Toast the Season

It’s that time of year again. Time for sparkly dresses, bubbly drinks, and some Instagrammable late nights. We tapped the coolest women behind the bar, in the kitchen, and inside the DJ booth for tips on throwing a major bash. Here’s MC’s handbook to celebrating the holidays like a pro: from punch bowls to centerpieces to playlists. Oh, and beer, too.


Prop styling By Angela Campos
Photos by Jeffrey Westbrook

Dinner Party Survival Guide

Inviting everyone over for dinner sounds like a good idea—until you have to cook. Chef Katie Button (she trained at the legendary El Bulli before opening her restaurant Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina) answers our most pressing, panic-ridden questions. Bonus: Turn the page and check out the no-fail dessert from her cookbook, Cúrate (Flatiron Books)

Q: A dinner party?! What the hell was I thinking?

A: “It’s OK. Don’t try to blow it out with dessert and appetizers and your main. Pick just one thing that you want to blow people’s minds with. Around the holidays, people get more dressed up, the expectations feel a little bit higher.”

PRO TIP “If I’m doing a smaller gathering, I ask them to bring something. Most people offer anyway, and you should take them up on it. But be specific about what you want them to bring. They may just show up with a box of chocolates, but who cares? You’ll all enjoy it, and you can focus on the main course.”

Q: So what should I make?

A: “In the wintertime: a braised-meat dish or a casserole. Something that can be prepared ahead of time and then popped in the oven before the party.”

PRO TIP “I rarely put a whole lot of energy into appetizers. Just make a great board of cheeses, olives, almonds, and crackers.”

Q: And how should I serve everything?

A: “Think cocktail party or a buffet.”

PRO TIP “If you’re doing a sit-down dinner party, assigned seats are great. You know your friends—there are people who are just funny and keep the conversation going. Don’t seat two people like that next to each other. Have them on either side of the table to keep everybody in their vicinity in conversation.”

Q: Should I make a special cocktail, too?

A: “Not if you’re overwhelmed. Just set up a bar with a bunch of wine, or some gin, tonic water, and lemon, and let people make their own stuff.”

PRO TIP “I love doing a Rom Cremat, a traditional drink from Catalonia, for parties. You pour a whole bottle of rum, some sugar, cinnamon, and lemon peel, and espresso beans in a fireproof pot. And then you light it on fire. Warning: You do not do this after, like, four drinks.” —Jen Ortiz


Put Down the Tinsel

Take your party decor cues from Miranda Dickson, trade marketing director for Absolut Elyx. (Those copper pineapples you’ve seen all over Instagram? That was her.) She knows more than a thing or two about creating a festive setup with loads of standout details

Something old, something new. To re-create Dickson’s aesthetic—“rich, hospitable, comfortable, and a bit worn”—go old-school. “I love vintage glassware and vases in different sizes,” she says, “paired with old ribbons and sparkly things.” Her favorite way to decorate a Christmas tree? Drape it in strings of fake pearls. Have good scents. “Smell is a really important thing about the holidays,” says Dickson. “Scented vanilla or cinnamon candles create an immediate atmosphere.” Make it personal. Hosting a big Friendsgiving or having your significant other’s family over? “Name cards look really cute, especially if they have something personal written on them,” she says. “Or photos of people from their Instagrams.” Pass the bar. If you’re setting up a bar, Dickson recommends having three glass options: a stemmed cocktail glass, a rocks glass, and a tall highball glass. And never underestimate a good garnish. She suggests: “Edible flowers!” —Lane Florsheim


Poinsettia, Who?

Floral studio L’Atelier Rouge founder Caroline Bailly’s musts for avoiding a centerpiece that looks like Grandma’s.

RULE NO. 1: Size matters

“Use smaller vases so they can be moved around easily and don’t take up too much space. And there’s a 12- inch rule! You can’t go above 12 inches on a dining-room table, because you want guests to be able to see across and talk to each other.”

RULE NO. 2: Pick a color

“Stay monochromatic because it’s a no-brainer way to tie everything together. Last year was all about iridescence, but this year it’s jewel tones. A party is a sensual experience: from visuals to textures to flavors to fragrances to music. Choose a vibe and go for it.”

RULE NO. 3: Go cliché-crazy

“If you use baby’s breath, for example, as filler, it becomes really tacky. But if you use a big mass, you create a beautiful cloud on your table. Same if you use pine branches or holly, which are the usual suspects.” —Elizabeth Young


Punch-Drunk Love

It’s not a holiday party unless there’s a punch bowl. So we asked women killing it at the bar for recipes for your next get-together, whatever you poison or guest count.

Wintertide Punch

By Charlotte Voisey, award-winning mixologist

Ingredients (serves 10)
  • 15 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
  • 5 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 5 oz. demerara simple syrup (equal parts demerara sugar and water, fully dissolved)
  • 5 oz. fresh pineapple juice
  • 5 oz. sparkling wine (or sparkling water)
  • Orange(s), cinnamon sticks, and freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Method

Combine the first five ingredients in a punch bowl over a large block of ice. Stir well, then garnish with fresh-cut orange wheels. Finish with cinnamon sticks and freshly grated nutmeg.

“Balanced, fresh, and approachable. These spices are specific to the season, and they aromatize the punch and season the bright pineapple.” —Voisey


RECIPE

Sabayon de Chocolate (Chocolate Brandy Sabayon)

This zero-fuss dessert will impress your guests. Bonus: it's boozy

PRO TIP

“This dessert, dressed up with some raspberries, olive oil, and sea salt, makes for an impressive crowd-pleaser. Plus, it’s spiked with brandy.” —Chef Katie Button

Ingredients (serves 6 to 8)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, preferably 60 percent cacao, finely chopped
  • Raspberries, for serving
  • Maldon sea salt, for serving
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Method

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl until pale yellow. Whisk in brandy, cocoa powder, and ½ cup water until smooth. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk continuously until thick and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth. Divide among serving dishes and top with raspberries. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with oil, and serve immediately.

Recipe Excerpted From Cúrate by Katie Button With Genevieve Ko. Copyright © 2016 by Katie Button With Genevieve Ko. Reprinted With Permission From Flatiron Books. All Rights Reserved.


A Bubbly Buyer’s Guide

Choosing the right champagne can be confusing AF. Jen Pelka, owner of San Francisco’s new champagne bar The Riddler (it’s run by an all-girl gang; go there now), breaks down how to buy a bottle for any bash or budget

To GET THE PARTY STARTED

“Don’t be shy about going for a magnum. People go crazy for them, and a lot of small houses make them for surprisingly cheap—much cheaper than actually buying two bottles. Be prepared to be the belle of the ball.” She recommends “Krug, Pol Roger, or Pierre Gimonnet & Fils [from $80].”

When you’re ON A BUDGET

“If you want true champagne—that is, made in ‘Champagne, France’—it’s almost impossible to find one for under $20.” She recommends “Crémant de Loire—made in the same method but comes from the neighboring Loire Valley—by Langlois, M. Bonnamy, or Tissot Crémant du Jura. A perfectly delicious affordable alternative [$14 to $25].”

For NEW YEAR’S BRUNCH

“Inexpensive cavas and proseccos are great for brunch cocktails—but think beyond the Mimosa!” She recommends “La Marca Prosecco [$14]. Mix with grapefruit juice and add a sprig of thyme or rosemary. Or pick another juice, add a sugar cube and a dash of Angostura bitters, and pour sparkling wine on it all.”

When you WANT TO IMPRESS

“I love Veuve Clicquot, and it’s a house people know.” She recommends “Instead of the basic label, try the Veuve Clicquot Rosé [$67].”

In the mood for SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT

“Go to your favorite wine store. Now avoid all the big labels you recognize. Instead, ask for an indie ‘grower-producer.’ The clerk will probably hand you something delicious and lower in price, and tell you a story about the unique way that vineyard makes its champagne.” She recommends “Pierre Péters [from $50].” —Andrew Richdale


Remix the Classics

THE CLASSIC HOT TODDY

THE REMIX

Tokyo Toddy, by Kikori Japanese Whiskey founder Ann Soh Woods

Ingredients
  • 1½ oz. Kikori Japanese Whiskey
  • 6 oz. hot water
  • 1 tsp. homemade cinnamon apple butter (Stir 5 tbsp. butter, 1 chopped apple, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 crushed cardamom pod, and 1 clove over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain and let cool before storing in fridge.)
  • Whipped cream
  • Cayenne pepper
Method

Combine the first three ingredients in a brandy snifter. Top with whipped cream and dashes of cayenne pepper.

THE CLASSIC EGGNOG

THE REMIX

Christmas in the Bayou, by Tiffanie Barriere, former beverage director at One Flew South in Atlanta and co-owner of Southern National in Mobile, Alabama

Ingredients
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ oz. sugar
  • 1 oz. whole milk
  • 1 oz. heavy cream
  • 4 oz. cognac
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Method

Combine the first five ingredients in a mixer without ice. Dry shake while singing the main verse of your favorite holiday jam. Add ice, shake hard, and pour over fresh ice in a hurricane glass; sprinkle nutmeg on top. Kiss Santa and say “Cheers!”


Hey, Ms. DJ

DJ Brittany Sky (you might recognize her from Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice” music video) is turning your NYE party up a few notches with this playlist —Lindsey Weber

  • “Change Clothes” by Jay Z, featuring Pharrell “This warms up a party.”
  • “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang “My mom loves it; my little brother loves it; everyone loves this song.”
  • “Hold Up (Chiamu Remix)” by Beyoncé “People just want to hear Beyoncé. Beyoncé all day.”
  • “1999” by Prince “It’s just fitting.”
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake “I find myself stepping to it.”
  • “This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris, featuring Rihanna “You’ve got to have songs that make the girls dance.”
  • “Controlla” by Drake “What are people still going to be listening to? ‘Controlla.’”
  • “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M., featuring Lil Yachty“Everyone’s playing ‘Broccoli’ at all the parties I have been to.”
  • “Luv” by Tory Lanez “When ‘Luv’ comes on, everyone finds a partner and starts slow dancing.”
  • “All the Way Up” by Fat Joe and Remy Ma“People go crazy when it comes on.”

Cold-Weather Cold Ones

Beers aren’t just for summer BBQs. That’s why we asked Anne Becerra, certified Cicerone (read: beer sommelier) from craft beer bar Treadwell Park in New York City, to be our guide for seasonal winter brews

If you love SPICED CIDER, OLD-FASHIONEDS…Then order a pint of TROËGS MAD ELF

Why you should drink it “Winter seasonals are often synonymous with spices, and this one delivers. It’s brewed with ripened cherries, honey, and cocoa, with big aromatic notes of cinnamon, clove, and allspice.”

If you love CHAMPAGNE, SPARKLING WINE…Then order a pint of BRASSERIE DUPONT AVEC LES BONS VOEUX

Why you should drink it “With complex notes, a bubbly effervescence, and a remarkably dry finish—this beer rivals even the finest of champagnes.”

If you love HOPPY BEERS, IPAs…Then order a pint of SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION ALE

Why you should drink it “You don’t stop being a hop-head just because it’s wintertime. Sierra Nevada’s fresh-hop Celebration IPA is full-bodied, with flavors of pine and citrus, and faint notes of toffee.”

If you love WHEAT BEERS, HEFEWEIZENS, MIMOSAS…Then order a pint of VICTORY WINTER CHEERS

Why you should drink it “The whole-flower Citra hops amp up the juiciness of the hefeweizen aromas, making this bubbly beer flavorful and refreshing.”

If you love STOUTS, BITTER ESPRESSO…Then order a pint of BELL’S EXPEDITION STOUT

Why you should drink it “This highly-roasted-tasting Russian Imperial Stout offers flavors that mimic baking chocolate, molasses, and black cherries, just to name a few.”

If you love BOURBON…Then order a pint of NORTH COAST BARREL-AGED OLD RASPUTIN XVIII

Why you should drink it “This stout is infused with bourbon notes of vanilla, crème brûlée, and cappuccino.” —Samantha Leal