Guests will need room to mix and prep, so tailor the size of the list to your available workspace. Ask each person to bring a bottle of an unflavored spirit to infuse (white rum, Tequila or vodka work nicely), various herbs and spices and several jars or containers with tight lids in which to take home the creations.
Assemble Gadgets and Tools
This is a hands-on affair, so have ready cutting boards, paring knives, kitchen shears, colanders, funnels and small mesh strainers, as well as bar mops for spills. Display cocktail books and index cards with recipe ideas, but also encourage guests to craft their own inspired concoctions.
Serve Cocktails & Appetizers
Since everyone will be hard at work whipping up ingredients for their back-bar shelves, you’ll want to keep food and beverages simple and accessible. Set out pitchers of sangria or a bowl of punch, along with unfussy snacks like guacamole and chips, hummus and crudités and roasted seasoned nuts.
Mix Up Innovative Infusions
A quart of strawberries steeped for a few weeks in a bottle of blanco Tequila is an easy-to-make, flavor-packed infusion, says Jeff Faile, bar manager for Fiola in Washington, D.C., but any berry-and-spirit combination works nicely, as does a bunch of mint in a bottle of vodka. Cut up the fruit first, and be sure to have guests “smack” the herbs to release their oils.
Snazz Up Syrups
The standard 1:1 ratio is a great place to start, says H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor for San Francisco’s Elixir. “Once you understand those concepts, you can start to experiment,” he says. Boil equal parts water and sugar, agave or honey in saucepans. Have guests pour the base into a sterilized Mason jar, and add basil, mint, lavender, ginger or lemongrass. Steep, removing solids when desired flavor is obtained.
Go Gaga Over Garnishes
Booze-soaked cherries are one of the easiest and most impressive garnishes. Have each guest fill a jar with washed, pitted fresh cherries, then let them top it off with their customized cuvée of brown spirits. For a zippy Bloody Mary or margarita rimmer, set out herbs and spices—like chili powder, red pepper flakes, rosemary and citrus zest—to combine with a scoop of coarse or sea salt.
Assemble Goodies to Go
Show and tell your flavor combinations before boxing up guests’ final products. Make sure all liquids are cool, and the lids and seals are tight. Tuck in a muddler, bar spoon or jigger, and note cards with cocktail recipes that use the house-made ingredients.
Here are delicious DIY cocktail recipes, a perfect touch for a make it and take it party.
La Pistola y El Corazon
Recipe courtesy Jeff Faile, bar manager, Fiola restaurant, Washington, D.C.
1½ ounces strawberry-infused Tequila (recipe below)
1 ounce lime juice
½ ounce St-Germain
½ ounce Aperol
Basil leaf, for garnish
Combine the Tequila, lime juice, St-Germain and Aperol in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain over a chilled rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Slap a basil leaf between your hands and place over top of drink.
To make the strawberry-infused Tequila:
1 quart fresh strawberries, sliced
1 750-ml bottle Tequila blanco
Add the strawberries to a bottle of Tequila. Let macerate for several weeks, and then strain out the solids.
Recipe courtesy H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor, Elixir, San Francisco
1½ ounces gin, such as Right Gin
¾ ounce black pepper-honey syrup (recipe below)
1 ounce fresh watermelon juice
½ ounce lemon juice
Watermelon cube coated with black pepper on one side, for garnish
Combine the gin, syrup, watermelon juice and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the watermelon cube.
To make the black pepper-honey syrup:
2 cups water
4 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 cups honey
Boil 2 cups of water, and then add the black peppercorns. Cook the peppercorns for 5 minutes, and strain out the solids. Remove from heat, measure the remaining liquid, and add enough water to make cups. Return to the heat and add the honey, stirring until it dissolves. Cool and store in a clean recycled bottle.
Recipe courtesy of Kelly Magyarics, wine and spirits writer, Washington D.C.
1 cup fresh cherries, washed and pitted
1 cup your choice of brown spirits, including Irish Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon or aged rum
½ cup sweet vermouth (Vya or Dolin)
3 dashes bitters (Angostura, orange, barrel aged, etc.)
Place the cherries in a Mason jar. Fill halfway with vermouth. Fill the rest of the way with one kind or a combination of brown spirits, making sure to completely cover cherries. Add a few dashes of bitters. Stir well, and store in the refrigerator.
Zesty Salt Rimmer
Courtesy of Kelly Magyarics, wine and spirits writer, Washington D.C.
½ cup kosher salt or coarse sea salt
Zest of one lime or lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (substitutes of choice include: 1 tablespoon chili powder or 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes)
Add the salt to a container with a tightly fitting lid. Next, add the citrus zest and herbs or spices. Stir well, and cover tightly to preserve.