The holiday season begins with Halloween, when ghouls and goblins roam neighborhood streets lined with homes guarded by menacing jack-o'-lanterns, with fearsome faces lit by flickering candles. The sack of candy collected that night dwindles, and the mood lightens as Thanksgiving approaches and we look forward to a four-day weekend of family, food and football. When November rolls into December, hideous Christmas sweaters swarm the malls, and weekends are filled with parties.
Christmas gatherings come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from boozy office parties to family-friendly neighborhood get-togethers, but what they all should have in common are liquid refreshments. For many folks, the first activity after arriving and hanging up their coats is locating the bar. While many hosts, particularly at Christmastime, have alcohol on hand for their guests, it's important to have some lively nonalcoholic alternatives.
The holiday spirit seems to shine a little brighter when kids are around, so it's not surprising that parents let bedtimes lapse a bit later so they can enjoy nights out. The proper host will take the younger crowd into consideration when stocking the bar. Having a selection of kiddie cocktails is a great way to make them feel welcome.
Any bar includes different fruit juices, so offering blended smoothies is an easy option. Be sure to have plenty of bananas and frozen fruit on hand, as they thicken smoothies better than ice.
"Take a banana and add any kind of fruit, whatever they want. Just ask them," says Sooty Hetrick, a San Diego bartender and party hostess. "Orange juice is a good mixer, and you're going to have that for your cocktails anyway. Orange and cranberry juice. Or if you don't have a blender, just take fruit juices and pour them one at a time, and they'll layer. That looks cool, too."
If the weather outside is frightful, party guests of all ages will appreciate hot chocolate or warm apple cider. For a festive touch on hot chocolate, Hetrick recommends adding a little heavy cream. You can add the child's name on top of the cream, written in chocolate syrup, or cinnamon for a little spice. For more fun, cut out little stencils, and place one on top of the glass. Shake the cinnamon through it, creating a pattern on top of the cream. For kids who already have had enough chocolate, hot vanilla milk is an easy option. Simply add a vanilla bean to milk; simmer; pour; and add cream and cinnamon.
"It's fun for kids to have someone wait on them. They feel like they're out to get a special treat because someone is making it for them," Hetrick says.
While the kids enjoy their special seasonal concoctions, the grown-ups can celebrate with their own Christmas cocktails. No bar would be complete without eggnog, but for a unique addition, go with a Scandinavian gl?gg, advises Dale DeGroff, author of "The Craft of the Cocktail" (Clarkson Potter).
"Find yourself a hearty red wine that's not too expensive but tastes good. And remember that you'll add lots of spices and sugar and even some sprits, so you don't have to have really expensive wine," DeGroff says.
Pour the wine into a container, and add raisins, almonds and spices. Cover it, and let it stand for 24 hours at room temperature. When it comes time to serve, heat it, and add vodka or cognac, depending on preference, and sugar. This is one drink that is guaranteed to heat up even the coldest winter night.
Martinis can be enjoyed any time of the year, and a Christmastime favorite of DeGroff's is the apples and oranges martini. It's a perfect party recipe because it can be made in a large batch.
"It's 10 ounces Berentzen apple liqueur, 10 ounces cranberry juice and 12 ounces of orange vodka together in a large pitcher of ice. Stir about 50 times. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, and you can either shake it and serve it in a martini glass or serve it as a punch over ice. Express the oil from an orange peel over the top of each drink prior to serving. It's quite good," DeGroff says.
He also recommends setting up an interactive bar so guests can help themselves.
"You can put the recipes on a folding cart that's on the table at your bar and have a couple of cocktail shakers, some ice and the ingredients and let the people shake their own."