For my recent holiday party I wanted to offer my guests some festive cocktails that would be as easy to prepare as they are enjoyable to drink.
In my mind, there is nothing worse than a party stalling at the bar because a guest doesn’t know what they want or because the bartender doesn’t know how to make it. Through experience I’ve learned that most people don’t have the foggiest idea what goes into that drink they enjoy at the bar. I’ve found that a short and simple menu helps take the pressure of both the guests and the hosts.
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Holiday Drink Menu
For this menu I chose drinks that would appeal to a wide range of tastes. I included vodka, gin, whiskey, and rum, as well as sweet, tart, and fruity flavors. I also threw in one wildcard (which ended up being the hit of the evening).
- Peppermint White Russian – vodka, sweet, minty – very festive
- Pomegranate-Rosemary Gin Fizz – gin, tart and fruity, herbal, fun yet elegant
- Winter-Spice Old Fashioned: whiskey, dark, fruity, spicy, sophisticated
- Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch – brandy & rum, smooth, herbal, light, and unexpectedly delicious
When possible, I pre-mix ingredients so the bartender would have fewer items to juggle. The Milk Punch was the simplest drink – simply pour over ice and serve. The Old Fashioned is the most labor-intensive, since it requires muddling and measuring. The others fell nicely in between.
The Milk Punch was my wildcard drink of the night. It’s an old and unusual drink – a citrus and spice punch clarified with warm milk. I’ve been intrigued by them for years, but wasn’t sure my guests would be equally interested. To my great surprise, it was the most popular drink on the menu and we ran out by the end of the night!
Tips for Setting up a Great Bar
- Write up a menu and place it in a photo frame for easy reference. Keep it short and sweet – 5 drinks maximum.
- Set up your ingredients in a logical fashion. For this party I grouped each drink’s ingredients and garnishes, since there was no overlap between drinks.
- Pre-mix if you can. This speeds up service at the bar and keeps your party flowing smoothly.
- Give your bartender a cheat sheet of recipes. This is a huge help for the person behind the bar, or ambitious guests who would like to help out.
- Keep all your tools close at hand – muddlers, stir sticks, knife, cutting board, strainers, straws, napkins, etc. If you’re using cocktail shakers, make sure you have one designated for each drink plus a dump bucket for the used ice.
What are your favorite festive holiday cocktails? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Peppermint White Russian
A White Russian is a classic that is sweet, creamy and easy to drink. The addition of peppermint vodka gives it a festive spin.
- 3/4 oz Kahlua
- 3/4 oz Vodka
- 3/4 oz Peppermint Vodka or schnapps
- 2-3 oz half and half or whole milk, to taste
- Candy canes for garnish (optional)
For one drink: Fill a old-fashioned glass with ice. Add alcohols and top with half and half. Stir, garnish, and serve.
For a party: for 10 drinks, pre-mix 7.5 oz Kahlua, 7.5 oz vodka, and 7.5 peppermint vodka. To serve, add 2.25 ounces of mixed alcohols and 3 oz half and half to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until frothy and pour into a martini glass. Garnish as desired.
Garnish: If desired, rim the glass with crushed candy canes or red and white sparkling sugar. Garnish with a mini candy cane.
Pomegranate-Rosemary Gin Fizz
Gin and rosemary add an earthy, herbal note to the sweet-tart flavors of lemon and pomegranate juice. The red and green color palette is a Christmas classic.
- 2 oz gin
- 2 tbs pomegranate juice
- 1 tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbs Rosemary Simple Syrup*
- Club soda
- Pomegranate arils and rosemary sprigs for garnish (optional)
Rosemary Simple Syrup
Add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to a pan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add 1 rosemary sprig and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain syrup into a bottle for serving.
For one drink: Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add gin, juice, and syrup and stir. Top with club soda and garnish as desired.
For a party: for 10 servings, pre-mix 2.5 cups gin, 1.25 cups pomegranate juice, 5 oz lemon juice, and 5 oz rosemary simple syrup. To serve, add 4 ounces of the mix to a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish as desired.
Garnish: Add a small spoonful of pomegranate arils to the glass and add a rosemary sprig.
Based on this recipe at Creative Culinary.
Winter Spiced Old-Fashioned
Whiskey and spices bring a warm and cozy note to this cocktail. The herbal notes of bay leaves and juniper add a layer of complexity and keep it from being too cloying.
- Brandied cherries
- Orange slice
- 3 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
- 1-2 oz Winter Spiced Simple Syrup, or to taste
- Orange twists, cinnamon sticks, and brandied cherries for garnish (optional)
Winter Spiced Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 5-6 juniper berries
- 2-3 allspice berries
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
Add sugar and water to a pan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add bay leaves, juniper berries, allspice berries, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Let steep 15 minutes. Strain syrup into a bottle for serving.
For one drink: In a rocks glass, muddle 2 cherries and a slice of orange. Add ice, simple syrup, and whiskey and stir. Garnish as desired.
Garnish: Garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange twist and brandied cherry.
Based on this recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon.
Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch
This drink dates to the 1700’s and showcases citrus and nutmeg, which would have been exotic flavors at the time. Once clarified, it creates a crystal clear, smooth cocktail that feels entirely modern.
This is a really interesting and different recipe. It starts as dark rum, then goes cloudy and curdled, and finally to a crystal-clear pale yellow.
- 3 cups aged rum and/or brandy
- 5-6 lemons
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups filtered water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2of a whole nutmeg
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- Thinly peel the lemons, avoiding the pith. Save the lemons for juicing.
- Add the rum and/or brandy and lemon peels to a large glass jar. Stir well and let steep overnight.
- Strain the lemon peels out of the rum mixture.
- Add the lemon juice, water, and sugar. Stir well to dissolve.
- Grate the nutmeg and break up the cinnamon stick and star anise. Add to the lemon and alcohol mixture.
- Heat the milk just to a boil, then turn off the heat.
- Add the alcohol and lemon juice mixture to the hot milk. Let sit for at least 2 hours. It will curdle and look like a terrible mess at this stage.
- Strain through cheesecloth to remove the large particles of milk curds and spices.
- Strain a second time through coffee filters to get a crystal clear drink. Setting up multiple filters & funnels will make the job go more quickly.
- Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
For one drink: Serve chilled or over ice.
For a party: This punch can be made ahead and stored for a week or more in the refrigerator. Simply pour over ice and serve.