As long as you remember a few simple rules, it’s not difficult to set up a bar for a holiday party. The first rule is to make sure you have the right glasses to match your desired vibe. And though I have never been one to complain about sipping something hot and buttered from a “World’s Okayest Dad” mug, it might dim your holiday spirit if you want to send the year out with a swanky soiree.
Rule 2: Remember to offer drinks for all guests – not just the ones who drink alcohol. I know it sounds crazy that I even need to remind people about this, but time and time again, my sober self has been forced to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with tap water and lukewarm cans of Diet Coke, while every other party guest was wassailing it up like old Fezziwig. Sober people, designated drivers and people on antibiotics love celebrating, too! If you make us feel as welcome as everyone else, we won’t have to spend 2024 complaining about your lackluster beverage decisions!
After that, pretty much anything goes. If you’re the kind of person who wants to stock their fridge with beer and wine and call it a day, do exactly that – just throw a six-pack of nonalcoholic beer, some canned mocktails or a few bottles of craft soda in there, too.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you want to spend the entirety of your festivities cosplaying as a bartender, go right ahead! The holidays should be about being happy, and with your nearest and dearest gathered in the same room, you’ve got an audience to ooh and ahh as you show off what you’ve got. (Especially if it involves flair bartending, for when better to whip out those skills?)
Make up your own mocktail, like I did with this Burnt Orange Tonic with Rosemary. Treat yourself to a fancy mocktail manual with innovative, original recipes, or stock your bar with nonalcoholic liquor alternatives and go with some old standbys. Throw some Nat King Cole on the HiFi, shake and stir with swagger, and top everything off with a generous glug of ring-a-ding-ding.
Between over-the-top, impressive and “I survived this year good god isn’t that enough” laziness, there’s a wide range of approaches that will make things merry and bright no matter how much emotional energy you have to expend. I, personally, am a big fan of supplementing a fridge full of ready-to-go drinks with one “extra-special” beverage, and how much effort you want to put into this beverage lies solely up to you.
Zero-proof spirits and other alcohol-free alternatives have been buzzy this year, and a holiday party is as good a time as any to check them out. Or you could go with an tried-and-true tradition like throwing a few cinnamon sticks into a slow cooker of cider with a bottle of whiskey on the side for anyone who likes theirs spiked; complementing it with a bottle of nonalcoholic whiskey as well could also be a welcome touch, but not altogether necessary.
You could also go the signature cocktail route, in which you build a tiny bar around one recipe and one recipe only. Try picking a drink that sticks to one kind of liquor; this way if that liquor has a nonalcoholic counterpart, you can offer two bottles and let your guests whip up whichever kind they choose without opening themselves up to questioning.
As any sober person will tell you, enjoying nonalcoholic beverages in front of other adults often invites the question “Why aren’t you drinking?”, which is as annoying as it is patently ridiculous. Why should anyone ever be concerned with other people’s beverage choices? Why do we need to field these questions when all we are is parched? But when everyone’s drinks look the same, there are no pop quizzes or stressful situations. This holiday season, give them the gift of feeling like they belong without having to explain to Aunt Helen their relationship with alcohol.
There is also the option of eschewing alcohol alternatives altogether. Remember: Sober people are not a monolith! Everyone approaches recovery and temperance in a way that’s deeply personal, and for some, something that tastes remotely like alcohol – even if it’s 100 percent nonalcoholic – can be a potential trigger. But also remember that there are tens of thousands of liquids on earth that have absolutely nothing to do with alcohol whatsoever, and miraculously, they’re still enjoyable!
The cocktail recipe below is fully alcohol-free, with just enough work involved to make it clear you did something special, but not so much that it will make your life difficult.
Burnt Orange Tonic With Rosemary
This smoky, citrusy cocktail gets an herbal lift from the rosemary and just a hint of bitterness from the citrus pith. (Like your drinks sweeter? Add a bit of simple syrup. The drink is ideal for wintertime, when citrus fruits enter their peak season, bringing a wide variety of oranges that deserve to be consumed with gusto. As good as navel oranges taste year-round, come December, they’re exceptionally extraordinary. If you’ve yet to experience the wonders of a Cara Cara orange, you must. Blood oranges, tangerines, mandarins and clementines are also perfect this time of year and will work beautifully in this cocktail. You will have enough broiled orange slices for 3 to 4 drinks.
For the burnt orange slices:
2 large Cara Cara oranges
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the drink:
3 broiled orange slices
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
One (7.5-ounce) can ice-cold tonic water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Make the burnt orange slices: Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and preheat to 500 degrees.
Line a large sheet pan with foil and lightly oil it. Trim the ends off the oranges, then slice each one into six rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Place on the prepared pan, drizzle with the olive oil and honey, and toss well to coat. Spread the orange slices in a single layer and sprinkle with the salt.
Broil for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the orange slices begin to darken and caramelize. Add the rosemary and continue broiling for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant, watching closely so that neither the herbs nor oranges burn. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely, about 10 minutes.
Make the drink: Place the orange slices on the bottom of a highball glass. (If your orange slices stick to the sheet pan, use a thin metal spatula to loosen them.) Add the pomegranate juice and gently muddle. Add the tonic water and rosemary sprig and stir. Top with ice and serve.
Yield: One serving
Storage: It’s best to use the broiled orange slices right away, but they can be refrigerated. Place the slices in an airtight container with parchment or wax paper between the slices and refrigerate for up to three days.
Nutritional Facts per serving (one drink) | Calories: 217, Carbohydrates: 48 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Fat: 4 g, Fiber: 2 g, Protein: 1 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Sodium: 181 mg, Sugar: 45 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.