Making that first round of cocktails for a crowd of dinner guests can be a handful. Everyone (at least the polite ones) arrives at pretty much the same time and descends on the bar like a swarm of thirsty mosquitos. Having a batch of interesting, refreshing and, most importantly, made- ahead cocktails on hand can make this crush much more manageable and even more fun for the guests. People like to be offered a specific drink when they arrive without having to make a quick decision about what to have or worry about what you may or may not have on hand. It gets the party started easily and sets a relaxed, let’s-just-have-fun mood.
For a festive, stress free opening round, try a Champagne-based cocktail. They are light and refreshing and everyone likes Champagne, right? No need to break the bank here on fine Champagne. Just go with a good, solid Champagne or even a sparkling Italian prosecco or Spanish cava. For something a little more interesting, look for a French Cremant, sparkling wine made using the same method as Champagne, just not in the Champagne region. Even the French are drinking more of the affordable Cremant in place of Champagne these days.
For a nice, candlelit dinner party, consider leading off with a French 75. The French 75 is a World War I-era cocktail that has more claims to its origins than the Bloody Mary. Everyone from French generals (it is named for a piece of artillery, after all) to Arnaud’s in New Orleans to Harry’s American Bar in Paris all claim to have first concocted the thing. All that clamoring for credit should be assurance enough that your guests will love them!
Mix 1½ cups gin with ¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and ¼ cup Cointreau. Chill for 2 hours. When ready to serve, fill a champagne flute about half way up with the gin mixture, top with chilled Champagne and garnish with a long lemon twist.
Makes about 8 drinks
If the occasion is more on the casual side, a Champagne sangria cooler is a nice opener. The mixture below was adapted from one featured in Bon Appetit magazine, but any combination of fruit, wine or even limoncello can make a festive punch. I prefer to strain the sangria after the fruit steeps to give the cocktail a cleaner finish.
Blood Orange Sangria
Peel off the tough outer layer from a stalk of lemongrass, finely chop and muddle, using the back of a spoon or a pestle, with 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add 2 cups of dry Riesling, 2 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice, ½ cup fresh grapefruit juice and ½ cup fresh lime juice. Chill 2 hours, then strain into a clean pitcher. When ready to serve, fill an ice-filled wine glass about half way up with the juice/wine mixture and top with chilled Champagne. Garnish with an orange twist.
Makes about 8 drinks