In the last year or so, I’ve started to experiment with occasional stand-alone aperitif parties. For these, I’ve invited guests for just a couple of hours in the early evening, serving aperitif food and drinks without the offer of dinner to follow. When the party’s over, the guests go home, and my partner & I head off out to a restaurant. My friends and family appreciate a good aperitif, no matter when it’s served, and they’ve never yet declined an invitation on the grounds that the party’s too short!
I admit, I did worry the first time I did it that friends would be affronted they were not invited for a whole evening. However, I found references in old etiquette books to pre-dinner drinks parties, sherry parties and cocktail parties. If it was good in the 1930s, I thought, it’ll work now. Taking a tip from those books, I sent out invitations that specified “You are cordially invited to join us for Cocktails & Canapés, from 6:30 to 8:30.” To ensure that the party would end after the two hours specified, I quietly took the drinks tray away at 8:15. My guests did need a little encouragement to leave on time, but nobody was upset. The word I got back afterwards was that it had been a refreshing change to enjoy a short party before going back to their own homes, or heading into town for dinner.
Here are some ideas you might want to try:
Sherry & Tapas party
Serve a choice 2 or 3 different sherries with a variety of cured meats, olives, Manchego cheese and tortilla. You could try slicing up a length of chorizo and warming it in a pan with a little sherry. I guarantee that you will have your guests fighting to mop up the juice with bread! You can set the scene visually by having a vase or two of red, orange and/or yellow flowers in the room, if you like: sunflowers or gladioli make quite an impact.
Who doesn’t like Champagne? Allow at least half a bottle per person. People will always drink more at one of these parties than they would immediately before dinner. Prepare a variety of traditional canapés: thin slices of baguette that have been left to go a little stale, then spread with flavoured butter and topped. Try sliced ham on honey & mustard butter, mozzarella cheese and chopped tomatoes on pesto butter, rare roast beef with watercress on horseradish butter…
This would be a great party for that 'down' weekend after Christmas or early in the New Year.
Buy three very different gins. How about a traditional one, a floral one and a flavoured one? Prepare a selection of garnishes and chill a variety of tonic waters. Put them all out on a table in the centre of the room with some trendy-looking glasses, and leave your guests to mix and match as they see fit. Keep your food simple. When I’ve hosted a gin party, I’ve served dim sum from my local Chinese supermarket. They can be steamed fairly quickly from frozen and require virtually no work on your part.
Start by deciding how much booze you can afford to buy, and admitting you’re going to have part-bottles of odd liqueurs left over. That’ll help you choose which cocktails to serve. Try to find some overlap in the ingredients for your chosen cocktails. So, for instance, you might offer White Lady, Margarita, Gin & Dubonnet and Dream cocktails. You’ll be using gin in two of the cocktails, Dubonnet in two, and triple sec in three of them. Another way is to start with what you have in your cupboard that needs using up and research which cocktails use those ingredients. Write a list of the cocktails you’re offering (I’d suggest three or four) and do not make any others, thus ensuring you use up what you need to, with minimal waste.
Like the gin party, make sure the food you serve requires as little work as possible. You’re going to be busy mixing drinks, so this is not the time to show off your fried arancini or mini-soufflés.
Next time: the magic of sherry