How To Nail Your Festive Cocktails This Year: A Bartender’s Guide

By Ellie Smith

7 months ago

Impress your guests with these expert ideas


It always seems like a fun idea to mix up cocktails for your dinner parties and drinks, but then comes that moment of panic when you realise you are not a pro and it’s actually pretty hard to master the perfect Espresso Martini. That’s why we’ve enlisted a handful of bartenders to share some expert advice on how to create festive cocktails that actually look and taste good. From seasonal punch bowls to making a syrup from leftover fruits, here are some top tips to try this Christmas.

Bartender’s Top Tips For Festive Cocktail Making

Martin Balo, Group Bar Manager at Hoppers Restaurants

Peach & Basil Old Fashioned

  • The easiest for hosting is to prepare punch bowls – punch is a simple style of cocktail which is made of five ingredients (spirit, dilution, spices, citrus, sugar). The ratio of this should be one part of spirit (rum, gin, vodka) and one part of dilution, which can be as simple as water or tea for an additional flavour (I recommend cold brew teas to avoid any bitterness). Citrus juice and sugar can be adjusted as you like, the mix should be around half part. The spices, such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg can be added into the whole mix and left to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  • Old Fashioned cocktails tend to be another favourite during this time of the year, and it’s a great one because it can be pre-made in large quantities and kept in the fridge. All you need to do is pour the ingredients over ice and garnish up with some orange peel. You can also skip the stirring method when serving it if you add 10 percent water to the total amount of mixture ahead.
  • Here is an advanced technique for an Old Fashioned cocktail lovers. Fat washed whisky, this will take your regular cocktail to another level. Take any fat, such as peanut butter, coconut oil or just a simple butter, melt them into a liquid then add to your bottle of whisky. The fat will give another layer of flavour as well as a creamy texture, different fat requires different amounts in the spirit but a five percent fat to total amount of liquid would give a good balance. Once it’s mixed well, put it in the freezer until the fat becomes solid in the mixture then pass it through a cheesecloth. Adding some spices or different nuts during the process can add a true festive vibe into your cocktail.
  • You can’t have a festive party without a hot drink on the menu. Mulled wine is probably the most approachable hot drink: all you need is to warm up some wine on medium heat, add dry spices, ginger, leftover fruits such as orange, apple or cranberry and some sugar. Putting a fruity tea bag while heating up the mix can really bring the flavours together. For someone who likes a boozy Christmas drink like me, you can also add some rum or whisky into the mulled wine. 
  • Espresso Martinis can be a real winner to finish off your dinner, although it can be a hassle to make this drink if you are hosting a big group of people. Instead of using a cocktail shaker you can use a container or any vessel which has a lid that can properly seal the mixture. Just add your vodka, coffee liqueur, fresh espresso, sugar and ice then shake it until it becomes nice and foamy.
  • If you’ve bought too many berries for your Christmas baking, add your leftover fruits into a blender with half part of sugar and blend until the sugar dissolves. Strain the liquid into a bottle/jar and store in the fridge. This syrup can be added in the bottom of the champagne glass before you pour some sparkling wine over or even just some soda water.

Festive cocktails

Pietro Collina, Bar Director of Viajante87

  • Keep a batched bottle of stirred cocktail in your freezer for even more ease. If you dilute it slightly it saves the need for any further stirring and can be poured straight from the bottle to the glass (if you have space, keep a couple of those in the freezer too!). Easiest things can be Negronis, Martinis and Manhattans.
  • Have a selection of digestives such as amaros, calvados, or eau de vie to offer people after large meals. They ease the feeling of being too full and also act as a nice bookend to the night.
  • Non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails are a must, not an option anymore. More and more people are either not drinking or are moderating, or are even just designated drivers, and you can’t leave them out of the party by just serving them fizzy drinks or elderflower.

Cocktail with ice

Will Meredith, Director of Daisy Age Drinks and former Bar Manager of Lyaness

  • Keep it simple – most of us don’t have homes with built in bars, so it can get really messy when making drinks at home. Therefore, keeping things like shaking to a minimum will make the clean-up job much easier.
  • Also, prep prep prep. Having drinks ready to go will make life so much easier. You don’t want to be spending your whole evening getting ingredients together, building drinks, and cleaning. Pre-mixing all your drinks to minimise steps and prepping any needed garnishes will help you out.
  • It’s always good to have a selection of snacks available. If the drinks have any theme or direction, it’s always a plus to offer snacks that line up with those drinks. It keeps things simple and easy, whilst still fun. 
  • Get good ice. Ice moulds, good ice cubes, etc. will help massively in making your drinks look great and taste better for longer. Also – get LOTS. You’ll always use more ice than you think so whatever amount you’ve got in your head, double it.
  • Either buy or make one or two ingredients that can be kept aside for any N/A drinkers. Hell, they may even be tasty modifications if you get bored of the drinks currently on offer!