It can happen at any moment and without any notice: the dreaded pop-in or stop-by. We’ve all been the victim of a surprise holiday visit. Suddenly, you have to scramble to make drinks and small talk with distant relatives and long-lost friends. While they may be unavoidable this time of year, you can at least prepare yourself for these inescapable situations.
To help you out, we asked H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of historic San Francisco saloon Elixir and a Liquor.com advisor, for some advice on last-minute entertaining. Your first line of defense, he says, is the basic sour cocktail formula: 1 ounce lemon juice and 1 ounce simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water). Then just add an egg white and one-and-a-half to two ounces of any barrel-aged spirit—from dark rum or whiskey to añejo tequila. After vigorously shaking the concoction with ice and straining into a glass, you’ll get “a comforting sour cocktail with nice vanilla, caramel and spice notes,” Ehrmann says.
For a really festive drink, add a barspoon or two of Tuaca, Grand Marnier or Navan Vanilla Liqueur. A pinch of ground baking spices, such as cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg, and a drop or two of natural vanilla extract also work well.
If you want to serve a warm drink, try Ehrmann’s easy spin on the classic mulled wine: After greeting your guests, head to the kitchen and pour half a bottle of a fruity red like Beaujolais or syrah into a small saucepan. Add some whole baking spices (cinnamon sticks, star anise or whatever you have on hand), lemon or orange peel, a spoonful or two of sugar and a splash of brandy or bourbon. Cook over low heat until warm (do not boil), then let steep for 5 to 10 minutes off the heat and serve in mugs or punch cups.
Then sit back and relax…until the next wave of guests shows up.