The Ultimate Entertaining Guide, pt. 1: Cocktail Party Perfection

The Globe and Mail, December 2010

Before arriving at Calgary hotspot Rush earlier this year, master mixologist Stephen Grindy honed his bartending skills throughout Australia and England. Now, at just 26, Grindy is shaking up the city’s cocktail scene with concoctions like his “spherified” brew, made using a scientific technique that renders liquid into soft, solid balls. When it comes to throwing a successful party at home, though, Grindy insists you won’t need a lab coat. “The best cocktails don’t need to be complicated,” he says. “They should be simple yet elegant – just like your soirée.”

The Guest List

“You’ll want a vibrant crowd,” says Grindy. “And definitely some single people. You don’t want this to be a couples’ party.” A 70-per-cent RSVP rate, he adds, is normal: For a 20-person party, invite about 30 folks.

The Set-Up

Glassware is crucial. “You don’t want crystal because people might be getting tipsy,” Grindy says. “But then again, you don’t want to serve cocktails in red plastic beer cups.” Find affordable, durable glasses: Two 12-ounce double rocks glasses and one Champagne flute per guest should do it.

Before your guests arrive, have your cocktail mise en place ready: “Pre-slice your limes, lemons and other fruit,” he says. “And place a damp cloth over top: It works wonders.” Last but, as Grindy emphasizes, far from least: ice. He recommends a two-kilo bag for every three people. “Ice is a major, major, major problem. Everyone always runs out. So when it comes to ice, always go overboard.”

The Vibe

“For the arrival of the guests, you’ll want something low-key and mellow,” Grindy says. “Jazz is good. I like B.B. King instrumentals. Later on, pretty much anything goes.” Similarly, he says, you can start the evening in a well-lit room, but “gradually turn your lights down” as the night progresses. “No one,” he advises, “wants to feel like they’re in the spotlight.”

The Menu

During the holiday season, a bubbly cocktail is “an absolute must,” says Grindy. He recommends adding 3 to 4 ounces Prosecco to a Champagne glass, then topping it with 1 ounce chilled orange vodka, 1 ounce pear vodka and, finally, half a fresh-squeezed lime. “If you start stirring Prosecco, you ruin the bubbles,” he says. “And because of the shape of the glass, it all kind of mixes anyway.”

In terms of spirits, Grindy’s Pineapple Express was a big hit at this year’s Calgary Cocktail Competition. To make it, add 1 ounce vodka, 1 ounce pineapple juice, 1 ounce absinthe, 2 ounces orange juice and the juice of half a lemon into a shaker. “Shake the absolute bejesus out of it,” he says. Pour it over rocks and top it with some Sprite or get festive and put it in a bowl: “It works perfectly as a punch, too,” he says.

Finally, there’s always the classic vodka martini. Add 2 ounces vodka, no more than 1/4 ounce dry vermouth and a dash of olive juice. “The trick to making a martini great is definitely the vodka you’re using,” he says. “And you’ve got to stir it, as shaking can bruise the vodka. The classic mistake is not treating your vodka with the respect it deserves.”

The Essential

“It’s all about the shaker,” says Grindy, who recommends one shaker for every five or six guests. “Everyone has a three-piece shaker at home, but they’re terrible. For the same money, get a Boston shaker. It’s two pieces, they fit together perfectly and you’ll never have a leak. Don’t settle for anything less.”

Image courtesy of RLHyde on Flickr.

Read the story at