’Tis the season to gather family and friends, raise a glass and toast to gratitude, merriment, good cheer and a happy and healthy New Year.
The month of December tends to be a whirlwind with parties galore. Perhaps it’s your year to host the family for Christmas, or you love throwing an annual New Year’s Eve celebration.
Whether you’re a pro at DIY parties or having friends and family over to your new apartment for the first time, preparation is key so you are not frazzled while everyone else is chilling and celebrating, says A.J. Rathbun, author of “Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers.”
There’s no need to be overwhelmed by — or break the bank for — the towering beer, wine and liquor options on the market today. Rathbun recommends selecting a couple of signature drinks or an interesting punch.
That way, you cut down on ingredients, cost and your stress levels. Then you can hint at the theme, menu and drinks in the invitation to build hype for your party, Rathbun says.
“It’s like a present in a punch bowl,” he says. “Drum up excitement from the beginning. And always make everyone try the signature drink.”
Self-service punch also helps with traffic flow and frees up the host to mingle, says Paul Abercrombie, author of “Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and other Totally Green Cocktails.”
“Unless you have a bartender, the host is going to get stuck mixing individual drinks,” he says. “There’s something communal about (punch). It forces people to mingle and they usually end up hanging around the punch bowl.”
Abercrombie, another fan of punches, says there are many tasty, easy-to-make recipes out there. Not the sweet, syrupy kind, or the garbage can and bathtub concoctions you remember from college.
Liquors such as whiskey, brandy and rum are great for punches and cold winter days. Abercrombie’s Perfect Whiskey Punch includes dry vermouth, orange bitters and fresh pineapple. Rathbun’s Football Punch includes dark rum balanced with apple flavors — a great pick for a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day party when many people watch football.
If you are planning a smaller, or more intimate dinner party and want a nice dinner drink, serve a heavier drink in a smaller glass, that way guests don’t drink too much, says Kate LaCroix, who formerly was in restaurant public relations but now has a special-event brokerage business called The Kollective. She does lots of DIY entertaining.
Another tip: Keep things as simple as possible, from the drinks to the menu, so you can also enjoy the festivities.
If your drinks call for fruit or other garnishments, have enough sliced and ready for how many batches of punch you plan to serve. Have cheese, veggies and other appetizers available for easy restock.
“Proper prior planning prevents poor performance,” Rathbun says. “Plan ahead and do the things you can do ahead.”
You don’t want to be slicing, chopping, cooking or slinging drinks all night, or send people home too buzzed to drive.
Beyond having taxi numbers handy — and even a spare room ready — it’s best to avoid an open bar so your guests make it home safely, Rathbun says.
A party planner’s guide to buying the right amount of alcohol
When it comes to figuring how much booze to buy, consider this:
Assume an average of 3 to 4 drinks per person. Don’t buy bottom of the barrel spirits. Go for a good, reasonably priced bottle, says A.J. Rathbun, author of Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers.
You know your friends and family – and which ones drink, and how much.Buy enough ingredients for the drink recipe times 2 or 3 based on the number of guests, then plan for an extra batch or two. You don’t want tons leftover, but you also want to make sure you don’t run out.
Punch gets diluted and tends not to be as strong as an individual cocktail, says Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and other Totally Green Cocktails.
But that’s a good thing. The goal is to keep the drinks flowing – and the party going – for several hours. You don’t want everyone snockered by 7:30 or 8 p.m.
Plan, prep and make the punch (if possible), fruit slices, and garnishes ahead of time. Remember you need to stock plenty of ice. Think self-serve. Select a couple of signature drinks and serve them punch-bowl style.
Resist becoming the bartender. Keep your bar closed and, after the drinks are flowing, don’t let your friends in the liquor cabinet. Stash your bottles if you have to.
It may be slightly tacky, but you can always add BYOB to the invitation for your finicky guests.
Keep a few bottles of white or red wine and maybe some champagne on hand in case you need reserves or for an intimate dinner party. There always seems to be a few party guests who shun alcohol, but will have a glass of wine. Also, have plenty of water and non-alcoholic options for your non-drinking guests.
Remember to be a responsible party host and don’t over serve your friends and family. Offer to call them a taxi, line up designated drivers or be ready if anyone too drunk to drive needs to stay. Nothing puts a damper on the holiday spirit like a fender bender or DUI.
Raise a glass
Try these drinks at your next party to toast friends, family and the year that was.
Recipe © 2013 by A.J. Rathbun and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press
Are you ready for some Football Punch? Now, beerheads, don’t get up in arms (I readily down a cold beer, especially on hot days), but I believe that the traditional beer-football duo is, well, a bit dull (please don’t tackle me yet) when done over and over. Football fanatics, make your pigskin bash stand out from packed crowds, and trust me—you’ll score with this punch bowl of glory. See, now aren’t you glad you didn’t tackle me? Serves 10
One 750-milliliter bottle dark rum
16 ounces apple juice
10 ounces sweet vermouth
5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
Two 25.4-ounce bottles chilled sparkling apple cider
2 apples, cored and sliced
1. Fill a large punch bowl halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rum, apple juice, vermouth, lemon juice, and orange juice. Stir with a pennant from your team of choice.
2. Add the sparkling apple cider, but in a sustained drive, not in a sprint (meaning, slow and steady wins this game), and the apple slices. Stir well. Serve in punch glasses, mugs, or little plastic footballs.
Recipe © 2013 by A.J. Rathbun and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press
There are, I would venture to estimate, as many variations on Champagne Punch as there are punch makers (which, according to the last census, was 3,456,987). Even you have the liberty to adjust the below recipe to taste and call it your very own. Remember that every punch lacks a, well, punch, if it isn’t ladled from a sparkling crystal, or faux-crystal, punch bowl. This rule is tripled whenever Champagne is involved, as the big bubbly C looks lovely in a classy twinkling bowl, with fruit bobbing on the surface and a sizeable block of ice drifting in the center. The Champagne Punch below bumps any block party (even if it’s at a block of apartments) from mundane to glamorous with a single dip of the ladle (as long as it’s followed by further dipping, of course, unless it’s a very large ladle). Serves 10.
Ice (in block form if possible; if not, large chunks)
6 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
4 ounces Simple Syrup (recipe p. 67)
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces white rum
6 ounces dark rum
One 750-milliliter bottle chilled Champagne
Orange, lime, and lemon slices for garnish
1. Add the ice to a large punch bowl. If using chunks (as opposed to a large block of ice), fill the bowl just under halfway.
2. Add the orange juice, simple syrup, lime juice, and lemon juice. With a large spoon or ladle, stir 10 times.
3. Add the light and dark rums. Stir 10 more times.
4. Add the Champagne, but not too quickly. Enjoy the moment. Add a goodly amount of orange, lime, and lemon slices. Stir, but only once.
5. Ladle into punch glasses or festive goblets. Try to ensure that every guest gets a slice of fruit and a smile.
2½ cups water
3 cups sugar
1. Add the water and sugar to a medium-size saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat a bit, keeping the mixture at a low boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Turn off the heat, and let the syrup cool completely in the pan. Store in a clean, air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Makes 4½ cups (36 ounces)
Perfect Whiskey Punch
Recipe © 2013 by Paul Abercrombie and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press
This drink takes a classic punch recipe — we’re talking 1817 classic — and gives it a gustatory goosing with the addition of dry vermouth and orange bitters. But what makes this punch, well, perfect is the addition of pineapple syrup, made from fresh pineapples and cane syrup. Serves 10.
20 ounces rye whiskey 10 ounces dry vermouth 5 ounces pineapple-infused simple syrup (see below) 20 dashes of orange bitters 10 thin slices orange
Pineapple chunks from the simple syrup
Combine the rye, vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters in a punch bowl and stir. Add the orange slices and pineapple chunks. Serve in ice cube-filled double old-fashioned glasses, making sure to include an orange slice and piece of pineapple in each drink.
Pineapple-infused simple syrup Combine several small chunks of peeled pineapple with six ounces simple syrup (each parts sugar and water, dissolved) and let infuse overnight in the refrigerator. Strain and store in an airtight container. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Recipe © 2013 by Kate LaCroix
I love this drink. It is a twist on the French 75 with its citrus notes, gin and sparkling wine. I like the way the bitters-soaked sugar cube tones down the sweetness of the blood orange. It’s refreshing, seasonal and goes well under the mistletoe.
½ ounce gin
1½ to 2 ounces of chilled cava or something brut
A bitters-soaked sugar cube
Squeeze and strain half of a blood orange (or entire orange if it is small) into shaker. Add ½ ounce of gin (a not too floral or perfumed gin works best) and shake with ice. Place bitters-soaked sugar cube in bottom of coupe, pour gin and orange mixture over cube and fill glass with cava.
Serves one, but it can be made in giant batches.
Marla R. Miller writes for CTW Features.