By Christie Vanover | Published December 6, 2012 | Last Updated November 23, 2014
Simple syrups make holiday cocktails…simple.
When our family gets together for the holidays, we spend so much time on the meal that we sometimes forget about the drinks.
Well, we don’t totally forget. There will be a moment when we all yell, “somebody get me a drink!” But besides beer, wine or bourbon straight up, the creativity is left in the kitchen.
This year, my cousin asked for some holiday cocktail ideas. I love that she was thinking about this days before the company arrived. So this post is about how to have a flawless bar setup in advance, so that you can keep your focus in the kitchen.
The best way to be cocktail-ready is to think mise en place (everything in place). Just like chefs on TV who have their onions diced and their spices pre-measured, you should have your bar stocked and ready for a no-fuss celebration.
First thing’s first, designate the communal bar area. If people are able to top off their drinks, you will have more time to cook and mingle.
You should have a great selection of booze. Grab a couple of nice bottles of white and red wine and set those aside for the formal meal. Then, have a couple of bottles of the less expensive stuff at the bar. If people bring bottles of wine as a gift, place them in the bar, too. They probably bought a bottle they like to drink.
I don’t keep my beer in the bar during holiday parties. A wide selection of German, Belgian and American beers is stocked in a cooler on the back porch with a bottle opener and a small jar to collect beer caps. I keep plenty of bottles of water and soda out there, too. Gotta keep guests hydrated.
Now for the fun stuff…cocktails! You want to have a variety of booze. I usually offer bourbon, vodka, gin and rum. Instead of placing the bottles at the bar, I use old decanters I found at a thrift shop in France. A bejeweled letter (dollar store keychain), signifying the type of alcohol inside, is hung around the bottleneck with a silver necklace.
Buy a selection of mixers, as well. You don’t want your guests drinking vodka on the rocks all night. Grab some club soda, tonic water, sprite and heavy cream.
Next, you need a variety of glasses. I recommend wine glasses, old-fashioned glasses (the short ones) and martini glasses. Parties are always more fun with martinis.
You’ll also need a variety of tools. A wine opener is an obvious choice. I love my double-hinged Pulltap Waiter’s corkscrew. It’s the best opener I have ever owned (and I’ve tried the pricey stuff). A cocktail shaker is needed for martinis, and stirrers are helpful for those who don’t like to shake.
To avoid a messy bar, set out a small kitchen scale. If you place a glass on the scale, your guests can measure out 1 oz. of liquor without using a measuring cup. You’ll also need a bucket of ice (put someone else on ice refill duty) and a few napkins or towels, so guests can wipe up after their party fouls.
One more thing, pre-slice some drink garnishes. Lemons, limes, oranges even cranberries and peppermint sticks. These will add to the festivities.
Okay. The bar is ready, so we can finally get to the cocktails. This is the fun part, and it can be done days in advance. Make a variety of simple syrups and set them in a bottle or small pitcher on the bar. Simple syrups can be mixed with a variety of alcohol or wine and topped off with club soda or a splash of cream.
1 oz. of simple syrup with 2 ozs. of vodka and you have yourself a martini.
1 oz. of simple syrup, 2 ozs. of bourbon and an ounce of cream and you have a dreamy, creamy, albeit dangerous cocktail.
1 oz. simple syrup with 3-4 ozs. of white wine and your straight wine drinkers will enjoy the cocktail concept without having to worry about a hangover the next morning.
1 oz. simple syrup with 3-4 ozs. of sprite and even the kids and designated drivers are in on the fun.
Let your guests be creative and enjoy themselves around the bar. They’ll all be talking about what concoction they created, and they’ll be coming up with silly names for their signature drinks.
Making simple syrups is easy. Decide on the flavor you want and boil those flavors in 1 ½ cups water and 1 ½ cups sugar. Stain it twice, let it cool and pour it into a bottle. Voilà!
I have created four holiday simple syrup recipes just for you:
And if you’re not hosting this year, prepare a simple syrup and present it as a hostess gift with a bottle of booze.
You can empty out a plastic water bottle, clean off the label and snip off the extra security ring under the cap. Be sure to pick a bottle with a plain lid. Then, smack on a homemade label and your gift will be the talk of the party.
I hope you have a happy, festive holiday…now, will somebody please get me a drink. Santé!