Expert Tips on Making Your Own Party Drinks

Karen Frazier
women at a cocktail party

Tending bar at a party or playing mixologist at your own private soirée doesn't need to be difficult. To learn to make your own drinks requires practice. While you may not be ready to flip bottles or create flaming drinks yet, you can easily pull off a one-night bartending gig.

1. Stock Your Bar

Make sure you have everything you need before the party begins. A well-stocked liquor cabinet is the key to a good party. You don't want to be running out of important items and making guests wait. Your bar should have the following ready to go.

Liquor

You'll need at least the four main liquors:

Mixers and Ice

You'll need the main mixers and sodas, along with ice:

Equipment

You'll also need cocktail mixing equipment.

Cocktail mixing equipment

Garnishes

Have some simple garnishes on hand:

  • Cherries
  • Olives
  • Lemon slices
  • Orange slices

Barware

Barware can help with drink presentation. If possible, try to have the following:

  • Highball glasses
  • Rocks glasses
  • Cocktail glasses
  • Stir sticks or straws
  • Cocktail napkins

2. Limit the Menu

No bar on earth has the ability to serve every drink people request. Keeping a limited drink menu can help keep your shopping list under control.

Have a Themed Menu

If you want to add to the staples above, keep your bar menu to the same theme as your party.

  • Add beer for a casual get-together.
  • Stock gin and vermouth for a more upscale event.
  • Another option is including a white wine and a red wine.
  • Offer a simple beer option for non-cocktail and wine drinkers.
  • Always have an option for designated drivers.
Signature cocktail

Serve a Signature Cocktail

If you'd like an even smaller menu, offer only a signature cocktail and drinks that can be made using the same ingredients. For example, if you're having a Kentucky Derby party, limit the bar menu to mint juleps and similar ingredient drinks. You can also create your own signature drink made specifically for your event, such as an alcoholic lemonade or a fruit-flavored martini. Often, hosts will ask guests to bring their own ingredients if they would like to drink something specific or if they have allergy concerns.

3. Remember Drink Recipes

Remembering drink recipes can be difficult for a party host or new bartender. Follow these quick tips for remembering how to mix them.

  • Use acronyms/flash cards to help you memorize the recipes before the party. For example, a mai tai is 2 Rat Pog: two rums, almond, triple sec, pineapple, orange, and grenadine.
  • Tell the "patron" you know several recipes and ask which one they prefer or create a menu board with a list of the drinks you know how to make.
  • Many bartenders have a backup cheat sheet just in case, so don't worry if you can't remember the cocktail recipes you plant to serve. Just arm yourself with a sheet behind the bar and you're set.

4. Experiment

Bartenders come up with new drinks the same way chefs come up with new foods; they try different things and figure out what works. Every expert mixologist has come up with a few duds, so do not worry about failing. Try a new flavor of vodka with your favorite type of juice, or substitute rum for tequila in a cocktail recipe. Try new garnishes, like different fruits, graham crackers, or even crumbs from your signature dessert. Use your imagination and you'll be a drink-mixing god in no time.

5. Measure Every Time

The biggest mistake amateur bartenders make is adding too much or too little alcohol to their drinks. While experienced bartenders can time their pours to get it right, when you're first starting out, use a jigger. There are different sizes of double sided jiggers including ½ ounce/1 ounce, 1 ounce/2 ounce, and ¾ ounce/1½ ounce.

Measuring in a cocktail jigger

6. Shake for at Least 15 Seconds

Another reason for poor-tasting drinks is simply that they weren't mixed for long enough. Always shake for 15 seconds or more. That's about the time it takes to sing the song "Happy Birthday" twice. Shake with the lid facing you, not your guests. That way you don't risk them getting splashed.

7. Keep Mixers Cold

If you don't have a bar fridge, keep your mixers in a tub of ice. If you use warm or room temperature sodas or juices, it can severely impact the flavor of your drinks. Beer and white wine should also be served chilled.

8. Don't Hog the Bar

Unless you're being paid to do so, there's no reason why you have to spend the entire night behind the bar. Instead, let trustworthy friends step in so that you can enjoy your own event. They may even be able to share some tips of their own with you if given the chance to guest bartend.

9. Have Enough Alcohol on Hand

One of the most difficult things to do for a party is estimate how much alcohol and mixers you'll need. Since you don't want to run out, it's always best to estimate high instead of low.

Calculate Wine Needs

If you're only serving wine, then plan on having one bottle per two guests for every two hours the party goes. So if you have 10 guests and a 4-hour party, you'll need 10 bottles.

Calculate Liquor Needs

Plan on people drinking an average of one to two drinks per hour. Some people will drink more, some less. A 750 mL bottle of liquor contains around 25 ounces, and in a typical cocktail, a pour of alcohol tends to be about 1½ ounces. Therefore, you'll average around 16 cocktails from a 750 mL bottle of liquor. If you have 10 people at a 4 hour party, that means your guests will likely have between 40 and 80 cocktails, so you'll need three to five bottles of liquor.

Calculate Beer Needs

Plan on one to two beers per hour for each guest drinking beer.

If You're Serving Multiple Types of Liquor

Total Wine offers a simple calculation to determine how many of your guests will likely drink each type of alcohol if you're offering beer, wine, and spirits:

  • 50 percent will prefer wine.
  • 30 percent will prefer beer.
  • 20 percent will prefer mixed drinks.
  • If offering just beer and wine, around 60 percent will prefer wine and 40 percent will prefer beer.

10. Save Time and Make a Punch

Of course, you can also offer a punch in place of cocktails and offer wine, beer, and soft drinks as back-up. There are great punches that work well for parties.

Punch bowl at a party

11. Make Simple Champagne Cocktails

Champagne cocktails are festive and easy to mix, usually requiring only a few ingredients so it's super easy to still have time to circulate with guests and calculate what you'll need to have on hand.

12. Simplify by Having a Frozen Drinks Party

You can also get out your blender, have some fresh fruit and juice on hand, and one spirit to make blender drinks such as daiquiris or margaritas. It's a great way to mix up a big batch of drinks for a summer party.

13. Batch Your Drinks

If you're only having a few drinks or if you're making a signature cocktail, you can do what busy professional bartenders sometimes do and pre-make popular mixed drinks before the party. Store them in a big pitcher. Then, you just need to pour them into a shaker with ice, shake them to chill, pour into glasses, and garnish.

14. Pre-Squeeze Juices

You can also pre-squeeze any fresh juices you'll use, such as orange, lime, lemon, or grapefruit juice. Then you just need to measure them with a jigger, add other ingredients, and go.

Prepping cocktails

15. Build Cocktails With Similar Ingredients

Create a standard formula for a few different basic cocktails and then build them from that. To do this, you'll need:

  • Simple syrup (sweet)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, or both (sour)
  • A few different types of spirits, such as vodka, rum, tequila, gin, and/or whiskey (strong)
  • Club soda or other fizzy types of soda
  • Fresh herbs such as mint and/or fresh fruits such as orange wedges or raspberries
  • Ice
  • Garnish (orage wedges and maraschino cherries)

Make Your Sour Mix

First, you'll make your sour mix from the sweet (simple syrup) and sour (citrus juice).

  1. Combine equal amounts of either lemon or lime juice (or a combination thereof) and simple syrup. In other words, if you have 2 cups of lemon or lime juice, mix it with 2 cups of simple syrup.
  2. Shake it up to blend it, and store it in an easy pour bottle.

Create a Simple Sour Cocktail

Next, you'll create a basic sour cocktail, with 1 part sour mix to 1 part spirits. Therefore, to make a standard sour cocktail, using your homemade sour mix, you'll need 1½ ounces sour mix to 1½ ounces strong (your liquor such as vodka, gin, tequila, etc.). To mix the cocktail:

  1. Measure your sour mix and spirit into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add ice and shake.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass or a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish.

Create a Fizz From Your Sour

The sour is the base ingredient for a cocktail known as a fizz. To create a fizz:

  1. Create the simple sour cocktail and strain into a collins glass filled with ice.
  2. Top off with 3 to 4 ounces of a fizzy liquid, such as soda water or lemon-lime soda.
  3. Stir and garnish.

Create a Smash From Your Sour

You can also create a smash from your sour by muddling herbs or fruit before adding other ingredients. To do this:

  1. Add herbs, such as mint or basil (5 to 10 leaves), or fruit, such as raspberries (3 or 4) or an orange wedge, to an empty cocktail shaker along with your sour mix (1½ ounces).
  2. Muddle the herbs or fruit and sour mix.
  3. Add the spirit (1½ ounces).
  4. Add ice and shake.
  5. Strain into a rocks or collins glass filled with ice.
  6. Top with 3 to 4 ounces of fizzy element, such as club soda or ginger ale. Stir and garnish.

Successful Drink Making

Following these expert tips for making your own party drinks will ensure you have the supplies, tools, and knowledge necessary to make mixing drinks an easy task. These tips can give you the confidence you need to make the bar a hit at any party.

Expert Tips on Making Your Own Party Drinks