Is it just me or is the internet rampant with the phrase “Surviving the Holidays,” as if the impending season is equivalent to a zombie apocalypse but with tinsel and bows? I know we all get caught up in the whirlwind that is the holiday season especially since we’re decking the halls as soon as the last piece of Halloween candy is handed out (don’t rush me large chain stores, just don’t). But this year,instead of just surviving the holidays, how about we actually enjoy them? Tis the season for gatherings with friends, co-workers and loved ones and I know we’re all thinking about how awesome it would be to throw the perfect holiday party where guests post photos with #bestpartyever. But if you get stressed about your party, you won’t enjoy it, so let’s leave the holiday stress for the parking lots and creepy Santas. Here are some clever party tips to help you really celebrate and ENJOY the season:
Keep it simple, silly:
Listen, I know you’d love to impress your snarky cousin Ruth with all the creative cocktail recipes you’ve been pinning since Labor Day, but hand carving ice cubes and mixing 8 ingredient egg white cocktails for a party of 50 people will surely have you curled up in a ball in the bowl of your home-made egg nog before the night ends. Be realistic about the kind of party you’re throwing and the cocktails you’ll be serving. If you’re throwing a party for more than 12 people and you’re not hiring a bartender, don’t over complicate what you’re serving. Punches and pre-batched cocktails are ideal for large groups. As a great host you want to appeal to all your guests and their palates, but that doesn’t mean you have to have 80 mixers for your cocktails. So rather than buying ingredients for 10 different classic cocktails, create 1-3 signature cocktails. Create mixers that will mix with a variety of different spirits and that you can also serve as non-alcoholic options. If you’re throwing a dinner party and want to serve more complicated cocktails try to do as muchas you can beforehand, so that when you’re ready to serve all you have to add to the cocktail is ice and some man power. Also don’t be afraid to get your guests in on the fun and have them help shake things up. You think that Manhattan’s going to stir itself, Ruth? C’mon! Put your back into it!
I don’t know when we started to hate on the word “theme” but some of the best parties I’ve both attended and thrown have had a theme. During the holidays, a theme can help things from getting over complicated and will set expectations for guests. Themes for the holidays can (and should) extend beyond ugly xmas sweaters. Have a Spanish themed tapas dinner and serve Spanish wine. Throw a party where everyone brings their favorite Christmas beer, or favorite bottle of bubbles. Throw a party honoring the most perfect of cocktails, the Manhattan and serve two out of the box versions. Have a bourbon tasting party with one, nice well-known bottle for guests to enjoy and some other not-so-well-known gems. This party sounds especially appealing to me because of the much important bourbon tasting research I’d have to conduct beforehand!
Make an Impression:
There are a lot of ways to leave an impression on guests that don’ t involve dry ice and garnishes that look like swans. When setting up your bar, have two standard liquors like vodka and bourbon along with a unique bottle that perhaps none of your guests have experienced yet. Things like a bourbon barrel aged gin, or a unique liqueur or aperitif. Add a couple bottles of unique bitters to your bar for your guests to experiment with, a dash or two could change their whole cocktail universe. Buy fun garnishes like candied ginger, candied citrus peels or fancy cherries. Create your garnishes in ice cubes by adding, herbs, citrus or fruit to your ice trays before you put them in the freezer. Beautiful to add to a cocktail and so easy to make—a match made in party-throwing heaven. Tired of buying cranberry juice and orange juice for your booze mixers? Serve things like ginger beer, or craft tonic to mix things up and stand out. Did I mention we sell our house made tonic here at Metropole?
Part of what makes a good bartender is speed and efficiency. The same goes for serving cocktails at a party. Buy pour spouts for your liquor bottles, this will make pouring cocktails and serving so much faster. When you’re mixing cocktails with a simple syrup or a shrub and soda water build the cocktail without ice, add the soda water, THEN add the ice. The effervescence of the soda water will mix the cocktail for you so all you have to do is add the ice, no mixing in a shaker tin required, this was a mind blowing lesson for me. When pre-batching cocktails don’t forget to add water. Water is an essential part of almost all cocktails—the water added will make up for the dilution that shaking and stirring the booze with the ice would have created. The general rule is for stirred cocktails like a Manhattan you want to add 10% of the total volume in water, and for cocktails that are shaken 20%. Create mixers that can be made ahead of time and stored, like shrubs and simple syrups. Serve warm cocktails from a thermos so they’re piping hot when they’re poured or if you’re serving mulled wine or cider, keep on your stove top and ladle directly from the pot. You can mull small batches at a time so that there is a constant aroma of delightful mulling spices throughout the evening. Pre-bundle all your spices so all you’ll have to do is pour the wine or cider over.
1 sugar cube
3 dashes bitters
2 oz rye or bourbon
You can serve this classic at a smaller dinner party and pre-make almost the entire cocktail until you’re about ready to serve. Add sugar cube into a glass, and add bitters directly to sugar cube. After the bitters has had a chance to infiltrate every nook and cranny of the cube muddle the cube. Add rye or bourbon and orange peel. Let this mixture hang out until you’re ready to serve. When you’re ready to serve add enough ice that the glass is half full and stir cocktail. Add more ice and stir again. Garnish with a fancy cherry. Drink!
CRANBERRY SHRUB RECIPE:
12 oz cranberries
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
peel of 2 lemons
1 tbsp all spice berries slightly muddled
2 tsp lavender flowers
1 cup apple cider vinegar
In a medium sauce pan, over medium high heat add sugar and water. Once sugar has dissolved add rest of the ingredients, except for vinegar. Bring mixture up to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture for 20 minutes. Strain mixture, and allow to cool. Once mixture has cooled add vinegar. Keep in fridge. This shrub is great and so versatile, it pairs with gin, bourbon or just a soda. You could make this syrup today and keep it in your fridge for Christmas Eve and it would still be delicious.
I just want to say a special and sincere thank you to everyone who has attended our Sunday School cocktail classes. It has been so much fun for me and I’m looking forward to future classes. For December, we are taking a winter break from class but I will be sending out a “12 Days of Cocktails” email that will feature more recipes and tips for enjoying every holly jolly moment of the holiday season. If you haven’t yet joined our Metropole mailing list, you can do so here.
So dear friends: I cheers to you and I hope your holiday is filled with laughter, plenty of toasts, no melt-downs, parking spaces at the mall, and the gift of great company. I hope to see you all at the bar for a cocktail or three, if you’re holiday shopping. And in the spirit of celebration and all the glasses clinking together in this holiday season I leave you with a couple of my favorite toasts..
“May we live respected and die regretted”
“May we never do worse”
“Old friends are scarce,
New friends are few;
Here’s hoping I found
One of each in you.”
Your neighborhood bartender,