WHETHER YOU’RE THROWING AN EPIC TREE TRIMMING BASH, ROUNDING UP THE NEIGHBOR- HOOD CAROLERS, OR HAVING A MORE PRIVATE TOAST POST STOCKING HANGING, PICKING THE RIGHT HOLIDAY COCKTAIL WILL SET THE MOOD. And the most important ingredient? Your audience. Matching the cocktail to the crowd will make sure that everyone—your guests and you—are merry and bright.
There are so many directions from which to choose—bubbly, brightly colored, boozy and warm. The only rule that matters: It should be fun.
So which way should you go? Let’s break down the camps. Regardless the season, you can never go wrong with a sparkling cocktail. Start with a bottle of bubbly and you have half the party right there. Classics, such as the Air- mail (rum, lime juice, honey syrup and sparkling wine) and the French 75 (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and sparkling wine) never go out of style. Or go even simpler, with a variation on the Kir Royale: a splash of fruit liqueur topped off with sparkling wine.
If you’re serving a crowd, you might look for something pre-batched or punch-like, so you won’t be stuck play- ing bartender to a line of your guests. Think: pitcher margaritas, Aperol Spritz, or rum punches. (And don’t forget to invest in a pretty punch bowl or pitcher.) If you’re the crafty type, consider prebottling individual Negronis or even martinis (Google it—it’s great) and keeping a stash in the fridge.
The advent of amaro and aperitif-based cocktails makes for some pretty festive choices in regard to color alone. Consider the bright red family of Campari-based cocktails: Americano (Campari, vermouth, soda water), Negroni (Campari, vermouth, gin), Negroni Sbagliato (Campari, vermouth, sparkling wine). Each, slightly different, will add a modicum of flair to your party.
If you’re having an early event or inviting a crowd of not-so-heavy drinkers, consider keeping your options low-alcohol. Top off drinks with soda water and choose low ABV vermouths and amaros as your base spirit—and don’t forget to have some grown-up sodas on hand for teetotalers.
On the flip side, if you’re looking for something more serious and substantial to nurse through the night—perhaps in front of a roaring fire—turn to variations on the brown spirit classic cocktails: Manhattan and Old Fashioned. A Sazerac (rye whiskey, cognac, with a rinse of absinthe) is a special occasion drink if there ever was one.
Or for a more sedate affair, get out of the cold and get snuggled in with a hot toddy or spiked hot chocolate.
If you’re going all out with an adventurous crowd, consider creating make-your-own cocktail stations with a mix of cocktail types—some sparkling and light, some boozy and dark. Depending on how much you trust your guests, you can write down ingredients and instructions and let them have their way. (Just don’t be insulted if, by the end of the night, they’re making their own concoctions: It’s the mark of a good party.)
Come the holiday season (or all year round, actually) I like to whip up some homemade ingredients for a personal touch on the cocktail front. Infused alcohols or simple syrups—especially when you’re using ingredients from your own garden or farmers’ market—make for a fun memorable house cocktail. The Spiced Daiquiri (below) has become a favorite in my rotation—a mix of bak- ing spices adds unexpected depth and a holiday-ish glow to the crowd-pleasing classic Daiquiri. It’s a good conversation starter, too, showing that the Daiquiri is a way more than a super sweet frozen concoction. And if you’re looking to play around—a cocktail tasting party perhaps? Try subbing in aged rum for white, or topping with sparkling wine.
SPICED GINGER DAIQUIRI
2 ounces white rum
¾ ounce lime juice
¾ ounce spiced simple syrup (see below)
Combine the rum, lime juice and spiced simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled (around 15-20 seconds), strain into a rocks glass or coupe. Garnish with a lime wedge.
SPICED GINGER SIMPLE SYRUP
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
In a small pot, heat the sugar and water over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the spices, ginger and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain into a heat safe container and let cool.