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Food for Fetes: Party Cocktails are Pour Perfection

Food for Fetes: Party Cocktails are Pour Perfection

Gone are the days of sugary cocktails with a jumble of juices to mask the taste of the alcohol. Instead of hiding alcohol's flavor, now cocktails highlight it. Below, cocktail experts explain how to keep event-goers satisfied through rounds (and round and rounds) of drinks.

MIXING IT UP Carlos Yturria, mixologist at Bacar restaurant in San Francisco, says that guests are more educated on cocktail trends and expect seasonal ingredients. A favorite at Bacar is “The Flash,” made with San Francisco's locally distilled No. 209 gin, lemon juice, and sliced kiwi and cucumber. Other trends Yturria notes:

  • Stirred drinks are making a comeback.

  • Burnt orange slices are a hot new garnish.

  • Pomegranate juice is in the been-there-drank-that category. The once “it” fruit can expect a quick decline; Yturria says, “It's over.”

Executive chef Ciaran Duffy has a fresh approach to old-school drinks at Charleston, S.C.- based Tristan restaurant, which features classic cocktails such as the old fashioned, mint julep and white lady — a drink made with gin, Cointreau and lemon juice. “These cocktails have been around since before Prohibition,” Duffy notes. “I just change them up by using seasonal fruit and different herbs.” Duffy often enters his variations in competitions, as he did with his bruised berry mojito, which proved to be a crowd favorite at a mojito competition. His “Cabana Cooler” earned third place in a cachaca competition highlighting drinks that featured the Brazilian alcohol made from sugarcane. The “Cabana Cooler” includes cachaca, ginger beer, fresh tarragon, ginger, lemons and limes. Other trends at Tristan:

  • Liquor and food are a hot new pair with menus designed to complement specific drinks.

  • Foams add a fun layer to the top of martinis.

  • Cocktail flights, muddled drinks, flavored liquor — such as peach or strawberry vodka — and aperitifs — such as the “Charleston Sunset” with Campari, blood orange juice and champagne — are gaining ground.

Drinks don't have to encourage hard partying. They can refresh and soothe instead, according to Anastasia Israel, owning partner of Abode Restaurant and Lounge in Santa Monica, Calif. This was what Abode had in mind with the “Namaste” cocktail, named for the yoga salutation and created for a group of yoga instructors. The drink includes white tea, jasmine and basil extract, a lychee and a rose petal garnish. Other guest favorites at Abode:

  • “Guilt-free” drinks are a hit. The cocktails include healthy el-ements such as antioxidant-rich teas in the “Namaste” and an elderflower green tea martini.

  • Organic ingredients are just as popular in drinks as they are in food.

  • Unique garnishes and flavors, such as edible flowers and lavender essence, grab guest attention.

The holidays are prime party time, and the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., has just the drink to get guests in the mood. Director of food and beverage Robert Stanfield says the Gaylord's “Christmas Coquito” will appear at plenty of parties. The drink, which consists of sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, coconut cream, evaporated milk and rum, will be featured at the 46-day “Best of Florida” Christmas event — where visitors can view two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures — as well as at “Noche de Parrandas,” a holiday event for the local Latino community. Other hot cocktail trends Stanfield notes:

  • Fresh herbs, such as mint, basil and lavender, add a fresh note to drinks.

  • Showmanship at the bar is bigger than ever. (Tom Cruise's character from the 1988 movie “Cocktail” couldn't compete.)

  • House-made bitters, sweet and sour, and other mixers are gaining in popularity, as well as fresh-squeezed juices and luxury beverage brands. But the public's taste for frozen drinks has thawed — when they're not on a beach resort, that is.

FREE SPIRITS “Guests at special events definitely drink more,” Yturria says — and other cocktail experts agree. Israel notes that event-goers order roughly 30 percent more than a regular night at Abode. And guests are far more willing to be adventurous because they aren't footing the bill. After all, if they don't like a drink, “They just order something else,” Yturria says. Here are some tips to keep bartenders sane and the crowd under control:

  • Use no more than three or four ingredients per drink — easier for the bartenders and better for flavor.

  • Put drinks in small glasses, or include less alcohol to keep it from flowing too freely.

  • Make drinks in batches beforehand.

  • At a meal, serve drinks in a pitcher, family-style, at tables.

  • Forgo offering drinks with labor-intensive muddling to prevent lines of guests as bartenders futz with complicated cocktails.


Abode Restaurant and Lounge


Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center


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