Bringing Cocktails Home Again – How to Host a Cocktail Party
Cocktails, like cooking, should be considered a domestic art, a skill for adult life with varied levels of interest and mastery. But with a basic understanding, a simple cocktail should not be an intimidating task. Adventurous folks may decide to host and serve others the product of his or her skill and practice; this episode is for you.
If you search the internet there is no shortage of articles with themes or suggestions for hosting a cocktail party, in fact, we even published one ourselves a while back. But this piece in the New York Times was published right as we were discussing the possibility of putting a podcast together and it really spells out the revivalist character of the cocktail party today. This episode comes just past a year from when we published the article linked above, and now with a lot more practice hosting cocktail parties between the two of us, it is time for an update.
Before we get started with the hosting tips a few good rules of etiquette and hosting:
*** With larger cocktail parties, when guests are permitted to invite someone else along, we have gotten questions about proper attire. We don’t get dressed up for our cocktail parties, generally. It is our point that cocktails parties should not be stuffy, pretentious events, but welcoming ones that allow you to enjoy the company of friends, and showcase this intoxicating hobby of yours.***
*** Being a sober host isn’t necessary, but NEVER be let yourself get inebriated to the point where you cannot successfully fulfill your duties as host. A drunk host isn’t a good host.***
*** Do not feel obligated to share your good stuff with everyone. Liquor should be a social experience in our opinion, but your best whiskey, rum, gin, or Cabernet is appropriately saved for those that can appreciate it. Just don’t flaunt it’s exclusivity to the unchosen guests, and preferably save it for the pre- or post-party.***
*** It’s your house, use sound judgment and cut off the drinks to the friend who had his limit.***
Now for the lessons learned with time…
Cocktails are an ice intensive endeavor—have a lot on hand, and in many forms. Alex recommends anywhere from one to three pounds per guest. It is also important to have a variety of ice depending on the drinks you plan to make. There are plenty of big cube, small cube, sphere, and specialty ice trays on the market these days to provide the right ice for the service of each drink. If you are serving drinks with crushed ice, know that you will need to crush that before the party—nothing quite as disruptive to the casual atmosphere as running a mixer full of ice for your Tiki drinks.
We both often buy bags of ice at the grocery or corner store specifically for use as mixing ice. At a minimum make serving ice with filtered water, but preferably distilled water. Less air in the water means clearer ice.
CREATE A MENU
Creating a menu benefits you as the host and your guests. By providing a menu, you limit the universe of drinks you need to remember, which saves time and stress in making a drink. It also allows you to make simpler runs to the liquor store to stock up on a shorter list of ingredients.
The aspect of menu creation that Jordan did not think about early on is the power of suggestion or the efficiency of limiting choice for your guests. Trying to tailor a drink to each individual’s wildest dreams is a fool’s errand, provide a menu with some variety in base liquors, flavors, and alcohol contents, and everyone should be able to find something they like.
Jordan likes to break his menu down by categories, and the categories vary from party to party but some examples are: Bottled and Ready to Go, Two Step Drinks (for drinks partially assembled), Boozy (for those that are particularly strong), The Champagne of Cocktails (low alcohol), Tiki-Tacky (for drinks served with an umbrella)
Note: For special guests, and you know who they are, always be willing to make a drink that isn’t on the menu.
BATCH COCKTAILS AND PUNCH
Batching cocktails beforehand is a social lifesaver. For many of the same reasons you make a menu, batching cocktails frees you up to be a better host. If you have a two to four cocktails already batched when the first guests arrive, getting them started without delay means you stay ahead of the game and can actually spend more time enjoying your guests’ company.
Batching also makes keeping track of servings much easier. With some very simple math, you know exactly how many cocktails you have at the beginning and how many more you should reasonably make for the number of guests you have attending.
An easy way to add a low alcohol drink to the menu is by making a punch or two… Our episode on PUNCH.
BEER AND WINE FOR THE FREE (of) SPIRITS
For any number of good reasons, some of your guests may not want a cocktail. Don’t push, offer them a craft beer, or a glass of white wine. Having a soda or two on hand isn’t a bad idea either.
PROVIDE SOME SNACKS (or hor d’oeuvres if you are fancy)
Alex goes off the reservation during this part of the conversation and discusses food pairings he’s never actually had at a cocktail party. The best advice we can give is not to feel pressured to put yourself out too far — you’re already making drinks for everyone, keep the snacks simple and don’t feel it’s necessary to “make everything from scratch.”
Cheese and crackers are simple, and if you have access to a cheese specialty shop, or even a Trader Joe’s a varied selection will impress your guests without having to milk the cow.
Mixed nuts, shortbread or other baked items, small sandwiches, and crackers or chips with a variety of dips are some other simple ways to provide food without putting yourself out. We’ve also shamelessly asked for contributions from guests we know do wonderful things in the kitchen, and they are happy to oblige.
While we are advocating the revival of the cocktail party, we’d be remiss to neglect the lost art of a well-crafted toast. Traditionally, the host toasts first, but play by house rules. If you are at either of our parties, complementing the host is always a good idea.
Have any good tips that we’ve missed? Let us know below or on social media. Cheers!