5 Cocktail Mistakes to Avoid When Hosting a Holiday Party, According to a Bar Manager

Here's how to throw a holiday cocktail party to remember.

A cocktail at the Calamigos Guest Ranch + Beach Club

Idlewild Photo Co./Courtesy of Calamigos Ranch

It's (almost) the most wonderful time of year. As you gather your gifts for loved ones, start putting up those lights, and begin to spread a little holiday cheer, we have one more task for you: Plan the perfect holiday cocktail hour.

There's truly nothing better than gathering around with friends and family to toast to the good times you've had and those coming up ahead. But before busting out your crystal, we thought you should be prepared for anything and everything that could go wrong. So, we turned to Ben Levy, the resort bar manager at Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club in Malibu, for all the cocktail mistakes you could be making and how to avoid them this season. 

Avoid super-sweet, added sugar syrups.

There are plenty of products on the market that try to encapsulate the festive spirit — think candy cane and pumpkin pie-flavored drinks. But, as Levy shared, it's best to avoid incorporating these sugar-laden additions to your holiday bar. 

"There are a lot of great natural-made spirits and products that can be used in lieu," said Levy. "If you want to make a snickerdoodle cocktail, use some grated cinnamon or Skrewball peanut butter whiskey to get that flavor. It's key to make your own mixes when it comes to holiday drinks."

Levy added, "A little goes a long way. We all try to add a lot of spice and sweetness to a drink when it comes to the holiday season. These drinks are delicate, and we need to treat them as such. A pinch of cinnamon sugar can be a great addition to any Moscow mule, or a half-ounce of honey with some whiskey in your hot toddy." 

Making cocktails at Calamigos Guest Ranch + Beach Club

Idlewild Photo Co./Courtesy of Calamigos Ranch

Don't offer too many options.

While it's important to have a nice selection of cocktails for your guests, simplicity is key, according to Levy.

"You're going to have someone who only drinks tequila or rosé, so it's important to have a variety of products on hand while still having a specialty cocktail for the night," said Levy. He suggested having a warm signature drink like a rich hot cocoa with some reposado tequila, or a minty fresh mule using rye and chai for spice, alongside a few bottles of light and dark spirits, a few bubbly options, and a nonalcoholic beverage.

"When it comes to the menu, holiday favorites are always notable. I like to have a key cocktail for the night to satisfy the adventurous side of the audience while still having enough product to accommodate those who want a classic like a margarita or gin and tonic," Levy added. 

But don't be afraid to try something new.

The holidays, Levy said, are a great time to enjoy the classics and mix it up a little, too. 

"A lot of people are attracted to classics, so it's fun to add a little kick to the 'originals.' It can be as simple as adding fresh cranberries and substituting simple syrup with honey for a yule mule; a dash of spice with ginger root muddled into your hot toddy; or even some herbal liqueur like chartreuse to your hot cocoa," said Levy. "I always like choosing a theme and using ingredients that would fit that build — to make a twist on a classic from there." 

Garnishing a cocktail from Calamigos Guest Ranch + Beach Club

Idlewild Photo Co./Courtesy of Calamigos Ranch

Make sure your guests know what's in each drink.

You may think you know all your invited friends and family well, but can you name all their allergies? According to Levy, it's important to list out ingredients in any premade drinks so those with allergies can avoid them.

"Common allergens to consider are nuts, soy, animal products, dairy, and gluten. Regardless of the allergen, it's important to label the ingredients so everyone at the party can make a knowledgeable choice on what to drink," said Levy. "It's great to have an alternative to some products like plant milks or grain-based spirits, as well to make sure each of your partygoers can have something to drink." 

And make sure those who don't drink have something fun to imbibe, too.

As a host, it's key to make everyone feel welcome, including those who don't drink — but not just by offering water or basic soda. According to Levy, it's a good idea to have something inventive on the menu for those choosing not to imbibe. 

"Providing nonalcoholic beverages at an event is critical. The holiday season is usually the time to pop out the bubbly and hot cocoa, so having a nonalcoholic option with a spirit addition on the side is a great idea," said Levy. "One of my favorite mocktails to make is a pineapple, cranberry, and orgeat blend. Also, a blend of juices, teas, or syrups usually makes a great combo. You can always throw some soda water on top or add some local herbs and spices to flare things up."

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