Party Smarter, Not Harder with This Festive Throwback
Cocktail pro Hannah Chamberlain explains how to host a spirited holiday party that steals the show and lets you enjoy the view.
Before Hannah Chamberlain became the TikTok bartending star and internet cocktail queen she is today, she made the same mistakes any overly ambitious aspiring hostess would. “I was doing my first holiday party and I wanted to really show off my bartending skills,” she recalls. She’d planned a classic, relatively simple cocktail, the stinger, adding an elaborate candy cane garnish for a festive touch. “Everyone requested a [drink] at different times, so I’m pouring one, and then as soon as I get that garnish together, the next person wants one.” Stuck behind the bar, she couldn’t introduce guests, or help them settle in. No matter how good the drinks were, she realized, hosting involves being there for your guests, making them feel valued, and, perhaps most importantly, making sure they’re having fun. The next year, she started a new tradition: kicking off every party with a show-stopping make-ahead punch.
Begin With A Bang
When guests arrive, a vintage punchbowl bobbing with bright red cranberries and big, crystal-clear icebergs welcomes them. Shopping for and picking out the old-school serveware has become a part of Hannah’s personal holiday tradition, and sometimes the one she finds even inspires the punch recipe she uses. “I look for the prettiest bowl, the prettiest pitcher,” she says. “I love going vintage.”
She squeezes all the citrus and mixes the punch earlier in the day (no more than eight hours ahead, to keep it fresh), only popping in the ice, garnishes, and any bubbles right when the first guests arrive. With most of the work done in advance, Hannah now gets to make introductions and mingle, with the self-serve set-up acting as an icebreaker (pun intended) for party-goers.
Punch fell out of fashion when individual cocktails became popular, Hannah explains. But she sees the rarity and history as positives, transforming the vibes and making the event feel unique. “People take pictures of it and remember it when it pops up on their phones later.” To give a festive feel to holiday punch, Hannah uses the warm, mild flavors of The Famous Grouse, letting the dark whisky notes play with holiday favorites such as mulling spices, orange, or ginger. The addition of raw cranberries, rosemary, or citrus peels trimmed with craft scissors in garnishes lends a visual nod to the season.
Sweeten The Deal
Starting with the punch lets the host put out the most eye-catching drink when everyone is “in the best frame of mind” to admire it, says Hannah, and makes it easy for guests to indulge at their own pace. Additionally, Hannah follows that up with a fun option like her DIY cocktail and cookie station. The flavors of an old fashioned match well with traditional holiday cookies, so she sets out The Famous Grouse, along with a variety of complementary bitters, syrups, and garnishes evoking the flavors of the sweets, often including vanilla bitters, chai syrup, or even candy canes. A decorative instruction card gives guests a bit of guidance, but the cocktail-making and creativity involved also helps get people mingling as they stir. “Discussing different flavor and garnish preferences is a great way to break the ice," she shares. It’s a win-win.
Bring It Home
At the end of the night, Hannah recommends sending your guests off with a gift. She likes to put together mason jar cocktails —another twist on the age-old tradition of bringing around holiday cookies—and, if time allows, makes a second batch of a large-format cocktail. A note detailing ingredients and serving instructions typically rounds out the party favors at the end of the night. Every time she’s done it, she says, “The recipients have been ecstatically merry.”
The magic of punch also rings true at smaller, more personal gatherings. Hannah replaced the bottled-orange-juice mimosas at her family’s Christmas morning present-opening celebration with an elegant brunch punch featuring fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Her mom continues the long-time tradition of serving bagels with smoked salmon, and now Hannah has her own updated role in their annual ritual.
“Julia Child said, ‘A party without cake is just a meeting,’” Hannah points out. “I feel like punch is similar: if you have friends over to hang out, and you put out a punch bowl, now it’s an event.”