5 Tips to Rock the Cocktail Game at Your Holiday Party

The Lookout at Ole Red loves its cocktails. Beverage Director Cassie Wade offers clever ideas for festive cocktails that will wow your party guests.

1. As with cookies, cocktails are best made in batches.

You’ve got tons of people coming over. Just because you’re the one prepping the food and drinks doesn’t mean you should miss out on the fun. The key to enjoying yourself as the host is a strategically stocked bar cart. Don’t worry about having every liquor represented. We say this with love: Just keep it simple, stupid. That means selecting two wines — a red and a white — one style of beer, and a single type of liquor. (Cassie recommends a dark liquor like whiskey or bourbon this time of year. We like to think it warms our cold, dead hearts.)

That way, you can offer beer, wine, or an old fashioned to the purists and make a festive yet simple wine-based cocktail for those looking to get into a little trouble. We’re partial to The Lookout’s own Rich Mahogany cocktail, which has a recipe that can easily be adapted for a party of 100, 10, or one — heyo! Mix red blend wine, pinot noir, or shiraz — nothing too dry — some bourbon, orange bitters, and a splash of something sweet like agave nectar or simple syrup. Prepare the cocktail up to a day in advance.

The Lookout’s Rich Mahogany Cocktail

Single-Serving Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces Conundrum Red Wine Blend
  • 1 ounce Early Times Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
  • 1 ounce agave nectar (or Cassie’s Holiday Simple Syrup)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Stir with bar spoon for one minute to incorporate flavors. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an expressed orange peel.

Batch Recipe, 25 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 750-milliliter standard bottles red wine blend (or 1 1.5-liter magnum bottle red wine blend)
  • 3 cups bourbon
  • 3 cups agave nectar (or Cassie’s Holiday Simple Syrup)
  • 1/4 cup orange bitters
  • Peels of 2 oranges for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Pour all ingredients over ice in a large pitcher. Stir with bar spoon for one minute to incorporate flavors. Remove ice from pitcher and refrigerate until serving time. Fill each glass with ice before pouring cocktails. Garnish with expressed orange peels.

2. Vodka soda … but then make it fashion.

Sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s what makes vodka sodas and gin and tonics classics. But instead of serving them plain, add a special touch that gives your guests the impression that the burnt-out twinkle lights on your front porch totally haven’t been hanging there since Christmas 2007. The night before your party, freeze a bunch of ice cubes that you’ve garnished with fresh cranberries, orange peels, sage, and the like. Never underestimate the power of a sprig of rosemary. Blake used one at a party once. To this day, people still confuse him with Martha Stewart.

Dressed up in holly-adorned goblet, The Lookout’s Southern Coquito, a spin on Puerto Rican eggnog, looks all the merrier.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Cassie gets it. How a cocktail looks is key, which can be intimidating to someone whose prior hosting experience is limited to serving pigs in a blanket from the freezer aisle. No judgement here — those weenies are damn delicious. Don’t get too wrapped up presentation. You’d be surprised how the swap of a glass can drastically improve a drink’s appearance. For large-batch cocktails, simply set out empty glasses that guests can adorn and garnish according to preference. If a drink looks ugly, they have no one to blame but themselves. Same goes for the sweaters they’re wearing.

4. Improvise. Ditch the egg whites.

If you love a whiskey sour but the thought of handling raw eggs holds you back from making the cocktail, we’ve got to ask: Have a can of chickpeas lying around the house? No? OK, do you at least know what chickpeas are? Perfect. When making hummus for the vegetable platter, reserve the juice found in the can of chickpeas, known by chefs as “aquafaba.” (Good party joke: When someone asks what your astrological sign is, tell them “aquafaba.” Everyone will laugh. At how stupid that joke was.) Aquafaba replaces the need of egg whites while still maintaining the silky, frothy texture you love. This is a party, so just remember to shake it real good — and the cocktail, too.

Your guests will love to take home their own bottle of scratch-made simple syrup, making you the host with the most. (But they already knew that.)

5. Be hospitable, ya little jerk.

After you’ve charmed your guests with your wit and stunning good looks, leave them with something lasting to remember you by. If you’re whipping up your own simple syrup for the cocktails you’re serving — emphasis on simple — might as well make enough to turn into parting gifts.

Cassie swears by this recipe for Holiday Simple Syrup:

Holiday Simple Syrup

Yield: 3 cups, adjust recipe according to party size and the number of bottles you’re gifting
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • Zest of 2 oranges

Instructions:

  1. Bring ingredients to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Strain and discard solids. Store up to a month in a sealed container.

Round up any empty liquor and vinegar bottles, clean ’em up, and decorate them with a bow or glitter or fish hooks or whatever until your heart’s content. Once you’ve prepared the simple syrup, distribute into bottles and cap with pour spouts. You can find a large pack of spouts on the cheap at lots of liquor stores or online, and the syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. If you attach a recipe card for cocktail that uses simple syrup, your guests will love you and probably want to marry you, so hope you’re cool with that!

Katie Quine

Katie Quine is a digital marketing coordinator for Opry Entertainment. She believes Dolly Parton is one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known.