My original impression of the cocktail party goes back to the 1950s when couples would gather together to have drinks like Manhattens, Martinis, and Screwdrivers, served alongside a tray of cheese and Ritz crackers and a bowl of nuts. At least that’s how it was depicted in books like Revolutionary Road and TV shows like Madmen. On what seemed like a magical night last June, I had a cocktail party that was more like a wine dinner, but where each course was paired with a certain drink, rather than a different glass of wine. It turned out to be a fabulous hit, and I’ve done it a few more times throughout the past year. When planning these parties I tapped back into my training and experience as a wine educator, which revolved around the concept of placing wines on a scale that ranged from lightest to heaviest. If you were serving food to go along with these wines, you followed the same process and matched them up course for course. I applied this same idea to that first cocktail party, and I had a formula for success.
The three drinks you see in the picture above are a Pineapple Gimlet, an Army & Navy Special Forces, and a Workers on the Tracks. The first two are my creations, and the third comes from Luke Andrews of the The Whistler in Chicago. The Gimlet is a fairly straightforward affair that made with vodka, St. Germain, lime juice, and pineapple gum syrup. It’s light and refreshing and would work very well with things like roasted vegetables, or a trio of some kind of dips and spreads like white bean and hummus, or a tray of homemade bruschetta. You could also think along the lines of a lightly dressed octopus salad if your guests were going to be seated, rather than standing. The Army & Navy Special Forces is my riff on the classic Army & Navy cocktail, a Prohibition era drink. It has gin as its base, along with orgeat (an almond syrup), apricot and ginger liqueurs, and lemon juice, making it a bit weightier and more complex. This would allow you to serve it with something heavier like a tart or flatbread made with caramelized onions and gouda cheese, or a pasta dish with roasted butternut squash and shiitake mushrooms. Am I making you hungry? I hope so! The final drink has rye whiskey, dry curaçao, and yellow Chartreuse in it and is the heaviest of the three. It would pair well with things like short rib sliders, or assorted kebabs. For my dinner I actually served it with a mushroom and sweet potato pot pie made with stout beer because I needed a vegan option. That gives us three courses, but you could easily tack on oysters and a very cold Chablis at the beginning, and a cheese plate with an Amari flight at the end, and suddenly you’d have a 5-course cocktail/dinner party going on!
There are some additional things you’ll need to make your night a success. First and foremost, plan your party carefully and write everything down so you have it crystal clear in your head what needs to be happening at all times. Try to stay as sober as you can because you are the one in charge! You’ll want to batch your cocktails ahead of time to keep things simple, and shake or stir them right before serving, Enlist someone to be your barback so that you’ll have help keeping bar supplies and glasses washed for the next course, unless you have lots, in which case you can just load them into the dishwasher. I’ve found that 6-10 people work best for these kinds of parties, but you can certainly go bigger if you need to. Plan on 1-2 drinks per course per person, which can get to be a lot, so pace the evening accordingly and have lots of water available. Special cocktail napkins and straws add a nice touch, and a really good playlist is a definite must. If you’re not planning to have everyone seated, then be sure that your dishes are easy to eat standing around a kitchen counter, which is often where the best parties take place anyway. Printed menus or recipes aren’t absolutely necessary, but they can also be fun and it will save you from repeating the ingredients in drink or dish throughout the night. Take pictures and post them on Instagram; the new slide show option was made for this!
I’ve given you the three drink recipes below, but there are lots of others that would work just as well. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go right through the contact form on this blog for more ideas or pairing options. I love this kind of thing! Cheers!
2 oz Stateside vodka (local to Philadelphia)
1/2 oz St. Germain elder flower liqueur
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 to a 1/2 oz Liber & Co. pineapple gum syrup (adjust to your taste) or your own pineapple simple syrup
Place the ingredients in the bottom half of a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake for 15-20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime strip. Enjoy!
Army & Navy Special Forces
1.5 oz Bluecoat gin (local to Philadelphia)
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz Liber & Co. orgeat (there are other brands available too or recipes online for making at home)
1/4 oz Marie Brizard Apry apricot liqueur (or a similar quality brand)
1/4 oz Giffard ginger liqueur
1 dash DRAM Apothecary black bitters (or aromatic or cardamom bitters)
1 piece of candied ginger
hibiscus salt (I ususally buy mine on Amazon)
Combine all the ingredients except the candied ginger and the hibiscus salt into a cocktail shaker and fill 3/4 of the way with ice. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Thread a piece of candied ginger onto a cocktail pick. Garnish the drink with some hibiscus salt and the candied ginger skewer. Enjoy!
Workers on the Tracks
Place all the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice until very cold. Pour into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with an orange twist. Enjoy!