Whenever I host a cocktail party, I tend to dither a lot when I’m making the menu. I seize upon one recipe after another, discarding most of them because I decide in the moment that they’re too boring, or they’re too complicated to make for a large crowd, or maybe the produce they contain is out of season. It’s a fun part of the process for me, but sometimes I feel like making up the menu takes much longer than it should.
That’s one reason why I like to be faced with a few constraints when I’m planning a cocktail menu; it helps me to narrow down the myriad possibilities if I’m asked to make a single champagne cocktail for an engagement party, or I know that the guest of honor would really like the menu to focus on bourbon cocktails.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of making cocktails for an al fresco birthday party hosted by a friend who owns a positively idyllic plot of land in Occidental, in western Sonoma County.
Since the land is undeveloped, with little more than a positively perfect little shed …
a beautiful deck, and a gorgeous outdoor shower—that is, no kitchen or sink—I immediately nixed everything in my arsenal that includes egg white, or fresh muddled fruit or herbs, or anything that absolutely required a freshly chilled glass rimmed with vanilla sugar or alder-smoked salt.
So with the help of the Cocktail Host I packed up a dozen cocktail glasses and various cocktail tools, so when I arrived I could set up a basic bar on the deck.
Here I cranked out three basic but (I hope) delicious drinks.
The first was a pitcher of one of my favorite summery drinks, a Pimm’s punch, which I especially like to serve during daytime events because it’s much less alcoholic than most of my potions. It’s the sort of thing you can sip all afternoon without doing yourself undue damage.
The delightful thing about Pimm’s punch is that it’s hard to mess it up. In this case I used about 1 bottle of Pimm’s with 2 or 3 bottles of Cock and Bull Ginger Beer, the juice of two lemons, 1 orange, thinly sliced, and about 1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries. I would have garnished the drink with sprigs of mint or a spear of English cucumber, had I been organized enough to buy those, but I wasn’t, so c’est la vie. Almost any combo of fresh fruit and herbs will result in a perfectly delightful drink, so throw whatever is seasonal into the pitcher and see what comes of it.
In addition to the Pimm’s punch I made a Blood and Sand (a classic cocktail about which there is bountiful information online), and one of my current favorites, a honey-orange gin gimlet, in this case garnished with a nasturtium blossom, since we’re in the middle of two months or so in which the flowers overtake my poorly tended back yard.
Made with one part lime juice, one part honey syrup (honey dissolved in an equal quantity of warm water), and two to three parts gin, with a generous four or so dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters, this is one of my current favorite drinks, tart and slightly floral and with a mellow sweetness from the honey. Though it’s not super-complex, it has a lovely summery quality.
Honey-orange gin gimlet
See the ripples on the surface of the drink? That’s thanks to a wicked wind that threatened to take out all of my cocktail glasses I had lined up on the railing.
Of course, another challenge of making drinks in the wilderness is that it’s not so easy to wash your cocktail glasses for the next round of drinks. I took advantage of the insanely beautiful outdoor shower on the property, which has a gobsmacking view over the rocks and toward the setting sun.
Washing glasses in the shower
Eventually, however, I got wise enough to assign this task to David, who found a hose for doing the same job without getting quite so damp …
David cleaning glasses
It may not have been the most hygienic cocktail party I’ve ever participated in, but perhaps it was the most beautiful.