The best drink to start the conversation is the one that says, “Welcome!” The main purpose of the pre-dinner cocktail, or aperitif, is to wake up your taste buds and stimulate the appetite. Not only that but it can be impressive, fun, surprising and unexpected. Take inspiration from the food you intend to serve and maybe match the theme of the meal with your drinks. For example, if you are having a barbeque or serving Mexican food, start off with a Gimlet or Margarita. Plan the drink of choice at your party just as much as the main dish.
Remember: it doesn’t have to be complicated! Many drinks are easy to prepare in advance. Mix the ingredients in a pitcher or carafe, and keep in the refrigerator. When guests arrive, all you need to do is serve as intended, shaken and strained, or just poured over fresh ice with a beautiful or playful garnish.
After dinner drinks, sometimes called digestifs, are generally sweeter and more full-bodied. Try a Black Russian, Rusty Nail or Espresso Martini to really end your dinner party with style.
Cocktail parties are a blast – and will be a lot more fun for the host if you make it easy for yourself. Don’t get stuck making drinks all night: the party needs your charm and wit, not just your bartending skills. Make a collection of (say) four cocktails you can both serve to your guests or have them easily make for themselves throughout the evening.
Variety is key: for instance, one with a tangible base spirit, one sweet, one sour, etc. And don’t forget the non-alcoholic alternative – and make sure it’s not just soda: it’s easy to make delicious non-alcoholic drinks.
Here are some basic mantras of the good home bartender: A warm drink is like cold (unintentionally cold) coffee. Squeezing lemons on the fly is messy. Boiling sugar and water is hot, sticky and nothing to do when guests are on hand. You can never have too much ice. Squeeze the lemons and make the simple syrup in advance. In short, anything you can make, chop, slice or press in advance will enable you to be less bartender and more host.
Last but not least – and something that goes for all the occasions above – is be sure to serve some sort of food. Finger food or snacks -- it doesn’t have to be advanced. But an empty stomach and alcohol do not play well together.