Canadian mixologist Patsy Christie practically grew up behind the bar of her parents' family-run hotel in Levack, Ont., near Sudbury. "We lived there until I was five years old," says Christie, who went on to train professionally at the Macallan Distillery in Scotland and the Absolut Akademi in Sweden after tending bar for a decade in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Montreal and Toronto. Today, she is a full-time spirits and mixology trainer with Maxxium, a global alcohol distribution company based in London. Recently, she created the cocktail menu for the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill in the city's West End. When designing the perfect drinks party, Christie says the key ingredient is simplicity. "Never over-complicate the menu," she states. "You want to enjoy yourself, too."
The rules are quite simple, Christie says: The more guests there are, the simpler the drinks should be; the smaller the crowd, the more bespoke and elaborate you can get. A rough way to determine how much to prepare is to assume that each person will have one to two drinks an hour throughout the evening. Make sure, of course, that everyone on your list is of legal drinking age. You also must ensure that all guests get home safely, so have a few taxi company numbers on hand. Finally, don't forget to invite your neighbours: That way there's no one stewing next door over the noise.
Setting the scene
When setting up a bar, Christie advises, choose a quiet corner of the main party room or, if the party's being held outdoors, an area of the patio or terrace that is easily accessible but out of the way. (The garage also makes a great makeshift saloon.) The bar itself can be a counter-like bar, a long dining table or even a folding one – just cover the latter with a good tablecloth. If you don't have a mini-refrigerator handy to keep beverages cool, opt for a number of cooler boxes or tubs filled with enough ice (or supplies of ice) to see you through the night. As for what goes on the table itself, display a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options and have a cutting board, pre-sliced lemons and limes, bowls of olives and anything else you may be planning to use as a garnish at the ready. (Tip: Consider serving cocktails with similar ingredient lists to reduce the number of drinks supplies you'll need.)
Have, too, a shaker, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, a paring knife, a measure and a juicer on hind. You will also need napkins, swizzle sticks and toothpicks as well as a variety of glassware to accommodate different types of drinks. Have twice as many glasses on hand than guests. And keep a roll of paper towels behind the bar to mop up any spills.
Background music is, finally, a must, but you don't want to be playing the role of the DJ all night, so be sure to prepare a play list ahead of time. If you can't find the time, don't stress it – simply tune into an online radio station that plays your favourite genre of music. If you have any musically savvy friends or acquaintances, ask them to bring their guitar or vinyl to the affair. The Rock Band game is also a fun addition to any drinks party.
Food and drink
Ice supply, Christie says, is almost always overlooked when planning drinks parties, but it is the most important ingredient when it comes to their success. When preparing guests' drinks – even simple highballs – serve them with as much ice as possible. The more ice you put in the drink, the longer it will stay cold and the less it will dilute. So buy ice. Lots of it.
As for cocktails, Christie advises having popular summer spirits such as vodka, gin and rum on hand as well as corresponding mixers such as soda and tonic water, ginger ale, cola and a couple of fruit juices. At the same time, you should offer a number of signature cocktails especially created for the party. According to Christie, punches are very trendy in the U.K. right now. Some of Christie's favourite seasonal cocktails include the Bellini (Champagne and peach juice), the Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime), the Rebujito (sherry and Seven-Up), Spiced Mint Limonada (spiced rum, simple syrup, mint leaves and fresh lemon juice) and Apple Spice Punch (cognac, St. Germain liqueur, apple juice and ginger beer).
Finally, there's no need to overcomplicate the menu, she says, recommending a range of easy-to-prepare sweet and savoury hors d'oeuvres containing gourmet ingredients. Her top picks: Kettle Lightly Salted Chips dipped in chocolate fondue and smoked-salmon-wrapped blue cheese or honey-drizzled chorizo served up on oak cakes. These "never fail," Christie says.
Christie's bar tool of choice is the Fox Run Craftsman Orange Juicer. "I cannot live without one," the mixologist says. "These small contraptions come in several different sizes and make it simple and quick to freshly press lime, lemon, orange and even grapefruit juices behind the bar."
$19.99 at Wal-Mart and select cookware stores Canada-wide.