in your appliance on a medium/low setting for no more than a couple hours, followed by the "keep warm" setting, says Block.
Plan ahead to ensure your cocktail is ready to drink when you're ready to serve it. For instance, if you're making a cocktail that requires simple syrup and you're planning to make that simple syrup in the slow cooker, that will require at least 30 minutes on high, says Rivera. Likewise, if your recipe calls for infusing flavors — such as citrus peels, spices, or herbs — make sure you account for the necessary time it takes for your slow cooker to come up to temperature. "Usually, high is the temperature [needed] for infusions or for boiling to dissolve sugar crystals or powders like cocoa," she adds.
That said, be sure to reduce the heat once you've completed your infusions, as you don't want to keep your cocktail too hot for too long and risk cooking off the booze. When simmering alcohol, a liquid's temperature is around 190 degrees F, says Rivera. While it would take more than 2.5 hours to completely cook off the alcohol (which may seem like a long time), the hours can fly by quickly when you're hosting.
If you're really concerned about losing alcohol, try adding the spirits to your warm liquid (rather than warming the alcohol with the rest of the ingredients) to reduce the amount that evaporates off, suggests Kevin Denton Rex, head of mixology and education at Pernod Ricard. If you use this method, though, take care to never have your face directly above the slow cooker when you add alcohol to the warm liquid. "When they combine, a blast of hot alcohol vapor will escape, which is super unpleasant to breathe in," says Rex.
Of course, you can also make mocktails (i.e., cocktails without the booze) in a slow cooker, too. Just omit the alcohol entirely or give guests the option to add their own from a selection of bottles after ladling out their drink.
Don't forget to think through how you'll serve your slow-cooker cocktail. Though it might sound like a nice idea, don't try to transfer the hot drink into a pitcher — which can get dangerous to pour out of a heavy slow-cooker pot (and also cause the drinks to cool too quickly). Instead, encourage guests to serve themselves by ladling out the liquid into their individual cups when they're ready to drink it. "You want these cocktails to be warm, so let them hang out in the gadget where they'll stay that way," Block says. And be sure to have the right vessels in which to serve them: Avoid cocktail glasses that aren't safe for hot liquids, as well as any with narrow bowls, like highball glasses, says Rivera. Some good choices include Irish coffee mugs, wassail mugs, or even regular coffee mugs. If you plan to move your party outdoors, you could also carefully transfer your cocktail to a thermal carafe using a ladle, then safely pour out individual drinks from the carafe.
Want to make cleanup easy? Adam Mason, general manager of LouVino restaurant and wine bar in Louisville, Ky., recommends using slow-cooker bags when making cocktails in this appliance, as syrups "tend to get in every crack and crevice," he says.
Slow-Cooker Cocktail Recipes to Try
Make your next party an instant hit by simmering one of these hot cocktails in your slow cooker.
This is a great, easy one to start with, says Block. Simply heat a bottle of red wine and add sugar or honey, orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and whatever warm spices you prefer (think allspice or nutmeg).
It doesn't get much simpler than heating sliced lemons, oranges, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and water in your slow cooker, says Block. Then, have bottles of cognac, bourbon or aged rum for guests to choose to add to their cups with the hot liquid.
Hot Buttered Rum
Heat brown sugar, butter, a pinch of salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and water for a few hours, then stir in rum and keep warm for serving, says Block.
Related: Hot Buttered Rum in a Slow Cooker
Boozy Hot Chocolate
Use your slow cooker to whip up your favorite hot chocolate recipe, then add booze. "I once went to a party that had hot chocolate in a slow cooker and you could add Bailey's, rum or peanut butter whiskey," says Block. "So good!" Rivera offers another twist: Make it Mexican hot chocolate by adding tequila, cinnamon sticks, a star anise pod, and a small dried ancho chile pepper.
Add a gallon of your favorite apple cider to your slow cooker, along with 4 ounces of Irish whiskey, 1 sliced green apple, a 1-inch piece of ginger and 1 teaspoon of whole cloves, suggests Rivera. Bring to steaming to infuse the spices for 15 minutes, then turn heat to warm.
Tom and Jerry
For a drink that doubles as dessert, combine 2 parts cognac with 4 parts vanilla ice cream, ½ parts brown sugar and 3 parts water, says Rex. Top each drink with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.