to Throw a Fab Party
most memorable holiday celebrations were not the extravagant affairs
with Grand Cru wines and caviar canapés. Nor were they the
parties with all the right people in chichi black outfits. Rather,
they were the get-togethers where the host had invested thought
into small touches for our pleasure. If you’re hosting a holiday
soiree—no matter the size or pedigree—here are some
entertaining tips that will help make your guests feel pampered.
With an event held at a hotel or resort, the banquet manager can
advise you of how much alcohol you’ll need, as can caterers
or liquor store merchants when you celebrate at home. Count on one
drink per guest per hour, and up to two drinks per hour if guests
are staying overnight or have prearranged transportation home. Some
people tend to drink less at morning and afternoon receptions than
they do during those in the evening, particularly during sit-down
dinners. However, you will want to be a bit generous with your estimates
so that you have an adequate supply rather than run short. Unopened
bottles can usually be returned. One alcoholic drink is equivalent
to one bottle of beer, five ounces of wine or two ounces of hard
liquor or liqueurs. However, there are some questions you should
consider before stocking your bar.
The type of celebration, the number of guests and your budget determine
the ideal mix. Take into consideration the drink preferences of
your guests: Are most likely to drink wine, spirits or non-alcoholic
beverages? Older guests often prefer spirits while younger drinkers
favor wine and spritzers. And even those drinking alcohol may want
to pace themselves with some non-alcoholic beverages such as sparkling
water and fruit juice. Offer a non-alcoholic punch and soft drinks
as well as juice and milk for the children.
The right drinks can personalize your celebration. If you are commemorating
a holiday, such as your first married Christmas or Hanukkah, you
can feature popular drinks from that year. Serving wines from one
country or vintage can also give your party a more festive theme.
At large gatherings, a magnum of wine is visually dramatic on the
holiday table because at 1.5 liters they’re twice the size
of the standard 750 ml bottle. Magnums also make a holiday toasts
feel more communal with everyone taking a glass from the same bottle.
Offering a fruit punch or mulled cider mixed with alcohol before
the meal will cost less than a full bar and will stretch the alcohol
further. At a party held at a resort or other rented space, ask
if you can purchase your own wines and pay a corkage fee for the
staff to open and serve the wine. It can cost less than if you had
selected the resort's offerings.
a full bar, please several generations at a time by offering such
retro favorites as martinis, Manhattans, cosmopolitans and sidecars.
You'll need the "speed rail" essentials, the most popular
spirits that professional bartenders keep out front, which are gin,
rum, rye, scotch and vodka. The standard 1.14 liter bottle of each
will usually suffice, except for larger parties or those where the
majority of guests are drinking spirits. Among these can be your
"house pour," the drink you offer to those who don't have
a preference. You will want to stock about twice as much of this
drink as the others. With beer, stock an equal mix of domestic,
imported and light.
Many people now serve wine for all occasions, whether it is sparkling,
red or white. Sparkling wine or Champagne works well at receptions,
for toasts and throughout a meal. A 750 ml bottle will give you
five generous flute glass servings. To determine the mix of red
and white wine, go with an even split if you are not sure which
your guests prefer. You will get five glasses of wine from a 750
ml bottle. For festive winter gatherings, serve full-bodied white
wines such as buttery, toasty Chardonnay from California or Australia.
Zesty, acidic whites with lots fruit stand up to hot, spicy hors
d’oeuvres and go well with cheeses. Try Canadian and German
Rieslings or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Full-bodied red wines
such as New World Cabernet Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz and Italian
Barolos and Amarones go well with the hearty flavors of holiday
If you’re the guest, call ahead of time to see what you can
contribute to the party. Your host may be amply stocked with wines
and drinks, or may have already selected drinks to match the dishes,
and therefore may prefer a dish, condiment or flowers instead. If
your host suggests wine for the party, ask about a preference for
red or white and a favorite style or country, as well as which dishes
will be served. Of course, you can always give wine as a gift to
stock your host’s cellar. If you have a cellar yourself, you
can take a well-aged bottle that is no longer in stores. If not,
look for an unusual bottle or underrated wine that will be a special
treat for your host.
If you’re the host, open wine that guests bring to your party,
even if it doesn’t ideally suit your meal. Unless it’s
meant to be a cellar gift, selecting the wine to open for a particular
time during the evening, and even fussing over it, will make your
guest feel appreciated. Although opinions differ on this issue,
not opening a guest’s wine can signal that either the wine
is so bad you that don’t want to drink it or so good that
you don’t want to share it. Furthermore, your guest may be
eager to share the bottle with you.
make the after-dinner sipping special, serve an array of herbal
teas and blends of coffee along with a selection of four or five
liqueurs, such as perennial favorites Bailey's Irish Cream, Tia
Maria, Grand Marnier, Drambuie and Anisette. Once again, the standard
sizes of each will suffice, particularly since these are generally
after-dinner drinks and not consumed throughout the evening. If
your budget permits, also buy a bottle of cognac, brandy, fortified
wine and/or port. Sweet wines, such as late-harvest wines, Hungarian
Tokaij and Sauternes from France, will match the sweetness in your
desserts or work as a dessert on their own.
Finally, here are a few suggestions regardless of the drinks you
chose. For most celebrations, you can serve all drinks in three
types of glasses: champagne flute, wine glass and an all-purpose
highball glass for mixed drinks. Rent or buy one of each glass per
person plus about ten per cent extra to allow for breakage and for
guests requesting new glasses for a different drink. In regard to
serving, you can avoid congestion in one area and keep guests mixing
by setting up drinks stations around your home, hall or resort where
you are entertaining. In addition, you may also want to instruct
your servers not to automatically fill everyone's glass after the
first glass or two, but instead do so upon the guest's request (of
course, the servers should be accessible for this).
right drinks can help make any celebration more festive. As the
famous nineteenth-century lawyer and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes
said in a toast: "Then a smile, and a glass, and a toast, and
a cheer; for all the good wine, and we've some of it here."
MacLean was recently named the World’s Best Drink
Writer at the World Food Media Awards in Australia. Her
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