May 4, 2015 9:22 AM   Subscribe

My new favorite way to entertain is what we're affectionately calling cocktail club—a casual drop-in thing with a cocktail of the night and snacks. The cover charge is limes and lemons. Usually 4-6 people are present at any given time. We do it every week, sometimes a couple times a week, and it is the best. I need more ideas for cocktails, foods, and making it THE BEST EVER!

1) COCKTAILS! I want more ideas for simple (so say 4 ingredients or fewer, not including bitters or simple syrup) cocktails that are easy to make either in pitchers or in rapid succession—so not things that require a lot of fussy prep or garnishing. I like strong, classic drinks and have a full-ish bar but prefer not to buy random mixers and liqueurs that only get used in like one novelty drink (Creme de Violette I'm looking at youuu).

Previous hits: Cocktails with champagne night, with champagne cocktails (natch) and French 75s. Paloma and margarita night. Old-fashioned night. Americano and negroni night. Egg white night with Ramos gin fizzes and white ladies. Maybe I'm actually looking for liquor-based themes? People are free to make whatever they want on their own, of course, but I like having one or two things I'm prepared to make lots of.

2) SNACKS! I like to provide a couple heavy appetizers and need more ideas for things that can be made mostly or entirely ahead and are suited for picking over a couple hours. More substantial than dip, less demanding than a real dinner. Things that are self-serve and don't have to be prepped in individual portions (so nothing on toothpicks or toast, unless I can put it out and tell people to assemble it themselves). Cheese and charcuterie are fine but get expensive fast.

Previous hits: Rustic pate and quick-pickled veggies. Bougie nachos with pulled chicken and tomatillos. Platters of grilled vegetables and aioli. Flatbreads and pizzas.

3) OTHER! Anything else you can think of that makes hosting such gatherings easier or more fun? Like, I've learned that it's basically impossible to have enough trays for ferrying new drinks and finished glasses. Or ice—I don't have an ice maker, so started stocking bagged ice and fancy big cube ice in huge containers in the freezer so there's always enough. Speed pours made it a lot faster to mix cocktails. And having enough glassware—oh how much more fun cocktail club became when I stopped having to wash glasses in the middle of a conversation.

Help me make cocktail club as awesome as possible! Feel free to stop by any Friday night so I can thank you.
posted by peachfuzz to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Martinis scale up well to pitcher-size batches, as long as you don't mind your guests being well and truly Mad-Men-level wasted. Variety could come in the form of dirty/twists/gin vs vodka/fancy different olives YES I SAID VODKA EVERYONE JUST DEAL

Consider a wheelie bar cart! New drinks on the top, old glasses on the bottom, ferrying becomes a much less fraught proposition. CB2 has a decently priced one, if I recall correctly. Vintage ones will be perversely insanely expensive, unless you just stumble across one or are willing to elbow-grease a beater into decent shape.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: These chicken meatballs make great heavy appetizers and are even good at room temperature.

For cocktails, maybe Bloody Mary/Caesar night? You could make a pitcher and set up a garnishes bar like this.
posted by neushoorn at 9:41 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It was a Dark and Stormy night! The theme takes care of itself, and the drink scales up well to make pitchers in advance. It's dark rum (my go to is El Dorado 8 year: very tasty, but not so expensive that you feel bad mixing it) with ginger beer (I prefer Goya brand as it's less sweet than Gosling) and lime juice. I'll think more on snacks, but your bougie nachos sound like they'd go well.
posted by Bunny Boneyology at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: * pulls up chair and sits down *

Invest in this cookbook. It is a damn motherlode of stuff-to-eat-with-drinks - dips, spreads, nuts, fried stuff, boiled stuff, teeny sandwiches, canapes, you name it. I catered a couple of benefit parties and opening-night parties for a theater company once upon a time, and used that book as my bible both times. (that's the cookbook where I found the sun-dried tomato dip that at least five people have asked me for the recipe over time - and one person even said "I just want to do a face-plant in the bowl.")

As for cocktails - Pimm's Cup would be a nice thing to try; it's not lemon/lime as such, but is a lovely summer thing, and easy to mix up (I think it's just "x amount of Pimm's, X amount of ginger ale or sprite").

As for ease of prep - make a big batch of simple syrup and keep that on hand (just do that anyway, actually). It's easy and cheap (equal amounts water and sugar in a pot, heat until the sugar is just dissolved), the leftovers keep indefinitely in the fridge, and it makes mixing drinks a snap. Also, you would be able to instantly whip up a batch of lemonade or limeade with the fresh lemons/limes, some of the syrup, and water if someone wants a non-alcoholic drink.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and you can try flavoring the simple syrup by adding an herb or fruit to the pot while you're heating it, then letting it steep about a half hour and straining it. Then you can use that to do funky-flavored mixed drinks. I've made a rosemary sugar syrup and a rhubarb sugar syrup that way and used them to make sorbets and such.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mojitos served with mini Cuban sandwiches and tostones.

I also suggest a bar cart for your #3. You can use your gatherings as a totally justifiable excuse to create such a thing, which I covet badly but sadly have incredibly rare use for. Check out bar carts on Pinterest for inspiration.
posted by gatorae at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dave Arnold's Liquid Intelligence is my new favourite book on cocktails. It includes some waaay over-the-top techniques (involving liquid nitrogen, high-speed centrifuges and speciality chemicals), but also some fun, approachable recipes.

He also discusses how to prepare and serve bottled cocktails, which might streamline your bartending process.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 9:55 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maraschino night. I bought a bottle once to make a specific cocktail then looked up a bunch of other ones to use it up. One bottle will go a long way since you usually only use 1/2-2/3 oz per drink.

You can make:
  • Fancy Free (bourbon and maraschino - pretty strong despite its name)
  • Brooklyn (also bourbon-based)
  • Aviation (gin and maraschino; you can absolutely omit the crème de violette)
  • Martinez (also gin based; allegedly the predecessor to the proper martini - try making some with dry vermouth and some with sweet)
Etc. Googling around there appear to be plenty of vodka-based ones as well, but as you may be able to surmise I prefer whiskey and gin, so I haven't tried any of those. Generally a lot of the recipes look like other standard cocktails but with maraschino added; however, it gives the drink a totally different character, so give it a try.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:05 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ooooo. GREAT ideas already. I do have a bar cart! But it's mostly for storage and prep—I live in a teeny house—and less for actual transporting of things. Maybe I'll get a secondary smaller rolling tiered tray thing, one of those 50s Cosco deals, that's a great idea.

And EmpressCallipygos brings up a great point—more ideas for non-alcoholic drinks, please! I usually keep some herb simple syrups on hand made with whatever herbs I had to use up, so it's easy to mix up a soda with some citrus. But it might be nice to offer more ideas for those who don't want to imbibe or want to switch.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2015

Best answer: My Pinterest food board is like half fruity cocktails that I rarely have a chance to make. Ok, not half. But I have a lot of them. Here are some:

This strawberry rhubarb soda syrup was recently featured on Smitten Kitchen. Deb is pregnant, so she's having it without booze, but someone in the comments pointed out that you could add gin for a strawberry rhubarb Tom Collins.

Sparkling White Peach Sangria was a big hit at a barbeque last summer.

Vodka Strawberry Basil Lemonade was a hit at a different barbeque. You can leave out the vodka for the non-drinkers.

Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Gin and Tonics
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:19 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For nonalcoholic drinks:

Everyone likes a refreshing iced tea - you can add vodka or leave it virgin. My current fave is Watermelon Mint. Just stick the bags in a pitcher (1 per quart of water) for 4-6 hours in the fridge.

I was at a Derby party this weekend and there was a lovely ginger lemonade (also good with a splash of bourbon, but delicious on its own).
posted by radioamy at 10:34 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Barrel-aging could be a theme. Manhattans, Negronis, Martinis, etc—and they'd be ready in advance. You could also prepare a small fresh batch so your guests can compare the aged and the fresh. For food, maybe a single item at different ages (for example, a specific cheese that's been aged 60 days, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years). Or something cooked for a long time (crock pot) paired with something crisp and fresh.

Have fun!
posted by JackBurden at 10:35 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Halloween theme: Put Night of the Living Dead (or similar) on the TV, and serve zombies?

(Okay, maybe that's too many ingredients for a "simple" drink.)
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:42 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a fan of gin and tonics with really good tonic, but Fever Tree can get pricey! Maybe on gin night the price of admission could be good tonic? Or I would do gin, whatever tonic you find acceptable, lime and lemon wheels, and little arrangements of aromatics that work well together. Things like thin slices of cucumber and some dill, tarragon and white peppercorns, fresh basil and strawberries, blackberries and thyme, things like that. I love fucking around with gin and tonics.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do NOT be afraid to go old-school Junior League with the nibbles - I have seen crowds of people absolutely DEMOLISH huge platters of little sandwiches with pimento cheese, or olive and cream cheese.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:57 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Do NOT be afraid to go old-school Junior League with the nibbles - I have seen crowds of people absolutely DEMOLISH huge platters of little sandwiches with pimento cheese, or olive and cream cheese.

Yes! I would totally do this. And now I'm realizing I would totally make exception to my no-individual portions rule for stuff like pigs in blankets and rumaki because TASTY and AMUSING, so I guess finger foods are fair game after all.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2015

Best answer: Another vote for barrel aging, I'm pretty sure something magic happens inside those barrels.

Boulevardiers should go over well if negronis were popular (bourbon instead of gin, although I usually use a rye).

Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons had a great bar nuts recipe.

Layered been dip isn't particularly elegant, but is pretty substantial.

What do you do for tonic? Fever tree is great, but I've actually grown fond of getting tonic syrup (Jack Rudy is our go to). Doesn't really add extra work, but makes amazing in and tonic.

Fever tree's ginger beer also makes an amazing horses neck. The sizing is a bit off, so it's great to do when your doing a larger group so you aren't stuck with half an open bottle.

And seconding Ersatzkat suggested variations for garnish. Love fresh herbs etc with gin cocktails in general.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have been enjoying Aperol spritzes. Refreshing and easy to make. Don't see how you could go wrong with an amaro night (Aperol spritz, Campari and soda, Fernet and Coke etc). (I guess I would say that, wouldn't I.)
posted by ferret branca at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Adding to a Cuban themed night in gatorae's comment above - another Cuban drink, the Canchanchara is an excellent cocktail - a rum sour with honey. Perfect for featuring really nice honey, if you happen to have some.
posted by lizbunny at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For snacks, bacon-wrapped dates are easy and delicious - take a 1/2 slice of bacon and wrap it around a date, spear with a toothpick, and repeat until you run out of dates or bacon. Bake on a foil-wrapped cookie sheet with a rim at 400 for about 15-20 minutes or until the bacon looks done. Let them cool for 5 minutes or so before serving (they can be a little tongue-burny right out of the oven). They are also delicious cold, although they don't usually hang around long enough to get cold. Variations: add blue cheese, cream cheese, and/or almonds.

These are Spanish, so they would go well with sangria or tinto de verano (cheap red wine mixed half and half with lemon Fanta, or orange Fanta if you can't find lemon, which I can never find).
posted by slmorri at 12:16 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I like the Dark & Stormy night idea, but I wouldn't pre-mix-- any carbonation in the Ginger Beer should be contained in a bottle until it's time to pour. But hey, it's a 2-ingredient drink, so it's probably not as important to pre-mix it as it would be with other drinks. That goes true for any kind of mule, which is the general name for liquor+ginger beer: moscow mule (1 vodka, 2-4 ginger beer) being the classic. Mule Night?
posted by Sunburnt at 12:26 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Homemade sangria prepared the day before works wonders. Cheap and plentiful. You can serve in a large saucepan/pot with a ladle and let your guests help themselves.

Otherwise Kir (royale if you can afford it) works quite well too.

Lime-based drinks with sugar are usually popular (caipirinha, caipiroska, daiquiri, margarita, mojito, ti punch, etc) and can be done with any variation of a citrus fruit and most spirits.

The web is awash with recipes and I'd encourage you to get ideas there. Gosh, I'm already tipsy just writing this!

As for snacks, vegetarian spring rolls, fritters and samosas are always a hit (at least in my neck of the woods)

* my sources: My siblings gave me the Bartender's Black Book for my 40th birthday. That and my Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary are by far the most used books on my shelves.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Weissen Sour

You can leave out the beer and mix the rest in a large batch, then combine when pouring. Great for the summer.
posted by czytm at 1:53 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can I be your friend?

Here are two of my favorite classics:


2 oz rye whiskey
1 tsp simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
splash absinthe (cheap stuff is fine)
twist of lemon

Combine rye, simple syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass. Swirl absinthe in a well chilled cocktail glass to coat; discard excess. Pour the rye mixture into the cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Note: you are literally using just enough absinthe to coat the inside of the glass. I sometimes use a little bit more. If absinthe is a "random/novelty" item to you, consider using leftovers to make Ernest Hemingway's cocktail, Death in the Afternoon: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

Blood and Sand

¾ oz Famous Grouse or other blended Scotch
¾ oz sweet vermouth
¾ oz blood orange juice
¾ oz Heering
twist of orange

Shake all ingredients with ice; strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a twist of orange.

Blood orange juice can be tricky to find. Blood oranges are in season in the U.S. around January and February, so look then. You can use regular orange juice in a pinch, but blood oranges definitely make a difference.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and: depending on what I'm making, I sometimes like to chill my glasses in the freezer. (I don't really use the little shelves on the inside of the door, so they're perfect for this.)

Pisco sours.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:08 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These pickled cranberries make a great non-alcoholic drink. About 2 Tablespoons or so with club soda/sparkling water/whatever. The website also notes that you can use vodka to make it a cocktail and some ideas for how to use them in appetizers. These things are great and you can totally use frozen cranberries (because that's all you're going to find in May).

That being said about that particular recipe which is my absolute favorite by far, look into making any variety of shrub, because they are great for cocktails and for non-alcoholic drinks. They're simple to make and you can play with seasonally available fruit.
posted by freezer cake at 2:22 PM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to go ahead and just recommend a book because I just finished it and it was amazing. It's called Boozehound by Jason Wilson. It's got some great writing about spirits and cocktails, and a bunch of great and interesting recipes from top bartenders, as well as a guide to making and stocking yourself a top home bar.

Seriously, give it a look.
posted by General Malaise at 2:34 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For snacks, do you have access to a Trader Joe's or Costco? In winter, we regularly have appetizer nights with cheese, crackers, apples and a few assorted goodies from either place. Trader Joes has a good selection of frozen appetizers, notably Mushroom Turnovers, plus a good selection of premade dips. Our favorites from Costco are frozen mini quiches and jalepeno artichoke dip (in the refrigerated section).
posted by sarajane at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I consistently get complimented on my Scofflaws.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:56 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: since you are also looking for "mocktails" (I hate hate hate that name!) offbeat bride just did a feature: here!
posted by firei at 5:07 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just make a joke about a Malort Mule because deep down I am a bad person.
posted by eriko at 5:09 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: But because I care about this site I'm going to ping my cocktail friend and see what she'd throw in.
posted by eriko at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everybody loves grilled cheese--why not set up a grilled cheese bar? (You could have soy cheese for the vegans so nobody feels left out). If you just want to do appetizers, "grilled cheese fingers" would be a huge hit.
posted by doreur at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Start with: 1 part lime juice, 1 part simple syrup, and 2 parts light rum (I like a sweet rum like Shellback or Cruzan) You can shake that with ice and strain it for an honest-to-god daiquiri...
or shake it with ice and mint leaves, strain it over ice and top it with club soda or sprite or ginger ale for mojitos...
or throw some berries in with the ice and mint and carry on with the mojitos...
or best of all, add 1 part watermelon juice, carry on with the mojitos, and float some watermelon balls in 'em for a snack - this one is great without the rum too - it just tastes like summer.
posted by ersatzjef at 6:40 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What a lovely question and what great answers so far!

Can't allow myself to spend nearly as long as I'm capable of rattling on tonight, but, off the top of my head:

- Sherry is amazing. When there are great berries in season, have a Sherry Cobbler night—think mint julep but sherry+berries+crushed ice+orange peel instead of whiskey+sugar+ice+mint
More drink, less drunk!

- Pimm's Cups are a fine suggestion—and a source of fierce debate between different garnishes and mixer camps (Lemonade! No, ginger ale!!)

- The gin & tonics plus herbs and various garnishes night is a great idea.

- How about an evening exploring vermouths? They are woefully underappreciated and there are tons of historic drinks built around them. Get a bottle each of Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Noilly Prat dry, and Dolin blanc and start exploring.

- Also, you'd be amazed what a great foundation Dubonnet is. Those old ladies have been on to something all along.

Must tear myself away, but have a great time!


p.s. More of my favorites plus loads of history are in my book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level.
posted by MetaGrrrl at 9:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks: this summer I'm looking into making shrub syrups, because I love tasty tart fruit drinks.

On the snacks side: cheese straws are shockingly easily made, and were a hit at the backyard wedding reception I hosted last June.

also apparently cocktail club is in my city how many limes do I gotta bring to get an invite to cocktail club
posted by deludingmyself at 9:44 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love to have a limeade or lemonade concentrate ready to go in the fridge. The "make-ahead" aspect would be one less drink you'd have to prep for on cocktail party day. It keeps forever and stays tasting bright and fresh.

This stuff is awesome because it takes up little room in your fridge, and can be reconstituted with water, vodka, ginger ale, sprite, or something wackier like cranberry juice. It's easy to make an alcoholically weak drink from this, and have it still be tasty, or you can make it strong as hell and still be drinkable.

I've also had good luck with swapping out about half the citrus for blackberry puree. This of course makes it sweeter, but that's easily fixed with an extra dash of citrus, if needed, once the drink is mixed. I haven't tried adding strawberry, but I bet it would be great.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love parties like these! I do this all the time with my friends.

You could have a Japanese themed night with roll-your-own sushi. Use veggies and egg if fish is out of your budget.

For cocktails: you can make these in big batches if you want

Geisha's Kiss - 3 oz cold unfiltered sake, splash of pomegranate syrup, splash of rose water or orange blossom water

Jade Gate - 3 oz cold unfiltered sake, 1 tsp matcha powder, stir until blended.
posted by ananci at 9:32 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys you guys. What an amazing wealth of ideas, AskMe never fails. Thank you so much!! I especially like ideas with fruits and herbs, totally a fun way to change up classics and offer some more more non-alcoholic options. And I like the idea of sometimes incorporating tastings/, of course we have to have another round. For research.

On the tonic question—I've been experimenting with tonic syrups lately since I have an endless supply of very good (if somewhat cumbersome to make) soda via a charger siphon and my beloved Fever Tree gets expensive so fast. My current favorite is Small Hand tonic - regular, not the Yeoman Tonic - but I'd love recommendations for your favorites! I may try making my own syrup later this summer, too.

Deludingmyself - gonna memail you :)
posted by peachfuzz at 11:56 AM on May 5, 2015

Or if you want to make your own tonic syrup, Oaktown Spice Shop sells a kit.
posted by Lexica at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Barrel-aging is a great idea! But that article links to an expensive place for barrels. I am not affiliated with Barrels Online, but their barrels are cheaper than the listed prices for that other site. Flamed medium, which is where you want them, and I'd get no larger than 2L for my own aging projects.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:55 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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