Monday, May 29

Planning A Cocktail Party

Throwing a party?

Big, small, it doesn't matter you need to know how many supplies to have on hand for your guest. It can be a difficult to judge what specific items you need and the amount of it.

So to start, there are a few different ways to quench the thirst of your party guests. Here are a few possible ingredients.
  • Wine and Beer
  • Liquor and Mixer
  • Bottled Cocktails
  • Cocktail Menu
  • Open/Cash Bar

I will write about each of the ingredients in more detail but know just like cocktail ingredients each can be mixed with each other in different ways. For example you can have party with Wine, Beer, and a Cocktail Menu; or a party with Liquor and Mixers with Bottled Cocktails; or just a party with an Open/Cash Bar. The above list is in the order of easy to tend.

Once you get to the point of having a cocktail menu or open bar you may need to employ the use of a bartender. Another reason to hire a tender is based on the number of guests and how much time you want to join your guest for the party. The more guests you have and the more difficult serving method used the less time you will have at the party. That is unless you hire a professional bartender.

All the quantities mentioned below are based on a 3 hour party with guests drinking 1 to 2 drinks per hour. You really need to judge for yourself based on the type of party you expect. For example if you are having a bunch a folks over for poker and to watch the game you may want to stock up on more beer. If it is wedding reception you are throwing expect to stock up on wine and champagne. If you are giving a pool side coat and tie affair the cocktail menu and open bar would be heavily hit.

Wine and Beer...
I'm not even pretending to know a whole lot about wine and beer. I do however know that other people like to drink them. I occasionally like a nice merlot. In the restaurants I look for the tween wines. That would be the wines between the highest and lowest prices on the menu.

So if you choose to serve wine and beer at your party you should have available about these amount of bottles:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
White Wine56710
Red Wine2345
Domestic Beer24364860
Imported Beer24364860

Liquor and Mixers...
In this type of party you simply provide the various spirits and mixers for your guests to help themselves. For the most part they will make things like rum and coke, vodka and cranberry, etc... You have to be careful with type of arrangement. People tend to pour too much liquor when they are serving themselves so you should cut the bar off a little earlier than normal or switch to just beer and wine at some point.

This type of drink is actually called a highball although the original was Bourbon and Ginger Ale the term covers all of the simple mixtures of a non-alcoholic beverage and some type of spirit. It is also more common to server these cocktails in a rocks glass, which makes it more appropriate to call them lowballs. So to serve lowballs at your next party where the guest will serve themselves you would layout a variety of the typical spirits and mixers on a table with your rocks glasses and ice with a scoop nearby. Although I don't really care for them otherwise the pourers with a self measuring spigot is a good option in this setup. You can find these at most online bar supply websites.

The following are the approximate amount of 750 ml bottles you should have on hand:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
American Whiskey1122
Bourbon1223
Brandy/Cognac1112
Canadian Whisky1122
Gin1223
Irish Whiskey1112
Rum1223
Scotch1112
Tequila2223
Vodka2334


In addition you will need to have mixers on hand. As for the soda my preference is to use the small 4 oz cans on a daily basis, but in a party situation you may want to go with 2 litters or if available a soda gun. The chart below is for 2 litters unless otherwise specified.


10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
Club Soda1234
Cola3456
Cranberry Juice (Quart)2233
Diet Cola3456
Ginger Ale1223
Lemon-lime Soda2334
Red Bull (8 oz)481216
Tonic Water2234


Bottled Cocktails...
In my Bottled Cocktails article I explain how to prepare a ready to drink homemade cocktail. By using this method of serving at your party your guests can serve themselves. This frees you up to join in the fun. Prepare your bottled cocktails a few hours before the party and then when it comes time for your guest to arrive arrange your beverages in a tub of ice with chilling cocktail glasses near by. Voila!

If you choose to with bottled cocktails make sure you have enough. Multiply the expected number of guests by the number of hours the party is expected to last. Then multiply the total by the number of ounces per serving. This will give you a ballpark of how much to make in ounces.

Another option that fits in this category is to make punch.

Cocktail Menu...
The cocktail menu is a very good way to get people to try something new or just go beyond their usual liquor and mixer or wine and beer. It is also easier to control your inventory. However, this method can be very time consuming and if you have a lot of guests you may want to hire a bartender or else you will be mixing drinks all night.

The pre-planning for this method is paramount. The idea is to come up with a list of 12 to 20 cocktails that you would like to serve at your party, print out menus with them listed with a short description, and then when it comes time to party the guests pick drinks from the menu. This will focus what people order and allow you to get specific spirits. No doubt you will still have people wanting lowballs so I would still get the list of mixers mentioned in the liquor and mixer section.

You will want to tweak your shopping lists based on the cocktails on your menu. If all the drinks on your menu call for triple sec, buy more triple sec. Obvious, I know.

Click here for a sample menu and the shopping list that go with it. (MS Word and Excel docs)

Open/Cash Bar...
In Stocking Your Home Bar I talk about what one should stock in their home bar. For a typical open/cash bar cocktail party one should have the liquors, liqueurs, mixers, garnishes and condiments laid out in at least phase 2 of that article.

Obviously this is the most complicated tending situation especially if you also have to make change. Even a party of 10 guests will cause significant time behind the bar if you go this route.

The following are the remaining bar items you will need for an open/cash bar:

10-25 Guests26-50 Guests51-75 Guests76-100 Guests
Amaretto1234
Triple Sec2334
Coffee Liqueur1122
Italian Vermouth1112
French Vermouth1112
Angostura Bitters (10 oz)1112
Olives (jar)1112
Cocktail Onions (jar)1111
Limes36912
Lemons36912
Oranges2468
Grenadine (8 oz)1111
Cherries (jar)1112
Rose's Lime Juice1223
Water (8 oz)12244860
Milk (pint)2334
Orange Juice (8 oz)6121824
Tomato Juice (8 oz)2468
Pineapple Juice (4 oz)36912

Party Time...
The right mix of these party ingredients can lead to a great time by all. Typically what I do when I'm just having friends over is to always make the first drink, usually from a cocktail menu. The second drink is open bar time and I show the guest how to make it properly. Third, fourth, etc... is do-it-yourself time.

If you are a hired bartender at a party offer the hosts of the party all the different options and be sure to charge more per hour for the more difficult engagements.

Be a good host...
At some point depending on the level drinking that has taken place it is time to start putting away the spirits. This can be done about an hour to an hour and a half prior to the party ending. Offer your guests water, soda, and coffee and whatever you do don't let anyone leave drunk. The last thing you need is for someone to rearrange the mailboxes in your neighborhood.

Monday, May 15

It's Better With Bitters!

Salt is to food as bitters are to ______.

I always disliked the old SAT analogy questions, but I thought it an appropriate way to start this article. The answer if you have not guessed by now is cocktails. Having bitters in a cocktail give it that little bit of spice that brings out the favor in the other ingredients. They take a drink from ordinary to extraordinary.

The name bitters make people think that it is something they don't want in their drink but the elixir is not necessarily bitter. Bitters is simply the generic term for products made from angostura bark, mint, peach, orange, cascarilla, quassia, gentian, quinine, and other flavoring herbs/spices, prepared by infusion or distillation.

The bitters history...
The terms snake oil, elixir, or tonic were thought of in the same breath as bitters. In the beginning these concoctions would be used as medication. They lay claim to curing just about every type of infliction. A teaspoon of bitters in a glass of water is a cure for an upset stomach. You can actually still find bitters in some stores in the pharmacy, you know, next to those pills that make you "Lose Weight Fast!!!"

In 1906 the Pure Food & Drug Act was passed into law. This Act required products that claimed to have health benefits to have proof to back up it up. Imagine that! (12)

This Act put many non-marketing savvy brands of bitters out of business. However the ones with a little bit of a silver tongue slowly took the medical promises off and sold it on... well... the alcohol content. The trick was to not let "they" know that because it was right around this time that the temperance movement was in full swing.

Prohibition (a worse word than 'shit' on this site) started with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act in 1920. During this period hiding the fact you had in your cupboard was required by law. So, bitters took off. During this time bitters were that product that had really no proven medicinal value but yet sold like hot-cakes.

The Twenty-first Amendment was past in 1933 and the US was back in business. So production of things like Bourbon and Rum took precedence over the bitters. Many bitters company's folded at this point or focused on producing spirits.

Major bitters brands...
So, what is left? The survivors of alcohol history turned out to be: Peychaud (1793), Angostura (1824), and Fee's Brothers (1863). We also have a new commer in the Orange Bitters market in the form of Gary Regan's Orange Bitters #6 (1992).

Peychaud's Bitters

Antoine Peychaud, a Creole immigrant, operated a pharmacy on the French Quarter's Royal Street in the 1830s. With his background as an apothecary, he was a natural mixologist. His friends would gather for late-night revelry at his pharmacy. Peychaud would mix brandy, absinthe and a dash of his secret bitters for his guests. Later this quaff would come to be known as the Sazerac. (13)
Peychaud's bitters, which has a gentian base is slightly sweet with a spicy liquorish flavor. If you have never had a Sazerac I highly recommend it. The first sip will shock you, the second sip will delight you, and the last sip will knock you off your feet. I have this bitter in my cabinet just for this cocktail, well that and I live in the New Orleans area.

Angostura Aromatic Bitters

The legend begins with Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert. Originally from Germany, Johann Siegert, a doctor of medicine, left his homeland in 1820, the call of adventure ringing in his ears. He was bound for Venezuela, to join with Simon Bolivar in his fight against the Spanish throne. Bolivar then appointed him Surgeon-General of the military Hospital in the town of Angostura.

Dr. Siegert was above all a scientist. A scientist with a keen enquiring mind. He had seen soldiers battered by the enemy from without and within, by severe fevers and internal stomach disorders. From the beginning Dr. Siegert was determined to wrest a cure from nature itself and after four years of trial and error, researching and analyzing the qualities of tropical herbs and plants, he finally arrived at a unique blend of herbs which he called “Amargo Aromatico” or aromatic bitters. The year was 1824. (14)
There is a misconception that an ingredient in Angostura Bitters is Angostura bark. The bitters were actually named after the main port from which they were exported from out of the Caribbean. The only written recipe is hidden away in a vault in New York and the only confirmed ingredients are sugar and gentian.

Angostura Aromatic Bitters is the most popular and most widely distributed bitter. Its popular oversized label makes the spice instantly recognizable. How the oversized label came about is not exactly know, but a common story is that one person went shopping for the bottle and the other the label. After they had discovered the error and because the Caribbean is such a laid back place... they decided to just go with it and have another drink. (15)

Fee Brothers Bitters

Owen Fee came to the US from Ireland in 1853 and started the American dream of his own business in Rochester, New York. With his wife Margaret and three children (James, Mary Jane, and Owen Jr.) the owned and operated a butcher shop. After Owen's death in 1855 the family turned the butcher shop into a saloon and delicatessen in 1863. In 1864 Fee Brothers Bitters was born. (16)

Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters DOES contain Angostura bark as one of its many ingredients. Beyond that the Fee Brothers have a variety of bitter flavors: Orange, Peach, and Mint. The brothers had quite a time sifting through the jugs, jars, and recipes of their father's recipes to come to what are now the four main offerings from the Fee Brothers.

The mass production of the Peach flavor came back as a request of Dr. Cocktail's (Ted Haigh) request, thank you Ted.

Gary Regan's Orange Bitters #6

Mardee [Regan] called me the Weekend Alchemist when, in 1992, unable to find a decent bottling of orange bitters, I set about making my own. Starting with a formula set down by Charles H. Baker, Jr., in The Gentleman’s Companion, the first batch was flavorful, but one-dimensional. It was time to visit a small store in Greenwich Village to grab some additional botanicals—the place where witches procure their potions. On my fourth attempt I had it. But the recipe wasn’t stable—subsequent batches didn’t work. Eventually Mark Brown, CEO of the Sazerac Company, Stanly Schwam, his trusty sidekick, and a whole team of Sazerac boffins labored hard on pinning down the formula you now hold. And finally, Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh came along and designed this beauteous label. I hope that cocktailian bartenders will put this product to good use. [Interview with Gary Regan]

Orange Bitters were actually more popular than Aromatic Bitters in there hay-day. In fact the original Martini had a touch of Orange Bitters in it. Gary's Orange Bitters recipe is very good and I highly recommend it.

Here are some pictures of the older brands of Orange Bitters.

Make your own bitters...
During the 1st century of the cocktail prior to prohibition many bartenders made and served their own bitters. They took pride in serving unique cocktails that could only be had at their tavern.

In many recipes there is a call for bitters without any specific brand named. In such a case you should use an aromatic bitters such as Angostura or Fee Brother's Old Fashioned. Or, if you are feeling inspired try a batch that you have made on your own.

The following is a basic recipe as given by the Professor Jerry Thomas:

40. Bitters, Aromatic.

2 3/4 lbs. of ground dried small orange apples.
1/4 lb. do. orange peel.
2 ounces do. calamus root.
2 do. do. pimpinella root.
1 do. do. cut hops.

Macerate for 14 days with 10 gallons of spirit at 45 percent (see No. 5);
press out the dregs, add 2 1/2 pints of brown sugar syrup. (See Brown Syrup, No. 8) Filter. Color dark brown with coloring. (See No. 88.)

See Darcy's Art of Drink website for the full Jerry Thomas How to Mix Drinks.

A more modern recipe is brought to us by Robert Hess (DrinkBoy). One of Robert's labor of loves is bitters and general cocktail history. He is a true cocktailian and we thank him for this close approximation to one of the original bitter brands, Abbott's Bitters.

House Bitters
by Robert Hess

8 cups rye
3 tsp gentian
1 cup chopped ginger
16 sticks cinnamon
1/4 cup whole cloves
8 whole star anis
6 Tbs cardamon pods
  • Place all ingredients, except for the sugar and water, into a large mason jar and seal. Store for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.
  • Strain the liquids/solids mixture through cheesecloth. Squeeze hard to extract as much juice into the reserved liquid as possible.
  • Place the dry ingredients into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
  • Allow to cool completely, then pour the water and solid mixture into another mason jar. Store for 1 week, shaking the jar once a day.
  • Strain the water mixture through cheesecloth. Discard the solid ingredients, and add the water to the previously reserved alcohol.
  • Put the sugar into a small non-stick skillet and stirring constantly over a medium-high heat, allow the sugar to melt and then turn to a rich brown color.
    Quickly remove from heat and allow the melted sugar to cool for a couple of minutes.
  • With the sugar still slightly warm, pour it into the water and alcohol mixture. It will probably crystallize at this point, but with continued stirring it will eventually dissolve.
  • Allow this mixture to rest for a couple of days, then skim off anything that rises to the surface, and gently pour (or siphon) the clear liquid from the top into another container, trying to avoid as much of the sediment on the bottom as possible.
  • Measure the amount of liquid you now have, and add half that same amount of water.

Give it a try, mix it up, and add your own ingredients you will truly feel like a chemist in your kitchen. The end result should be a liquid that when added to a cocktail can not be identified in and of itself, but simply adds a complexity that brings out the flavor values of the base liquor.

The bitter challenge...
We all have our favorite cocktails, but what if your favorite could be better. Hard to believe, but it could be true. I am of the opinion that cocktails are better with bitters. Just like I a little spice in my food, I like bitters in my cocktail. A cocktail without bitters seems bland and ordinary to me.

So here is my challenge to you. Take your favorite cocktail whether it be a Gin and Tonic, Black Russian, Martini, Cosmopolitan, or whatever and add a dash or two of bitters. Don't put so much it over powers the drink. Simply add just enough to spice it up and give it that unknown characteristic. Also, don't just try aromatic bitters give orange, peach, or your own mixture a chance.

To do this properly you really need to make your drink as normal, taste it, add the bitters, stir, and taste it again. Or if you want to compare side by side make two drinks. I think you will be surprised of the results.

Bitters can also be used in food recipes. Check out Angostura's website for some ideas.

Pay it forward...
Once you come to realize "It's better with bitters!" don't just keep this knowledge to yourself. Take a bottle of bitters down to your favorite bar and challenge the bartender to make a new drink using bitters. Obviously don't just walk into any bar, throw the bottle at the barkeep, and demand a drink. This should be a liquid chef that you have gotten to know and have had conversations with concerning mixology. It should be someone you believe shares your passion about cocktails.

You might just get a drink named after you, you never know.

The bitters source...
So you say you don't have bitters and you don't know where to get any? Well here are the sources that can hook you up:

In case there was any doubt...

As defined in 1806 a cocktail is:

Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind,
sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling...

Bitters is the defining ingredient of the cocktail.

Saturday, May 13

The Cocktail is 200 Years Old

The first known definition of the cock-tail occurred on May 13, 1806 in The Balance and Columbian Repository. The news of the day was concerning a recent election in Claverack, New York. In the article there was a mention of the winning candidate's practice of swaying votes using cock-tails to "buy" votes. This practice was quite common in the day. In fact it is said that George Washington himself won many a vote using the practice.

Click here for the full story in The Balance.

In 1803 the actual first reference to the word Cocktail was used in a publication called the Farmer's Cabinet. It was referred to as being "excellent for the head." This publication did not go into a definition of the word. (17)

The invention of the cocktail has been claimed by many people and each has their story.

Click here for Drinkboy's research concerning of the origin of the cocktail.

The tales come from far and near, but many of them seem to have the use of bitters as the defining ingredient in common. Bitters used world-wide, they were alcoholic so it was only a matter of time before they found their way in the mix. It is likely the cocktail was simultaneously invented by many people, in many places, but by at least 1806.

Today the thought of the word cocktail brings to mind good times, getting together with friends, elegance, and laughter.

Happy birthday to the cocktail, have one this weekend in its honor!

Cheers!