The Holiday Booze Smorgasbord

Keep it simple. Buy extra ice.

Pulling out every bottle from the cabinets ranks as the biggest mistake people make when throwing a holiday party. On one hand, you end up with friends and family staring at your selection, paralyzed by choice. On the other hand, it's impossible to stock everyone's favorite drink, no matter how many bottles you set on the table. On the third hand, like that one growing out of Judd Nelson in The Dark Backward, you're borrowing trouble. When laying out the booze for holiday soirées, follow the mantra Keep It Simple (with plenty of ice) Stupid. A few guidelines:Know your public. If you like wine, but your family subsists on bottled beer, be prepared to offer both. Don't worry about catering to every attendee, though; even if your cousin Bob's tastes lean toward cocktails, it's perfectly OK to serve beer and wine only. It's your living room, not a lounge; people will acclimate. That said, I've found certain rules hold true. You must have wine, be it red, white, or both. If you only offer red wine, make sure to offer a lighter beer option that will suit people who don't do red. If you're forgoing cocktails, make sure to pour both red and white wines.Think long and hard before serving bubbly. Around the holidays, sparkling wine is the one thing no one can resist. It is indeed a perfect treat—if you think your crowd can handle it. Bubbles really do go straight to your head. The road to party hell is lined with bottles of bubbly, blotto guests, and ruined furniture.Focus on liquor, never sicker. I am a big fan of punch, but this is also a way to totally fuck with your guests. If you do make a punch, do everyone a favor and stray more toward sangria or something with the alcohol content of a wine cooler. People really knock back the punch, and you don't do anyone any favors by playing "Hide the Southern Comfort."Choose for your guests. If you want to serve hard liquor, pick a few bottles and pair them with a few mixers. One type of liquor will suffice if you get creative with the trimmings. I once had a party with a couple of big bottles of bourbon and gave guests the choice of ginger beer, limeade, and a hot toddy mix in a thermos. Nobody missed drinking vodka.Don't try so hard to impress. It's a safe bet that 99.9 percent of your guests will have no idea what to do with a bottle of St. Germain or have any interest in your bitters collection. I have some really cool stuff in my bar, but I try to remember that it's completely foreign to most people. They need that suggestive sell of a cocktail menu to be enticed into the unknown.If you want to show off a newfound love of crème de violette or some such swank, pick a drink to offer and post a recipe card your guests can use to mix up their own drinks. A little Martha goes a long way: your guests won't feel stupid for not knowing what to do, and you get to share fun drinks without having to play bartender all night. The best house cocktail ideas are always a combination of thoughtfulness and laziness. Write out a simple recipe without referring to ounces. For example: "Two fingers of applejack. A splash of lime juice. Fill with rhubarb Dry Soda." I also like to note alternatives, such as "also great with spicy ginger ale or lemonade."Whatever you do, remember that the holidays are about friends and family. Be considerate of your guests and offer just enough choice for merriment—but lead them not down the path to the porcelain

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