Summer Sippin'

A local cocktail expert shares how to throw a summer cocktail party that won't break the bank

Keep party costs low by asking each guest to bring a spirit to contribute. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Keep party costs low by asking each guest to bring a spirit to contribute.

The thought of hosting a cocktail party can be intimidating — after all, most of us aren't bartenders, and won't it be expensive? Never fear! Renee Cebula, a local cocktail historian and owner of Raising the Bar vintage barware, is here with tips to make your party a (whiskey) smash.

Cebula puts in a lot of the work for her parties long before guests arrive.

"The more organized you can be, the more likely you are to have an enjoyable time and stay within your budget," she says. She recommends choosing three signature cocktails to start, each with a different base spirit. You'll also want to check the recipes and make sure nothing is too complicated or expensive.

"Nobody wants to be stuck bringing the $80 bottle of green Chartreuse," she says.

Remember that mixed drinks aren't the time for top-shelf liquor; one step up from the bottom shelf will be fine. And don't forget to be mindful about how your cocktails are made — if each one requires shaking and you have only one cocktail shaker, it might take a while for people to get drinks.

Speaking of equipment, don't forget the glasses! Cebula says that while they shouldn't be plastic, they don't have to match. And if you're running low, someone is usually happy to help wash a few to put back in circulation. Before the party arrives, make sure to create a dedicated bar station with plenty of ice, towels, and some water for quick rinses.

"Any cocktail party should begin with a punch," Cebula notes. Not only are they easy to make in advance (and a perfect starter for the party's early birds), but you don't have to make each drink individually. Don't let the name put you off — if you don't have a punch bowl, you can use a pitcher or a drink dispenser, she says.

Kicking off a party with punch is a historically accurate move as well, Cebula says: "Punch was the first mixed drink, so why not start where mixed drinks sprang from?"

Besides your signature cocktails, Cebula recommends setting out a few mixers (soda, tonic water) for guests who might like a weaker drink. On that note, don't forget to plan a water station, and consider a basket of water bottles at your front door for guests to take on their way.

"If people aren't quite ready to drive, just let them stay a while," Cebula suggests. (Or be on the safe side and request a ride share.)

Local cocktail expert Renee Cebula suggests serving the classic Hemingway Daiquiri. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Local cocktail expert Renee Cebula suggests serving the classic Hemingway Daiquiri.

To go with your drinks, you're also going to need food.

"Breads and cheeses are pretty inexpensive; you can do those in bulk and not break the bank," Cebula says. "They're also really satisfying when you're drinking. I think if you're new to hosting a cocktail party, just keep it simple."

For her parties, Cebula also creates an editable list so that each person can sign up for their preferred contribution, whether that's food or booze.

"People usually ask 'Can I bring something?' or if they don't ask, typically your guests will arrive with a bottle of wine. Why not just ask everyone to bring one ingredient for the cocktails?" she says. "I like to have a variety of things, so that if somebody is able to bring a $30 bottle of spirits, great. If someone's budget is more like bringing some limes and lemons, or a bottle of bitters, that's good too. All of these are important ingredients."

Even Cebula was nervous about throwing throw her first cocktail party.

"I thought it would be really complicated — I went with that and was very organized," she recalls. "It wasn't that complicated at all, and it was so much fun. I wish that we had done them earlier, and not been intimidated by it." ♦

Renee's Picks for a Summer Cocktail Party

Hemingway Daiquiri

1½ oz. white rum

¾ oz. fresh lime juice

¼ oz. fresh grapefruit juice

¼ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur (other brands exist, but none taste quite like this one)

Shake ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

Gin Fizz

1 oz. club soda 

2 oz. Plymouth gin (Plymouth is a regional style of gin, but is now home to only one brand)

1 oz. fresh lemon juice

¾ oz. simple syrup

1 egg white (about ½ oz.)

Pour the club soda into a Fizz or Collins glass and set aside. Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and shake without ice for about 10 seconds. Add 3 or 4 ice cubes and shake very well. Double-strain into the prepared glass.

Whiskey Smash

Half a lemon, cut into wedges

4 mint leaves

¾ oz. simple syrup

2 oz. bourbon  

1 mint sprig (for garnish)

In a shaker, muddle the lemon. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake, and double-strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice, or one large ice chunk. Slap a mint sprig between your hands and use as garnish. Serve with a straw.

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