When entertaining a crowd, it’s easy to serve beer and wine. But just because you’re expecting a full house doesn’t mean you can’t have a bar up and running to serve a sampling of more creative beverages.
Let’s be honest – there are more than a few folks who prefer a predinner cocktail. The problem is, you either leave Uncle Harry to search and destroy your bar or you end up enlisting another relative to make an even bigger mess.
Following are headache-free tips to hosting a bar for a crowd.
• Know your audience. Plan one simple, traditional cocktail that will appeal to your demographic. If you’re hosting a girls’ night out, a variation on the Cosmopolitan is in order. For a Derby party, it’s criminal not to serve bourbon. A safe bet is always the swanky martini.
The martini cuts across all age groups and never seems to be out of fashion. I’m an old-school imbiber, so I prefer gin in mine. Before guests arrive, I premix a small batch and have an ice bucket and shaker nearby. Be ready to serve with your glasses clean and handy. Invest in a good shaker that can make two at a time.
Don’t be intimidated by the martini – it’s fool-proof. For a crowd, premix 16 ounces of gin with 1 ounce of vermouth and 1/2 ounce of olive juice. When someone requests a drink, fill a clean martini glass with ice to chill it, and then pour the premixed gin, vermouth and olive juice in a shaker approximately three-quarters full of ice. After six or seven quick shakes, remove the ice, drop in an olive and pour the cold martini in the glass for the hand-off.
• Have an ace in the hole. Concoct a cocktail that will really wow your guests. Now that Uncle Harry is happy with his martini, make Aunt Alice, who prefers sweeter, fruitier drinks, the perfect Lemon Drop.
The Lemon Drop is the ideal cocktail this time of year, because many local residents have lemon trees in their backyards. The secret to a great cocktail is to use fresh fruit – never add a mix to sweeten it.
Making a simple syrup is as easy as boiling water. Mix 2 cups of sugar with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil in a saucepan so that the sugar is completely suspended. The syrup should cool before mixing, so prepare it in advance.
Because you serve a Lemon Drop as you would a martini – shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass – have a second, clean shaker ready. Never use the same shaker for both drinks unless you want to keep cleaning it.
The beauty of a Lemon Drop is its simplicity. Start with three equal parts of freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice, simple syrup and vodka. From there, adjust the drink to your satisfaction. Several vodkas can be purchased with the lemon flavor already infused to really pump up the flavor.
To add a festive holiday touch, float cranberries atop the drink. For a recent party, I froze maraschino cherries and served the drinks shaken and strained in a martini glass over the chilled cherries for a spot of color.
Frozen blueberries are an easy, tasty and colorful alternative. When the drink is poured over four or five berries in the bottom of a glass, the yellow-colored Lemon Drop transforms to a beautiful pinkish tone. The frozen blueberries help to keep the drink cold, and we all know that they are good little antioxidants, right?
Leave out the vodka and add still water, and you have a great, fresh lemonade for guests who prefer a nonalcoholic option. Garnish with mint or consider sugaring the rim for the kiddos. Or try using soda water for a zippy zinger without the hangover.
During the holidays, if you kick off a big meal with crowd-pleasing cocktails, I guarantee fewer people will talk about how dry the bird is.
Courtenay C. Corrigan is a Los Altos Hills resident. She has spent her adult life enjoying and learning about food and wine, but it was after the birth of her third son that she fell in love with booze.