How to Throw a Cocktail Party in 137 Easy Steps

If you visit as many cocktail bars as I do, you’ll often find yourself studying the bartender’s process and wondering – could I do that? Like, could I make dozens of fairly complex drinks, bring boozy joy to everyone around me, and not have anyone wretch or go into shock? The idea germinates like a lustful crush, teasing you, daring you to act.

Well, earlier this year, I decided to act – I threw a cocktail party! And then another one! In sum, I can confidently say it’s been one of the more enjoyable and invigorating things I’ve ever done. If you’re into cocktails or entertaining even a little bit, I implore you to give it a whirl! And I say that as an ardent introvert! There’s just such great joy in whipping up and serving creative drinks – people (or at least my friends) respond so well, especially when the drinks aren’t half bad. It’s the perfect catalyst for a great evening of conversation and fun!

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Of course, in preparing for these events and building all of these drinks, I’ve picked up a few pointers. Without further adieu, here are seven tips for throwing decent cocktail parties:

  • Make Your Own – sure, in the internet age, making cocktails is a relatively easy proposition. But I’d recommend pushing yourself a bit and 1) design your own drinks and 2) make your own ingredients from scratch. Now, it raises the stakes – who knows, maybe one of  your creations will fall flat? It also requires many, many hours of work (who knew bartenders worked so hard?) But you know what? The risk is more than worth it – watching folks enjoy your creative drink projects is such an invigorating and unique experience, I have a hard time describing it. All those hand-made syrups and juices also convey to your guests the special and intimate nature of the party – they’re special!

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  • Get Ready to Work – my two parties involved 11 and 21 guests respectively. That might sound like an easy number, but when you’re making five different cocktails and 2-3 punches….you’ll be grinding! I estimate it took me roughly 15 hours to put all the various ingredients together – and this was before the party. Glasses have to be cleaned, bananas must be syrup’ed, peaches have to be pureed – I could go on. Make sure you build a few days of prep into your party schedule – you will have a lot more fun, as will your guests, if the party kicks off and you’ve gotten all the grunt work out of the way.

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  • Go Big – as you labor away in preparation for your party, you may think about downsizing. Do I really need to make 80 cocktails? Wouldn’t folks be ok with a few beers? Ignore those sensible minders – you only live once, so go all in and make as many drinks as you can handle. I understand the risk that you won’t enjoy your own party – many a cocktail party guide warned me about making the celebration so grand that I wouldn’t  actually get to interact with my guests. That certainly is a risk, but iI believe with proper preparation (staging of glasses, etc.) you can head off that risk – and party goers will appreciate the effort! My rule of thumb was that 12-18 glasses of each cocktail would take no longer than 15 minutes, giving me plenty of time to hob knob.

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  • Tell Stories – one of the best aspects of craft cocktailing (at least for me) is hearing how the bartender came up with the drink and the story behind its theme. So during the party, I introduced each cocktail with an explanation of the process behind the recipe or name. People enjoyed that personal touch and insight.

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  • Involve Your Guests – even if you’re bringing Tom Cruise-in-Cocktail level skills to your party, you’re probably going to need a little help making and serving dozens of cocktails. So enlist a few sure-handed guests to help out on some of the drinks – they’ll probably get a kick out of it!

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  • Take Chances – if you’re a perfectionist, you’ll probably be tempted to work out and test every drink prior to the party. Because of my schedule and the batch nature of the ingredients, I wasn’t able to give all my drinks a taste test beforehand. But you know what, who cares, roll them bones and see what happens! What’s the worst that could happen, a drink misfires a bit? Unless your friends are judgmental jerks, you’ll get some honest feedback and improve the mix for the next go around.
  • Make Punches – with all the revelry and drink making going on, you’re going to need some down-time built in to the schedule. In order to keep your guests sated, I’d recommend making two or three punches they can sip on while you’re slinging individual drinks. But approach those punches with the same creativity and energy as you would your pretty cocktails. Also, cool vessels make for great conversation – for instance, I had a ton of fun talking to my guests about my absinthe fountain (which I used for my “Green Fairy” punch).

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So now you’re ready to go! Here are the ten cocktails I built for my parties. Some are derivations of classic drinks, while others I dreamed up from whole-cloth. All of them were at least passable – for a few, I’d make a few slight adjustments next time around, but they’re good starts. My three favorites are starred:

  • My First French Kiss
    • .5 oz strawberry
    • .25 cinnamon syrup
    • .25 Chambord
    • Fill with champagne
  • Dr. Pamela Isley 
    • 1.5 oz Gin
    • .75 oz Lime
    • .75 oz Simple
    • Dash of celery bitters
    • Dash of cherry syrup (on top)
    • Mint muddle
    • Fill with soda water
  • Ginger? I Hardly Knew Her!
    • 1.5 oz bourbon
    • .75 oz Ginger simple syrup
    • .50 oz Pistachio Syrup
    • .25 Amaretto
    • Dash of Black Walnut bitters
    • Cherry on top
  • Sweet Rye o’ Mine *
    • 1.5 oz High West Double Rye
    • .75 oz Apple syrup
    • .50 oz Nutmeg syrup
    • 1 dash of Cardamon bitters
    • .25 oz Dram
  • They Call me the Creamsickle Kid
    • Orange sherbet
    • Orange juice concentrate
    • Ginger Ale
    • Orange vodka
    • Creamsicle garnish
  • C’est l’ete
    • 1 oz gin
    • .75 oz lemon
    • 1 oz mint/vanilla simple syrup
    • Fill with champagne
  • Blushing Bitter Bubbles *
    • 1.5 oz Rosemary-infused aperol
    • 1 oz honey syrup
    • Dash of lemon bitters
    • Fill with sparkling dry rose
  • An Irishman in the Sun
    • 1 oz Tullamore Irish Whiskey
    • 1.5 oz almond orgeat
    • Fill with Guinness Blonde
  • The Crazed Banana *
    • 1.5 oz Light Rum
    • 1.5 oz Banana syrup
    • 1 oz Lime juice
    • 1 oz Macadamia Orgeat
    • Dash of Tiki Bitters
  • Summer Camp
    • 1 oz High West Double Rye
    • 1 oz Cocoa-infused coffee liqueur
    • 1.5 oz Graham cracker milk

 

 

 

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