The cold-weather holidays and their obligatory parties are upon us, accompanied by the rising stress levels of hosts. Chill out! At the very least, keeping cocktails in your guests’ hands doesn’t have to be difficult. These three ideas will help ensure a more memorable party, one that’s easier to throw and gives you more time to hang out beneath the mistletoe.
Serve Half-Seas canned cocktails
For most of history, mass-marketed canned and bottled cocktails weren’t something you’d want to serve—if you wanted your soirée to shine, at least—due to chemical flavoring and awful taste. Half-Seas sparkling cocktails, however, are made by the same locals who craft the wonderful Scrappy’s Bitters and are of higher quality. There are three varieties available: 1980s London favorite The Bramble with gin, berries and citrus; the tequila-and-grapefruit-based Paloma and the classic Daiquiri. They’re all bubbly and come in small cans, so one can equals one drink. Just keep your ice bucket stocked next to a whole bunch of Half-Seas cans and glassware.
Make Your Own Pre-Bottled Cocktails
Want to serve homemade craft cocktails without fixing them one at a time? Decide on a couple signature drinks and make them before your guests arrive. Pre-bottling cocktails is easy. First, decide if you want to serve them straight out of the fridge (already chilled) or shake or stir them over ice before serving.
If the former, don’t forget to add a little water, as water is added naturally during the stirring or shaking process. Beyond that, mix everything together in a pitcher and pour it into flip-top bottles or other vessels that fit in the fridge. Cautionary note: Avoid pre-bottling drinks with fresh juice, cream or eggs, and stick to classic spirit-forward cocktails like the Manhattan, Negroni and others. For example, here’s a recipe a pre-bottled Hanky-Holiday (a near sibling to the Hanky Panky), which makes six gin-tastic 4-ounce cocktails. It’s easy to scale up for larger numbers—just keep the ratios intact.
9 oz. gin
9 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. Fernet Branca
4.5 oz. water (if not stirring each drink)
Mint sprigs, for garnish
Add everything except the mint to a pitcher. Stir well. Pour through a funnel into a bottle or jar with a good lid. Store in the fridge. When ready to drink, pour into six cocktail glasses. Give the mint a few smacks, or hold it between your hands while clapping a couple times—this gets those mint oils flowing. Then drop a sprig into each glass.
Put Your Trust in Holiday Punches
A big glistening punch bowl filled with liquid deliciousness was for many generations a standby at parties year-round. So much so that owning multiple punch bowls was nearly mandatory. Sadly, the sales of punch bowls dipped over the years, though lately they’re making comeback. A big bowl of punch looks lovely and makes it easy for revelers to serve themselves. For the winter holidays, go with a punch recipe that features Champagne or sparkling wine, to match the season’s festive nature. Below is my traditional Christmas punch recipe—it’s a nice dry number with hints of citrus and serves roughly 10 people. If you have a big punch bowl, you can scale this up if needed.
Two oranges, cut into wedges
Ice (in block form if possible, if not, large chunks)
4 oz. Cointreau
4 oz. brandy
Two bottles chilled Champagne or sparkling wine
Add the orange wedges to a large punch bowl. Muddle them gently. Add ice to the oranges. If using chunks (as opposed to a large block of ice), fill the bowl just under half way. Add the Cointreau and brandy. Using a ladle or long spoon, stir briefly. Then pour in the Champagne. Stir 12 times and let sit for a minute so that the ingredients can settle. Serve in punch cups or wine glasses.
For an extra holiday twist, add a cup of frozen cranberries to the recipe or serve this punch to less than 10 people. They’ll become jolly quickly.