With New Year’s Eve coming up quite soon, I’m being asked once again for some last-minute, drinks-related hosting advice. Start with the usual beer, wine and pop (be sure to offer a diversity of options within each category, too – soft drinks both diet and regular; lagers and dark ales; red and white). Then consider fancying things up with the following options — none of which involve splashing out on pricey champagne.
For the sparkling wine: REMEMBER the ALTERNATIVES to CHAMPAGNE
Champagne — by which of course I mean the dry sparkling wine produced by the traditional method in the north of France — is fantastic, but it’s also famously expensive. What to do? Pop the cork on some tasty sparkling wines that don’t cost nearly as much.
Here’s some advice from my book: “To facilitate a sparkling lifestyle, most people will require an affordable alternative to champagne – something that costs around a quarter as much, say. Decent cava fits the bill. Cava is Spanish sparkling wine made in a similar fashion to champagne.
“Meanwhile back in France, plenty of delicious dry sparkling wine comes from places other than champagne. It costs less mainly because it lacks the brand name cachet, yet often tastes damn close enough thanks to copycat methodology. This is crémant, and the bottles are labelled according to region — for example, crémant de loire … or crémant de bourgogne.”
Finally, plenty of great, celebration-worthy dry sparkling wine comes from California and Niagara Region. If you’re in Canada, try Henry of Pelham’s Cuvée Catharine, for example.
Note: When opening a bottle of bubbly, start by removing the cage. Hold the cork tightly with one hand and the neck of the bottle with the other. Twist the bottle until you feel the pressure release.
For a small group: MAKE CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS
Some more advice from Drinks: A User’s Guide: “Keep sugar cubes, Angostura bitters and lemons on hand in so you can switch things up and make champagne cocktails instead of a simple glass of bubbly when you feel like a change. Here’s how to make one: Drop an ordinary sugar cube into a champagne glass (a flute can work, but a coupe is preferable in this case). Soak it with two or three dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill glass with bubbles. Drop a twist of lemon peel into the glass as garnish. Done.”
For a larger group: MAKE a BIG BATCH of MOSELLE CUP
When you’ve got a larger crowd coming to the house, be smart and prepare a big batch of something so you’re not stuck in the kitchen fixing drinks all night. The Moselle cup below comes from Frank Meier’s wonderful 1936 book The Artistry of Mixing Drinks. Meier was head bartender at the Ritz Paris, and despite the fact that he later spied for the French Resistance, in happier times it seems he intended the wine in this recipe to be German – so I’d go with riesling and a mid-price German bubbly.
Per 12 large glasses (scale up or down as needed):
– three peeled ripe peaches cut into quarters
– 12 maraschino cherries
– 2 oz Bénédictine liqueur
– 1 full bottle of riesling
– 1 full bottle of sparkling German wine
Method You peel peaches the same way you peel tomatoes; Google it if you don’t know. Then add everything to a really big bowl. Stir, and your Moselle cup is ready.
A note on how to keep your punch cold Make a big block of ice that will dilute very slowly. I have two-litre food containers that I fill with water and freeze overnight. Give it at least 24 hours so the ice has time to freeze. (The trouble with regular ice cubes is they’ll melt and irretrievably dilute your moselle cup far too quickly.)
For non-drinking guests: Serve NON-ALCOHOLIC COCKTAILS and FANCY ICED TEA
Guests who don’t drink alcohol deserve (a) to be served interesting drinks, and (b) not to be asked why they aren’t drinking, or don’t drink at all. That’s basic hosting manners.
I like to mix up a pitcher of flavoured tea — a selection or two from David’s Tea, for example — and chill it in the fridge. Ask the staff for advice on which teas taste when served as iced tea.
If you’re up for making non-alcoholic cocktails, here are two that are tastier than the norm.
Toronto con Brio
I’ll admit this one is heavily based on a recipe by U.S. bartender and writer Derek Brown – my main addition is to recommend the Brio brand of chinotto soda, which — ahem, little-known fact — is a local Toronto product.
• 3 oz chinotto (e.g. Brio)
• 3 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
• 3 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned aromatic bitters, or more to taste (or substitute Angostura, which do contain alcohol – for many non-drinkers it won’t matter if the amount is this tiny)
• 1-2 mint sprigs and 1 orange twist for garnish
Method: Fill a chilled highball glass with ice. Add chinotto, OJ and bitters and stir gently.
This one’s by Brit Maguire of Toronto’s Drake Hotel
• 8 sage leaves
• 1/2 oz simple syrup
• 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
• ¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
• soda water
Method: Add first four ingredients to a Collins glass and stir with ice. Fill glass with soda. If you drink slowly, the flavour of the sage will grow as you go along.