Tis the season for hosting the annual holiday party. Unfortunately, for many people, the good cheer they hope to generate for their friends and family by bringing them all together can be overshadowed by the personal stresses involved in putting on a successful soiree. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can actually enjoy your holiday party. All it takes is a little planning and preparation.
We turned to the best person possible to get advice for the beverage side of your party, Chris Hannah. As one of the co-owners and head bartender of Jewel of the South, an acclaimed New Orleans tavern. Hannah was recently named the Best U.S. Bartender at the Tales of the Cocktail awards, and Jewel of the South was named the Best Restaurant Bar in America at the same event. The hotspot was also honored as one of Esquire’s Top 25 Bars in America.
“Too many people overcomplicate their holiday parties trying to make it the perfect event when all they really have to do is focus on the basics,” says Hannah. “I tell people there are some simple steps they can take to make for a relatively pain-free party. Offer three great cocktails: a boozy drink, a punch-style highball-type beverage, and one champagne-based low-ABV cocktail. Then pick two beers you love and three wines, a sparkling, natural white, and a fruity red. That’s all you need for a perfect party.”
Hannah recommends batching all your cocktails whenever possible before your event. It frees you up to spend time socializing and visiting with guests instead of being locked onto a bar. Most beverages can stay good for weeks in your refrigerator when all the alcohol is included, along with the fresh juices and other ingredients. He also suggests buying some large specially made ice cubes from an ice vendor or buying some molds to make them beforehand. Larger ice cubes melt less quickly than smaller ones, thus avoiding watered-down beverages.
If you are looking for a great centerpiece, a large punchbowl filled with an appropriate cocktail and fresh fruit is always a good choice. To step it up a notch, Hannah suggests making one or two colossal ice cubes to keep it chilled. You can use an empty Cool Whip or other such plastic containers to make them.
“One quick way to add your own personalized touch is to have some fun festive glassware for people to enjoy their drinks in,” he says. “You can buy them online at Cocktail Kingdom or visit a few thrift or antique stores to find something different.”
As for garnishes, Hannah recommended doing all your fruit peels beforehand and kept wrapped in a damp napkin in the fridge alongside your white wines and beers. That way, you can easily access them when needed and save yourself the stress of peeling them during your party. He also recommends having a micro-planer on hand to use for fresh nutmeg and cinnamon to add a holiday touch to your beverages.
To make things even easier, here are six cocktails, plus one great mulled wine, recipes Hannah recommends, and some words about each from him. You can pick your three favorites and get ready for some fun. All but one can be pre-batched and will ensure your cocktail offerings are memorable.
French 75: It’s a classic that always seems to be a hit with almost everyone at a party. If you are pre-batching, mix the first three ingredients and top it off with the champagne.
1.25 oz cognac
.33 lemon juice
.25 simple syrup
*Shake the first three ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass. Then top with champagne garnish and lemon peel.
Autumn Old Fashioned: The walnut bitters adds a hint of the season to an otherwise classic beverage and fits in perfectly during the holiday season. On that note, you can always experiment with your Old Fashioned with different bitters to make it your own.
2 oz Whiskey
.5 oz Frangelico or Nocello liqueur
4 dashes of Black Walnut bitters
*Stir before adding ice, and then stir in the same glass with ice. Garnish orange peel.
Jasmine Smiles: For drinkers looking for a gin-based cocktail, I love this drink. You can either pour it into a martini glass Cosmo style or a cocktail glass. It’s loaded with flavors.
1.50 oz gin
.50 Lemon Juice
.25 oz Orange liqueur
.50 oz Campari
2 oz Champagne
*Shake first four ingredients, then strain into a cocktail glass, and top with champagne
St Martin: I am a big fan of always having a drink with Amaro in it, especially this time of year. It just adds depth to a beverage. In this drink, the Amaro pairs perfectly with the bourbon and will appeal to people who like an Old Fashioned.
1.75 oz Bourbon
.75 oz Amaro
.50 oz Aperol
*Stir ingredients with ice and then strain over an ice-filled snifter. Garnish orange peel.
Martinez: This is a simple drink that is easy to make and always seems to be a big hit with drinkers. It has a sweetness that pairs well with good gin.
1.5 oz Gin
1.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes of orange bitters
*Stir all ingredients with ice and then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel
Caffe Zocalo: This is the only drink you can’t batch, but it is easy to mix and is perfect for the season. It has some coffee notes for a warming effect. I love Amaro. It adds a nice complexity to so many drinks and works great here too.
1.75 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Amaro
.33 oz Coffee liqueur
2 dashes of Mole bitters
*Stir ingredients with ice, then strain over ice. Garnish with orange peel.
Mulled Wine: A good mulled wine is always a hit this time of the year, and you can either serve it hot or cold. You’ll need the following for a batch of proper home mulled wine.
2 bottles Merlot (or another preferred dry Red)
1 bottle Ruby Port
2 cups Brandy (Apple, Cognac, Armagnac, or your fancy)
7 cinnamon sticks
2 oranges (one peeled, one sliced, and studded with 8 cloves)
1 lemon (cut in half and studded with remaining cloves)
3/4 cup sugar
*Stud the citrus with the cloves and place in a large saucepan.
**Add the cinnamon sticks, port, and brandy. Then turn on the stove.
***Add the port and brandy and stir slowly until the sugar is dissolved.
*****Add the bottles of wine, stir until everything is heated, and serve, or chill if you desire it cold.