The return of the holiday swirl means at long last, there’s finally more opportunities for hosting events. But after a year where everyone drank at home alone and got used to what they liked, how can you host events that are sure to please everyone?
Rocco Milano is the founder of On The Rocks, a line of ready-to-drink bottled cocktails. He brings a bartender’s touch to the white-hot ready-to-drink space, with an eye towards delivering classic flavors and approachable cocktails. He offers tips on how to survive hosting parties in the post-lockdown world.
“When having people over or hosting a holiday party, I recommend having diversity,” Milano says. “Some people will want wine, and some people will not want to drink. Some people will want that nice warming Old Fashioned. It’s that time of year where you go for brown, bitter and stirred but there’s always going to be that person who still likes their light year-round cocktail.”
The best hosts anticipate all their guest needs and have a range of drinks, he advises.
For guests who want to switch up drinks between courses or as the night evolves, Milano suggests that hosts serve drinks in progression, going from light to dark. That is, an early in the night drink might be OTR’s Aviation or their Cosmopolitan, while darker sips like the Old Fashioned will close out the night. That has to do with not overwhelming one’s palate. In general, the thinking is that having bolder flavors will drown out softer notes on your palate, so you want to progress in a way that highlights drinks in their best possible way.
Drinks with gin or vodka are a good way to kick off the night, followed by mid-range drinks such as Margaritas or Mai Tais, and ending with Old Fashioneds, which will cut through the richness of most desserts.
“Depending on what you’re eating, you may get creative with some of your pairings,” Milano adds. His family celebrates the Feast of Loaves and Fishes during Christmas. “My general rule of thumb is that if I can squeeze lemon on it, the Aviation is a fantastic cocktail to pair food with. The drink has that lift of citrus, that touch of floral that’s going to play off any kind of fish dish.”
It’s a bit non-traditional to think of tropical drinks during the typical holiday season, to be sure. But some dishes, such as ham made with pineapple, could pair well with tropical drinks, such as the Mai Tai, that share some of the same tasting profiles.
Milano also notes that customers will sometimes adapt his cocktails, with what they have on hand. A touch of cranberry sauce shaken up or muddled with the Cosmopolitan can be a charming serve. Have extra sparkling wine? Add a touch of it to the Aviation, he says. “If you want a little bit of beer, think of Hefeweizens that really pop with the addition of orange or lemon,” he says. “That’s great with a Mai Tai.”
Even as bars have reopened and people begin to gather in person again, the virtual party is probably not gone forever. Milano notes that some offices will send gift boxes of drinks so that people gathering virtually can share the same drink at the same time.
In a nod to strong sales, Milano notes that the company is exploring selling seasonal packs and aims to introduce a new cocktail, a Manhattan, next month as well as new flavors next year.