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Summer cocktails made pitcher-perfect

After a hectic summer, hosting — and toasting — a last hurrah can be that little bit easier with pitcher cocktails.

Whether it's mixing up a batch of margaritas for friends in the backyard or ordering a round of mai tais for the table, pitchers are a quick, simple way to rethink drinks for a crowd.

At Spoonbar in the wine country town of Healdsburg, Calif., bar manager Scott Beattie knew early on that he wanted to serve cocktails by the pitcher. So he ordered a Kold-Draft ice-cube machine capable of making big, dense cubes that keep drinks cold without diluting them.

It's also efficient. With the cubes and a really big shaker, "it takes just about as long to make one drink as it does to make five," he points out.

The drinks are shaken, strained and poured into a pitcher ready to go.

"It's been great; people really dig it," says Beattie, author of "Artisanal Cocktails."

Other cocktail enthusiasts also are shaking up pitcher-perfect cocktails.

At Philadelphia's Square 1682 restaurant, one night a week is dedicated to tiki cocktails and with warm weather and patio seating, they introduced a new tiki pitcher cocktail: Kama'aina Punch.

The drink blends gin, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, coconut syrup, pineapple juice and black cherry puree and can be given a little extra sparkle with the addition of prosecco.

"Everyone loves a pitcher," says Anna Schneider, general manager. "It's social, fun, basically happy hour in a bowl."

And Young Lee of Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge in Las Vegas makes a refreshing cucumber cooler with vodka, fresh lemon sour, white cranberry juice, simple syrup and cucumber puree.

Customers bellying up to Beattie's bar have an interesting option. They can trade in fruit from their backyards for restaurant credit.

The fruit is juiced and then the juice frozen to be used for a variety of things, including pitcher cocktails.

The program launched in February, with people mostly bringing in citrus, especially Meyer lemons that thrive in Healdsburg. Spoonbar planned to continue the program through summer and early fall with calls for plums, peaches, berries, apples and pears.

The program requires some work. Incoming fruit has to be checked and cleaned, and you need storage space and a plan for use. Spoonbar brought in two extra freezers, which came in handy the week they took in 1,500 pounds of fruit.

Customers get to make use of fruit that otherwise might just fall off the tree; Spoonbar gets a source of fresh, local produce.

"It's a great way for people to utilize the fruit in a different way and contribute to their local restaurant and get some return for it," says Beattie.

Want to mix up your own jug of fun? Try these recipes.

Sangria makes for cool sipping on a summer evening. - MCT photo