'Tis the season for holiday parties. And no, hosting friends in ugly sweaters over bottom-shelf brands and liter bottles doesn't qualify. It could, but it's not the nicest way to wrap the year.
It's also the kind of party Chicago drinks maven Revae Schneider would be too nice to scoff at. As proprietress of Femme du Coupe, the in-demand cocktail consultant runs around town during December like a holiday shopper on a Black Friday binge. Despite the season's madness, Schneider holds tight to the power of a classic cocktail party. She's produced her fair share and has come out the other side with a battery of tried-and-true ways to make the most of the most festive season.
COCKTAILS COME FIRST
"You should always have a cocktail waiting for when people show up," Schneider says. The rationale? When given options, guests tend to start with cocktails and move into beer or wine after. It's rarely the reverse. "Have a cocktail set out, because they'll always go for the first thing they see," she says.
Stock the basics: vodka ("I personally don't have very much vodka, but everybody should have a bottle since people drink it"), gin, rum, tequila and whiskey of some sort. If you want to get more creative, "maybe Scotch," Schneider says, "and then something like Campari or Aperol or St-Germain." Schneider also recommends Mandarine Napoléon, when recipes call for orange liqueur. Compared to basic triple sec, she says, "It's a little more fun, and especially for this time of year, has a little more depth to it."
For recipes that call for citrus, Schneider swears by fresh juice. Forget time-consuming hand-squeezing and scope out a local grocery store that stocks real juice in bulk. Schneider has learned to call ahead ("Whole Foods will sometimes have it in a cooler"). Plus, with so many juice bars invading the market, some may be open to selling en masse. Never compromise for store-bought. "If I know I can't have fresh citrus," Schneider says, "I just won't mess with juice." There's too much at risk with processed stuff, she says, from preservatives to potential food allergies.
THE SHORTCUTSWhen entertaining, time-saving is key.
- Rule #1: Batch cocktails in advance. Schneider is a big fan of holiday punches, and notes that both icy and warm cocktails do well in punch bowls.
- Rule #2: Use tools at your disposal. "A shot glass is a great measuring device," Schneider points out, "so there's no need to get a jigger if you don't have one." Got a French press coffee maker? It doubles as a spirits infuser. "I personally use a lot of teas and dry ingredients--like chai--which do well with bourbon or gin," Schneider says. "Just put fresh ingredients in the press, then booze, and let it steep."
- Rule #3: Don't discount basic ingredients. For holiday drinks, Revae subs in berry jams for simple syrup. "Just make sure you shake it really well." Maple syrup is another favorite, which pairs well with bourbon. "I pretty much sub it anytime I'd use regular simple syrup," she says. "It's got a richness to it that's nice for whiskey drinks."
- Rule #4: Buy your ice. Creative spheres and cubes are fine as a finishing touch, but for good drinks that require shaking with ice, "it's much better to have store-bought," Schneider says. "It's actually been frozen a lot longer than your typical refrigerator ice, so you get a better quality chill."
NOT SO INNOCENTSchneider is fond of anything with rum, lemon, maple syrup and a little bit of bitters, served warm. "I put the whole thing on the stove and let the smell waft," she says. "It's the most warming, welcoming, awesome drink."
Not So Innocent
Contributed by Revae SchneiderINGREDIENTS:
- 2 cups Rum
- 1 cup Maple simple syrup (one part maple syrup, one part simple syrup)
- 1 cup Fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups Apple cider
- Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Whole cranberries and rosebuds
Add all ingredients, except the bitters, to a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to blend. Once warm, transfer to a punch bowl for serving, or ladle into glasses directly from the pot. Add two dashes of Angostura Bitters to each punch cup. Serve.
Lauren Viera is a Chicago-based writer and journalist. She contributes stories on spirits, travel and leisure to the Chicago Tribune, Forbes Travel Guide, Condé Nast Traveler, T Magazine, and others, and is currently working on her first book, which documents the twenty-first-century cocktail craze.
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