Christmas cocktails are arguably the best cocktails. Alas, mixology is not my strong suit. So I asked an expert for his advice! Yusef Austin, AKA The Cocktail Architect, is a Brooklyn-based beverage genius. His emphasis on seasonal ingredients, quality, creativity, and taste generates sophisticated cocktails with a multi-sensory experience. Craft three of his staple Christmas cocktails at home by following the recipes below.
Merry and Bright
Cheerful with a zing.
Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Gin, Hibiscus Tea Mixer (Dried Hibiscus, Cinnamon Stick, Orange Zest, Crushed Cardamom, Cloves) and 3/4 oz. Meyer Lemon Juice
Garnish: Dehydrated Lemon Wheel
Shake and strain into a martini or coupe glass.
Christmas spice classic.
Ingredients: 2 oz. Local Whiskey, 1 oz. Chili Infused Honey, 1 oz. Orange + Lemon Juice Mix
Garnish: Orange Flamed Twist & Sphere Ice Cube
Shake and strain into a double rocks glass.
The perfect dessertcocktail.
Ingredients: 2 oz. Vodka, 1/2 oz. Tonka Bean + Vanilla Bean Mixer/Syrup, 1 oz. Chilled Espresso
Garnish: Whipped Cream, Grated Cinnamon
Shake and strain into a vintage cocktail glass.
A massive thank you to Yusef Austin for sharing these Christmas Cocktail Recipes! To learn more about The Cocktail Architect, click here or click here to learn about his virtual mixology classes.
Ah, holiday card season – AKA – just about the only time of year when my mailbox consists of more than just bills, magazines and spam. I love the timeless tradition of sending holiday cards, and in 2020, I figured the more holiday cheer I could send, the better. So, I multiplied my mailing list about fifteen times over, and created a template to build my first official holiday card list from scratch.
After graduating college, I decided to start sending holiday cards to old roommates and friends that I couldn’t see in person as often as I would’ve liked to. I’ve always loved handwritten notes, so I picked up some blank holiday cards from Papyrus and wrote out each note myself.
There were only about twenty households on my list, but it still took at least three or four hours to write, stuff/stamp/seal and mail those cards.
I took pictures of each envelope before mailing them, so that I could find my makeshift list of recipients and addresses the following year. I’m not too proud of this methodology, but hey, we all have our own systems that we try to make work, right?
This year, I decided to do things a bit differently.
After working with so many clients to generate mailing lists for wedding and event invitations, I drafted a template in Google Sheets that I knew would be accepted by most stationers, with little to no adjustments needed.
This template is super easy to use. It creates one central location to keep your mailing list organized, but it serves other functions as well.
The manual entry may seem daunting, but once you grab a cup of coffee and starting building your list, it becomes super turnkey. Here’s why:
“Title” column can be used for professional titles, degrees or salutations like Mrs. or Mr.
Separate cells for the first and last name allows you to easily locate people on your list and make updates.
The “List” column is your own personal safety net to make sure you haven’t forgotten anyone! Assign a category to each entry, like Family, Friends, Work, Neighbors, etc. This way, you can always use Google Sheet’s “sort by” function to identify anyone that’s missing from one of your groups!
The “Email” column simplifies your life for next year. All you’ll need to do is copy & paste the column into an email, or an address app like Postable, to keep your list fully up to date.
“Status” gives you a location to write whether an entry is complete, or missing information (like a new address for a friend that’s about to move).
Once you’ve found a stationer to work with, ask for their mailing list template, and do a quick compare & contrast. I always remove the “List,” “Email,” and “Status” columns, which are used for my own organizational purposes, not to be printed on the envelope.
Before signing off on the final product, ask to see a digital proof of the addresses, so that you can run through the formatting with a fine tooth comb, and ensure all of the information is correct.
The Post Office
Once you’ve received your holiday cards (YIPEE!) take one card and envelope to the post office to have it weighed before purchasing stamps, to make sure you buy the correct postage value.
Then you can assemble those holiday cards, and head back to the post office with all of your holiday cheer in tow.
For domestic mailing in the United States, request that your cards are mailed as “flats” using the First Class Mail Flat rate, not as “letters.” Also request that the cards are hand canceled, instead machine handling, which can damage the envelopes.
When gatherings at home feel too intimate for a bartender, self serve bars are the name of the game. They’re an ideal option for guests to help themselves to their beverage of choice, without overwhelming the host with drink orders. Follow these steps on how-to make a self serve bar that’s just as aesthetically pleasing as it is convenient.
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The best piece of advice I could give to determine which beverages to include on a bar, is to think in terms of “knowing your audience.” I pose that phrase to clients and myself all the time, because it’s true!
As a host, you can recount occasions with your specific group of guests that remind you how popular Aperol Spritz’s are, or inform a decision to purchase one pack of beer because you know only two people will drink it.
Consider the guests, their go-to drink orders, and your favorite recipes to share and introduce via a welcome drink or signature beverages at the bar.
Standard Bar Guide
Spirits: Vodka, Tequila (I prefer Blanco), Bourbon, Gin, Cognac, White Rum
Mixers: Club Soda, Seltzer, Lime Juice, Cointreau, Bitters, Vermouth
Glassware: Rocks, Highball, Red Stem, White Stem, Champagne, Martini
There’s a method to the madness! There are about five, five-ounce glasses of wine in one bottle… A 750 ml bottle of liquor will account for about twenty-five, one-ounce shots… And so on and so forth. Pro-Tip: When in doubt, plan for three drinks and three glasses per person for a two hour event.
Create Mini Vignettes
Once your beverages and barware accounted for, the next step on how-to make a self serve bar is all about organizing.
Group like items together that compliment one another in color, texture, and most importantly, use. Functionality is key for a self serve bar to operate like it’s intended to. Guests will be more inclined to ask the host for assistance, or skip the drink altogether, if beverages and barware are too far out of reach.
Everyone appreciates drink recommendations! Even self-proclaimed bartenders.
There are dozens of vehicles for presenting drink recipes to guests. A picnic might call for a chalkboard, while a cocktail party might opt for acrylic signs in stands. Either option would double as decor on a self serve bar.
Here’s a cheap and cheerful way to create cocktail recipe cards...
Format a Word document to a 4×6 layout
Add the drink name, along with a photo, to the first page, and list the ingredients and instructions on the next page
Design each cocktail card with the font and colors of your choice
Save as a PDF
Email the file to Staples to print each cocktail recipe double sided (picture on the front, ingredients and instructions on the back), on a high-gloss cardstock. Request they laminate each card to protect them from inevitable spills.
I created three cocktail recipe cards for just under $14. Click the Download button below to view some pretty stellar recipes.
The last thing that any host wants to do is restock a bar, especially in the middle of a party.
Use a ledge, table or shelf as a back bar to house extra bottles of club soda, seltzers and mixers. Keep like items together by grouping beverages according to brand, flavor and use. Juices in one spot, sodas in another!
Get Welcome Drinks on Deck
Welcome drinks with an unexpected twist are a fun way to kick off a celebration. For my Twenty Fifth Birthday Bash, mini margaritas in Patron Silver bottles were a must!
I also filled an inflatable pool with a variety of spiked seltzers and a metal cooler with beers.
I left tumblers on the bar, each with their own unique design, for guests to choose from when they first arrived. The tumblers doubled in use as guests refilled water bottles from drink dispensers throughout the party, and took them home as gifts upon departure.
A guide to an all time favorite topic, welcome bags! From whether or not you need one, to which guests receive them, how much to budget, what contents to purchase, how to assemble the final gifts and tips for staying organized on delivery day. It’s everything you need to know on building the perfect welcome bag. Let’s jump in!
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To Do or Not To Do
The first thing to note, is that it’s absolutely not necessary or expected to distribute welcome bags. Guests that choose to stay overnight are looking forward to joining in your celebration, and not anticipating any kind of gifting experience in return.
The primary reason that past clients have opted to distribute welcome bags, is due to the number of out of town guests that require overnight accommodations prior to the event day. If guests are staying more than one night, some clients will also opt for turndown gifts in guest rooms.
Welcome and turndown gifts usually coincide with hotel blocks and villa rentals. So, if we’re arranging overnight accommodations for anywhere from 15-20% of out of town guests, they are usually given welcome gifts. They are almost inevitable for destination events, when the majority of guests travel domestically or internationally for a celebration.
How Much Does it Cost?
Depending on the number of guests receiving welcome bags, the cost of contents can accumulate quickly. Budget restraints are perhaps the most common reason why some clients decide to nix them altogether. Generally speaking, welcome gifts can average between $15 – $100+ per bag, for the vessel and the contents.
The variance in price is contingent on a number of factors:
Cost to hire a company to curate contents, assemble and distribute bags (there are some AMAZING companies out there, but this service doesn’t come cheap!)
Fees imposed by the hotel to hold and distribute bags (typically $1 per bag, but some properties will charge more)
Range, type and quantity of contents
Paperie enclosures (think: welcome notes, itineraries, maps, suggested activities / restaurants to try during down time)
Games / Activities: Think: golf balls or a deck of cards
Travel Goodies: Aspirin, antihistamines, mini toiletries
Mini bottle of bubbly
Think about little luxuries that guests can use in the event environment. Solemates are always well received by guests that wear heels to outdoor weddings or events.
These heel protectors are designed to prevent heels from sinking into grass or cobblestone and inevitably getting ruined.
Keep it Authentic
Don’t Go Overboard
Stay true to the location
Nice to have vs. need to have
Locally crafted or inspired bag / box (think: pretty & functional)
Quality > quantity
Contents that speak to the destination or represent the host (add a touch of personalization here!)
Ask yourself, “Would I use this?”
Track the quantity of guests slated to receive welcome gifts within a separate column in your guest list spreadsheet.
The general rule of thumb is one bag per room. Although, some clients will purchase two of certain items, particularly water bottles or apparel / accessory items, such as baseball caps or luggage tags. Paper goods can definitely be limited to one per bag.
Pick a spacious room in your home to spread out all of the contents and take Inventory. Once everything is accounted for, remove any wrapping, stickers, or tags from the items. Form an assembly line, placing all of the bags in the beginning, then organize the contents in piles, followed by paper goods, and final touches like ribbon at the end. One by one, complete the bags by following the assembly line.
Pro-Tip: It can be tedious process to assemble bags all in one day. Spread out the workload over the course of a few days to make sure each bag is assembled correctly, without any stickers left unturned or contents left out.
If you’re planning a destination event, it’s not advisable to pre-assemble welcome bags and ship them to the destination (cost being the number one factor, plus items can shift in the delivery process). Work with the event manager to ensure they will accept and store deliveries of the items at the destination, shipped directly from the source. Ask the hotel to confirm receipt and label boxes on your behalf.
Plan to arrive to the destination at least a full day in advance to unbox, unwrap, and prepare the bags. Trust me – this process takes a lot more time than one might anticipate, and the more time to prep, the better. It’s ideal to reserve a conference room for assembly, as there’s typically not enough space in guest rooms for a project of this size!
Getting Gifts to Guests
This phase is best left to an event planner, especially for weddings. If you don’t have a planner, delegate this task to a trusted relative or reliable member of the bridal party. It’s not the kind of task you want to do the day before an event!
Request the reservation list from hotels with room blocks arrangements, and triple confirm the number of guest rooms coincide with the quantity of welcome gifts for each location. Work with the group sales manager to identify which rooms will receive gifts. Confirm if they charge a holding or distribution fee, and inquire if guests will need to mention the hotel block to receive their gift upon check in, or if gifts will be placed in guest rooms prior to their arrival.
If you know of certain guests that are staying at rental properties, reach out to confirm where they’re staying and when they’re checking in. Create an itinerary of your drop off route to save time, along with addresses and whom to contact upon arrival.
If a welcome party is hosted prior to the event, it can often be easiest to distribute the gifts as guests depart that initial celebration, especially if guests are spread across various lodging facilities.
Then, celebrate the completion of a massive undertaking – You’ve earned it after this process!
JOIN THE JOURNEY
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