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How to host a classy cocktail party at home

Sure, we love going out on the town, but there’s a lot to be said for a great cocktail party at home. 

Hosting a get-together within the comfort of your own home is a lot of fun, and it’s seriously satisfying to provide your nearest and dearest with a fantastic night. However, knowing how to host a cocktail party that people won’t forget in a hurry is an art.

If you’re thinking about hosting a classy cocktail night at home, you’ll have questions about what equipment you need to make cocktails, how many drinks to serve, and what kind of food to offer alongside. But rest assured that with the right preparation, you’ll be the new Jay Gatsby of your friendship group… just without all the drama. Here are our top tips for how to host a cocktail party at home to wow your friends.

Curate your menu

One of the first steps to hosting the best cocktail party at home is to decide on your cocktail menu. Rather than throwing drinks together at random, we suggest taking your guests on a journey with your selection.

A party theme can help influence your menu choices, or you could plan on serving different cocktails at different points throughout the night: one to welcome guests, a couple to go with the nibbles, one to complement the entertainment and so on.

If you’re the creative type, why not treat your cocktail menu like a story? Hook your guests with a persuasive opening drink, offer something steady in the middle, followed by something with high drama, then conclude with a comforting Hot Toddy.

Offer a variety of sweet and sour cocktails to keep your guests on their toes, and we’d also recommend including both classic and more modern style cocktails to add interest to your menu. 

Guests will enjoy the familiarity of quintessentially classic cocktails such as a Whisky Sour and Negroni, and be intrigued to try something more contemporary such as the (new) Old Fashioned Slight Honey Sage and Best in Pour, our whisky popcorn cocktail.

If you’re wondering how many drinks to serve at your cocktail party, remember that less is often more. It’s better to perfect five cocktails than do ten haphazardly. Also don’t forget to include some non-alcoholic choices for those who don’t drink or are the designated driver for the evening. Mocktails are a good choice, but a variety of botanical sodas and fresh juices are also sure to impress.

Get the drinks in

Once you’ve decided on your cocktail menu, you need to make sure you have everything you need for you (or your guests) to make them. You’ll likely need a selection of base spirits including whisky, vodka and gin and you may also need some other alcohols such as vermouth or Campari. You don’t need to go overboard but it’s a good idea to have a little more than you think you’ll need to avoid running out and your cocktail party being cut short.

Mixers also need to be on your shopping list, and you want to try and cater to all preferences. Soda, cola, tonic water, and ginger ale are great for those who like to keep things simple, but you can easily elevate these basic options by selecting premium brands and flavour twists.

Of course, you can opt for more adventurous mixers too if you want your guests to be totally spoilt for choice. Think along the lines of lychee juice, iced tea, floral sodas and coconut water.

Gather your garnishes

You’ve chosen some great cocktails and got all the ingredients ready and waiting on your home bar cart. It’s already shaping up to be a great night. However, if you want to add extra pizazz, then don’t overlook the garnishes. They can really make a cocktail feel special and leave your guests thinking they’ve lucked out by being invited to the fanciest place in town (aka your living room). Aim for a selection of:

  • Fresh fruits including berries, oranges, lemons and passionfruit
  • Dried fruits such as citrus wheels, pineapple slices and strawberries
  • Pitted olives
  • Edible flowers
  • Fresh herbs including mint, basil, rosemary and thyme
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Sugar and salt (for glass rims)

Impress with proper glassware

If you’re wondering what you’ll need for a cocktail night, a key component is appropriate glassware. 

It’s true that glass shape can in fact influence how one experiences an alcoholic drink. Glasses with stems are designed to prevent your hands from upping the temperature of your tipple. Highball glasses are the right shape for mixed drinks, while an old fashioned lowball is designed for drinking spirits neat or on the rocks. The narrow shape of a Collins glass is ideal for keeping carbonated cocktails sparkling for longer – you see how each makes an individual difference.

Your cocktail party will have a more slick and polished feel overall if you use the correct glassware for your cocktails. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but make sure all guests have matching glasses for a streamlined vibe.

Have the right cocktail making tools

The correct cocktail making gear is essential to the success of your at home cocktail party. Not only will you look the part, but your cocktails will turn out better if you use the proper equipment.

A basic cocktail making kit will include:

  • a shaker, to mix and cool your cocktails
  • a shot glass or jigger, to get precise measures
  • a  bar spoon, to stir and layer
  • a strainer, to ensure a smooth drink
  • a pair of tongs, to garnish your cocktails with ease
  • plus other utensils that you probably already have in the kitchen, such as a chopping board, sharp knife and citrus squeezer

We’ve all made makeshift cocktails using “alternative” equipment at after parties and BBQs, but this is a dedicated cocktail party, and it deserves the proper tools.

Don’t forget the ice

Yes, whisky can be served neat and not all cocktails need to be cold to be enjoyed. However, if you want to be the host with most and keep the evening chilled, you’re going to want to make sure you have a freezer full of ice.

Shop bought ice cubes or crushed ice is totally fine if you don’t have time to prepare it yourself but if you’re the creative type, you can experiment with making different ice shapes or even learn how to make a decorative ice ring that can serve as an eye-catching table centrepiece.

Serve complementary nibbles

Any good cocktail party will include something tasty for guests to tuck into alongside their delicious drinks.

It doesn’t have to be a full on meal, it is a cocktail party and not a dinner party after all, but some moreish nibbles will go down well with your guests, help to line their stomachs, and can even enhance the taste of your beverages.

Opt for nibbles that are easy to eat one handed, while the other hand holds a cocktail, and not too messy to help avoid spillages.

Choose food that works in harmony with your cocktails if you really want to impress your guests. We’ve shared how to pair The Glenlivet whiskies with cheese, how to host a whisky pairing dinner, and unexpected whisky and food pairings – have a read and get inspired.

Provide understated entertainment

The main entertainment during your classy cocktail party at home will be the making of the cocktails themselves. Your guests will love watching you work the bar and use your cocktail making kit with ease.

But we suggest offering your friends and family some easygoing entertainment throughout the night, too. Nothing too in your face or brash, but something that guests can dip in and out of at their leisure. 

We’re talking about playing cards and board games, a way for them to queue favourite songs on the playlist, maybe even a few props and disposable cameras. Cool, classy and understated entertainment that everyone can enjoy.

Begin planning your cocktail night

A successful cocktail night at home is guaranteed if you follow our hosting tips. 

You’ll be known as the host or hostess with the most within your friendship group, and they’ll be begging you to set a date for another swanky soiree. 

Why not begin planning your cocktail party menu? Grab a pen and browse our eclectic range of cocktail recipes, and then get more pointers on hosting an unforgettable party.