Throw a Perfect Cocktail Party with Tips from a Pro

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As the song goes, “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow…” Don’t know about the snow here in sunny Sonoma County, but it is a time to get together with family and friends to celebrate the season.

You want to host a get-together, but don’t want to deal with a full blown dinner party. You decide to host a cocktail party instead. It’s the perfect compromise: Small plates of food, some nibbles, and wonderful holiday cocktails. How festive!

In the beginning, it seems easy enough. You will just serve some drinks and small bites of food, right? As you dive further into planning the event, more questions begin to swirl around in your mind. What kind of drinks should you offer? Wine, spirits, or both? How much of everything should you buy? How much ice? And what about glassware? What you once thought was an easy event is now turning into a daunting project.

But, have no fear! We have the perfect solution to help you get back on Santa’s train track and plan the best cocktail party possible. Consider us your go-to holiday secret weapon! Follow this easy guide that covers all the bases for hosting a successful cocktail party.

What to serve?

There are three easy ways to serve your drinks: a full bar, a themed bar, or a signature cocktail bar.

– A full bar is the most complete option, however it is the most expensive option. You will offer a wide variety of liquors, mixers and garnishes, which allows your guests to enjoy an old favorite, or create a new one. It also requires a knowledgeable person to staff it who knows their way around classic cocktails. If you consider this option, hiring a bartender is recommended.

– A themed bar is a more budget friendly (and fun) option: Select a couple of types of alcohol and mixers, along with wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks. A themed bar is a great option because you can tailor it to any season or occasion.

– A signature cocktail bar can be a fun and creative way to go. It’s best to feature two, made with different spirits (one vodka based and one rum based for example). It’s also a good idea to have beer, wine and non-alcoholic drink options available as well. Choose your cocktails based on the season, the theme, or the guest being honored and his or her preferences.

Bar Basics

Some essential spirits to always have on hand are whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, rum and brandy. The standard mixers are usually tonic water, club soda, soft drinks, lemonade and ginger ale. Be sure to have lots of lemon and lime wedges on hand as well.

Wine and Beer for a Cocktail Party

Selecting the wine to serve at your cocktail party can be a challenge, especially if you are serving food. In general, it is best to have both white wine and red wine available. You want to stay away from wines that can be too sweet (Riesling), or too bold and tannic (Cabernet Sauvignon). Instead, opt for lighter styles of wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Grenache. These are versatile enough to match a wide variety of foods, as well as be enjoyed on their own. Don’t forget to offer your guests a couple of beer options. A light, refreshing lager style beer and an IPA are good choices that will provide most beer drinkers with a style they will like. As always, don’t forget to ask our holiday elves in the Oliver’s Wine/Beer/Spirits Department for some guidance—we’re always happy to help.

Glassware Tips

Depending on the size of your party, renting glassware might be your best option. However, if it is going to be a smaller affair, using your personal glassware is much easier. To minimize the amount of dirty glasses you have at the end, a single glass for both white wine and red wine works well. For cocktails, having both a martini glass and a highball glass available is best. There are other options of plastic cups/glasses (GoVino brand, for example) that won’t break the bank, either.

Ice is Nice

Ice is one of the most important components of your cocktail party as it keeps your cocktails and extra beverages chilled. Having an ice bucket on hand filled with fresh ice is a staple for any cocktail party. But not all ice is created equal. Perhaps you want to class up your drinks in a highball glass—you can get ice spheres which are all the rage in speakeasies and bourbon joints.  (Tovolo is one brand we carry). Or perhaps you want to be more festive and use shapes instead, like festive stars, Santas, or Christmas trees—that’s an option too! If you’re serving more than your freezer can produce, grab a bag or two of ice at checkout to take with you—and take having enough ice off of your list.

Doing the Math on Quantities

Now comes the most important part of the cocktail party equation: Just how much of each beverage do you need to have on hand to keep your holiday guests happy? When it comes to spirits, a standard 750ml bottle will make about 17 drinks. For a 2 hour party, you should plan on 3 cocktails per guest. Remember that both the amount of mixer and alcohol needed can vary based on the drink (and who is making it, and remember that shaken drinks require more per cocktail than a standard mixed drink). The average amount of mixer in a drink is around 5 ounces. Based on the 3 cocktails per guest rule, you can figure out the appropriate amount of bottles to have on hand. When it comes to wine, a 750ml bottle contains about 5 glasses. Plan on 1 bottle of wine for every 2 guests and equal amounts of white and red, especially if you don’t know your guests’ preferences. Keep in mind that these are just estimates, if you know that your guests are heavier or lighter drinkers you can always buy more or less. Also keep in mind that opened bottles of hard alcohol keep for a long time, so if you err on buying too much, you can easily save it for next time.

Cocktail Party Nibbles

A wide variety of hors d’oeuvres is key so that you’re guaranteed to have something that appeals to all of your guests. For a 2 hour party you should plan on serving 5-6 different types of hors d’oeuvres, with each guest eating one to two of each one. Supplement individual appetizers with bowls of nuts and a platter or two of party foods so that there is plenty of food. Don’t forget that Oliver’s Deli and Cheese Departments can help you plan a perfect party spread!

Following these simple guidelines will guarantee you a stress free, successful holiday cocktail party. From all of us here at Oliver’s Market, we wish you and yours the very best, festive, and delicious holiday season! Cheers!

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