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by Marla R. Miller

’Tis the season to gather family and friends, raise a glass and toast to gratitude, merriment, good cheer and a happy and healthy New Year.

December tends to be a whirlwind with parties galore. Whether you’re a pro at DIY parties or having friends and family over to your new apartment for the first time, preparation is key so you are not frazzled while everyone else is chilling and celebrating, says A.J. Rathbun, author of “Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers” (Harvard Common Press, 2013).

There’s no need to be overwhelmed by – or break the bank for – the towering beer, wine and liquor options on the market today. Rathbun recommends selecting a couple of signature drinks or an interesting punch.

That way, you cut down on ingredients, cost and your stress levels. Then you can hint at the theme, menu and drinks in the invitation to build hype for your party, Rathbun says.

“It’s like a present in a punch bowl,” he says. “Drum up excitement from the beginning. And always make everyone try the signature drink.”

Self-service punch also helps with traffic flow and frees up the host to mingle, says Paul Abercrombie, author of “Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and other Totally Green Cocktails” (Harvard Common Press, 2009).

“Unless you have a bartender, the host is going to get stuck mixing individual drinks,” he says. “There’s something communal about [punch]. It forces people to mingle and they usually end up hanging around the punch bowl.”

Abercrombie, another fan of punches, says there are many tasty, easy-to-make recipes out there. Not the sweet, syrupy kind, or the garbage can and bathtub concoctions you remember from college.

Liquors such as whiskey, brandy and rum are great for punches and cold winter days. Abercrombie’s Perfect Whiskey Punch includes dry vermouth, orange bitters and fresh pineapple. Rathbun’s Football Punch includes dark rum balanced with apple flavors – a great pick for a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day party when many people watch football.

If you are planning a smaller, or more intimate dinner party and want a nice dinner drink, serve a heavier drink in a smaller glass, that way guests don’t drink too much, says Kate LaCroix, formerly in restaurant public relations who now has a special event brokerage business called The Kollective and does lots of DIY entertaining.

Another tip: Keep things as simple as possible, from the drinks to the menu, so you can also enjoy the festivities.
If your drinks call for fruit or other garnishments, have enough sliced and ready for how many batches of punch you plan to serve. Have cheese, veggies and other appetizers available for easy restock.
“Proper prior planning prevents poor performance,” Rathbun says. “Plan ahead and do the things you can do ahead.”

You don’t want to be slicing, chopping, cooking or slinging drinks all night, or send people home too buzzed to drive. Beyond having taxi numbers handy – and even a spare room ready – it’s best to avoid an open bar so your guests make it home safely, Rathbun says.

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