Beer is a staple of the tailgating experience, but it doesn’t have to be the only option. Cocktails are delicious and refreshing and don’t drain your energy like copious amounts of beer will. Drinking six beers before you get into the stadium is great for young folks, but it takes its toll on the more seasoned tailgaters.
A belly full of beer will make you full and sleepy. Cocktails get your energy up without bringing you down before the game starts. You don’t have to get fancy – there are several basic cocktails you can make for the game – but people will love the change of pace in the form of pitcher cocktails.
Preparing in Advance
Unlike simpler drinks, cocktails require preparation, which can be a chore. If you’re a regular tailgater, though, you know the preparedness is the key to success. If you scramble to get everything together at the last minute, you’ll end up not getting enough food, not bringing enough drinks, or in some way tarnishing a perfectly good pregame ritual. Get your ingredients ready and allow yourself time to prepare for the game.
When preparing your pitcher cocktails for a tailgate or party, you need to prepare them the day of. If the game or party’s during the day, you might be able to get away with preparing them the night before, but it’s probably not worth the risk.
Preparing the cocktails too early will mean they’ll spoil when it comes time to drink them. The juice in the cocktails will go bad if you make it more than a few hours before your event. If you want to use fresh fruit in your recipes, there’s no other option but to prepare them a few hours before you leave.
Gather Your Tools
The most obvious thing you’ll need for pitcher cocktails is a pitcher. Get one with a lid since you’ll likely be transporting it to the game and don’t want it to spill. Buy a couple of pitchers if you’re making cocktails for a crowd pitcher. If you want, you can use the other pitcher for mixing on smaller occasions.
Funnels will make the process easier as well. If you don’t want to bring a full pitcher to the tailgate, you could use an old liquor or wine bottle. For this, you’ll need a funnel to transition from the cocktail from the pitcher to the bottle. A measuring cup is also helpful so you can get the measurements exact. If you’re not worried about putting too much booze in your drink, eyeball away!
Any good cocktail has a fair percentage of water – anywhere from ⅕ to ¼ of the drink. Without the water, the cocktails will be far too strong, and you’ll only taste the alcohol. At that point, you might as well be drinking a strong mixed drink with no ice.
You can add ice to your cocktails when you’re pouring them, but that’s too much of a hassle. If you’re at a tailgate, you want everyone to be able to pour their own drinks without worrying about the right level of dilution.
Instead, add the right amount of water when you’re mixing the drinks and keep them cold. Bring a small cooler for your cocktails and allow your friends to pour themselves a drink whenever they want. Don’t forget to add water, though! If you don’t, everyone is going to stick to beer.
Cocktail Jug Recipes
Having trouble making your first cocktail for the next tailgate? Never fear! We’ve compiled a list of easy recipes you can bring to your next tailgate. The spring and summer isn’t the only time for cocktails. There are some fantastic winter cocktails on this list as well. Football season doesn’t mean you can’t bring a cocktail to the tailgate!
Sangria is a classic for a reason. No one will complain if you show up an early game with a pitcher or two of sangria – whether it’s summer or winter. All you need to make this delicious drink is some fruit, brandy, orange juice, and red wine. Here’s the recipe for Red Spanish Sangria from Minimalist Baker:
- 1/2 apple, cored, skin on, chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 orange, rind on, sliced into small pieces, large seeds removed (plus more for garnish)
- 3-4 Tbsp (41-55 g) organic brown sugar (or 3 Tbsp (37.5 g) organic cane sugar)
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) orange juice, plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) brandy, plus more to taste
- 1 750 ml bottle dry Spanish red wine*
- Ice to chill (~1 cup)
- Add apples, oranges, and sugar to a large pitcher and muddle with a muddler or wooden spoon for 45 seconds.
- Add orange juice and brandy and muddle again to combine for 30 seconds.
- Add red wine and stir to incorporate, then taste and adjust flavor as needed. I added a bit more brandy, orange juice and brown sugar. Stir to combine.
- Add ice and stir once more to chill. Serve as is, or with a bit more ice. Garnish with orange segments (optional).
- Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours, though best when fresh.
Ginger Shandies are another easy-to-make delight you can bring with you to a summer cookout or tailgate. This one is definitely made for the warm weather, though no one would complain about drinking this before heading into a football game. Here’s a recipe for Ginger Shandies from Food and Wine (serves six).
- Mint springs, for garnish
- One 12-ounce bottle chilled ginger beer
- 1 thinly sliced lemon
- Three 11.2 ounce bottles of chilled Hoegaarden beer
- In a large pitcher, combine the Hoegaarden with the ginger beer.
- Stir in most of the lemon slices and mint springs.
- Fill 6 rocks glasses with ice.
- Add the remaining lemon slices to the glasses and pour in the shandy.
- Garnish each drink with a mint sprig and serve.
Hot Apple Pie Punch
The Hot Apple Pie Punch is sure to turn some heads when you bring it to the tailgate for a basketball or football game. Drinking cold beverages is difficult in the already-cold weather. The only difficulty with this winter drink is to make sure it stays warm during your tailgate. Here’s a recipe shared on the Genius Kitchen website.
- 1 Gallon of apple cider
- 1-2 Cups apricot brandy (to taste)
- 1 pint whipped topping
- Cinnamon stick
- Mix together the apple cider and brandy in crock pot.
- Heat until warmed through.
- To serve: put a cinnamon stick in a mug and pour in punch.
- Then top with whipped topping and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Cranberry, Apple Spiced Tea
This drink is another made for the winter months when drinking warm cocktail will heat you up from the inside. It will take a bit more preparation than some of the others, but the spiced tea result is delicious and seasonal for the fall. Here’s the recipe from Rita1652 on Genius Kitchen.
- 2 quarts cranberry juice
- 2 quarts apple juice
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1⁄4 cup honey
- 3 cups water
- 1 orange, studded with (or lemon slices)
- clove (optional)
- 4 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- 1⁄2 nutmeg, freshly ground (optional)
- 10 cardamom pods (optional)
- 1 slice ginger (optional)
- 5 whole allspice (optional)
- 20 fluid ounces rum, 1 per mug (optional)
- Put all ingredients in a slow cooker on low.
- “I usually do the night before and wake to the wonderful scents coming from my kitchen.”
The Green Monster is a minty, year-round cocktail that pairs perfectly with hot wings – a tradition at any tailgate. Here’s the recipe from Saveur, which serves 4-6.
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- 4 cups passion fruit juice
- 1 1⁄2 cups white rum
- 1⁄3 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 1⁄2 cups mint leaves
- Thin-sliced lime wheels, for garnish
- Boil sugar with 1⁄4 cup water in a 1-qt. saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
- Let simple syrup cool and transfer to a blender.
- Add passion fruit juice, rum, lime juice, and mint leaves; purée until smooth.
- Strain into a pitcher, garnish with sliced limes.
- Serve chilled.
Strawberry Wine Punch
Strawberry wine punch is easy to make and perfect in the summer months. It will cool you down without making you sluggish and tired. Here’s the recipe from Missinthekitchen.com.
- 1 bottle Gewürztraminer (750 ml), chilled (Moscato would be wonderful too)
- 1 10 oz can frozen Bacardi Strawberry daiquiri mix, thawed
- ½ liter lemon-lime soda, chilled
- Fresh strawberries for garnish
- Mix wine and daiquiri mix together in a half gallon container.
- Fill with soda and mix well.
- Serve with ice if you wish and garnish with a fresh strawberry.
Make the Most From Your Tailgate
You may have been tailgating for decades, but it’s never too late to spruce it up with a cocktail. Bring the variety to your event by mixing some cocktails for the crew. Let someone else handle the beers and food. Make yourself the hit of the next tailgate by bringing a batch of cocktails for everyone to enjoy.
You’ll want to ramp-up the production for some of these cocktails. The recipes are mostly meant for small get-togethers, so depending on your tailgate size you probably want to make more. Pre-gamers aren’t known for drinking lightly, so be prepared and add some extra ingredients to your cocktails.