A hectic holiday party is no time for mixing up elaborate, individual cocktails. That’s what I call a buzzkill. A large scale holiday shindig is made more festive when the food is simply delicious and the drinks flow easily. I realize that drinking specially made, hand-crafted holiday cocktails are hard to beat. But when entertaining, who wants to be manning the bar while the guests are having all the fun? That’s where pitcher drinks come in– they give you the freedom to enjoy yourself at your own celebration.
I may call these pitcher drinks, but I often serve them in bottles. Bottles pour more easily and are less likely to slop onto the floor. I don’t like sloppy drinkers, especially when the party’s at my house. Empty wine bottles have the added benefit of being recyclable, so I can use a Sharpie to label the drink right onto the glass bottle. As much as I love party chit-chat I don’t really want to have to explain the drinks again and again (all evening long). After all, the point of a pitcher drink is to ease the pressure on the host by letting the guests help themselves.
When I’m choosing pitcher drinks for parties I look to serving several cocktails that will appeal to a range of palates. In the case of my Thanksgiving celebration I chose three categories that I felt would enhance the menu and the celebration: Bittersweet, Sour and Rich. All three cocktail choices were distinct enough to make the selection process almost as fun as the party.
My Holiday Cocktails
Jasmine: Is it too early to call a cocktail developed by Paul Harrington in the 1990s a classic? Maybe. But this bittersweet tippler deserves some sort of recognition because it helped re-introduce Americans to Campari. It goes down easier than the truly classic Negroni, but its bitter edge soon grows on you. Besides, you can’t feature a trio of holiday cocktails without a scarlet tipple.
Celery Gimlet: When it comes to infusing booze gin is my preferred spirit. Vodka certainly lends itself to the particular charms of celery as well and it would be just fine in this modern twist on traditional sour lime gimlet. However, if you want to experience true alcoholic alchemy then gin and celery cannot be beat. Celery and gin have a deep savory dichotomy that is further enhanced with celery bitters.
Grapefruit Crusta: The Crusta is one of my favorite of the little known pre-Prohibition cocktails. It’s said to have been a precursor to the Sidecar and is one of the few cocktails in my repertoire that features cognac – a spirit that gives this drink a deep, rich quality – making it one of the most celebratory of the holiday cocktails. I gave this version its zing with fresh ruby red grapefruit juice instead of the traditional squeezed lemon. I think it improves the color and makes the drink more festive.
PS To make any of the following holiday cocktails into a pitcher drink simply multiply all ingredients in each recipe by the number of cocktails. Mix the ingredients together in a pitcher or bottle then pour 3 ounces of the mixture in a cocktail shaker 2/3‑filled with ice. Shake. Strain. Garnish. Serve.