Take Five: How to Throw a Spectacular Cocktail Party

U.S. Bartender of the Year Jeff Bell shares his secrets for a fantastic fête.

During the holidays, the age-old concern for party hosts is how to handle the drink situation. Do you really want to spend your entire party stuck making drinks for everyone? And booze can be pretty expensive, with you racking up the bucks trying to get something for everyone. Fortunately I was able to pin down U.S. Bartender of the Year Jeff Bell of New York’s PDT during a private event at Downtown’s Honeycut promoting the launch of Travel Channel’s “World’s Best Bartender.” The TV series spotlighted the Diageo World Class Cocktail Competition which took place on a luxury cruise liner this past July.

Bell may not have won the world title but he did prove he’s the bestest in America. Here are his five tips on how to get a handle on your holiday party cocktail situation

➊ Find out what your guests like. At PDT, Bell chats with his guests to find out what style of drink they prefer and what their favorite spirits are. Since he couldn’t do that with the judges during the competition, he instead found out via Google, emails, and phone calls. “Because bartenders shouldn’t serve what they want to serve guests, they should serve people what they want to drink,” he said. “If they love Johnnie Walker, I make sure to have Johnnie Walker in the house and then think of a Johnnie Walker cocktail.”

➋ A punch bowl is very important. You can cut down your time shaking drinks in the kitchen by having a punch bowl out for your guests. Otherwise, if you have about 10 guests at your four-hour party, you’ll be making about 30 to 45 drinks! “Get a vintage punch bowl and you can make large ice cubes for it–take a Tupperware and fill it with water and put it in your freezer.” Keep in mind that punch is different from a large format cocktail. “It’s a process, it’s like making a cake or letting bread rise. Making a punch you have to let the sugar pull the oils from the citrus, that’s called the Oleo Saccharum.” For cocktail punch recipes, Bell recommends checking out David Wondrich’s book Punch.

Stock up on bar tools. For ease of cocktail making, it helps to have the right tools. “Get mixing glasses, shakers and strainers and some sort of ice tray (or buying a bag of ice is fine). A hand juicer, you want fresh squeezed juice. Other than that you can use kitchen tools. You’re gonna need to buy jiggers to measure. Or you can use your measuring cups in a pinch.”

Pre-mix a cocktail in a large batch. Instead of making one cocktail for each guest, do up large batches of cocktails before the party and then you can pour out a couple of ounces of each one and shake it, saving you from having to do several steps [at the party]. “That’s sometimes what we do for big events.”

➎ Make the best holiday cocktail ever. “What’s great for winter is a Tom & Jerry. It’s an amazing punch and it’s fun, too, for someone that knows how to bake. You take eggs and separate the yolks from the whites, you whip the whites into a meringue to stiff peaks. And you mix the yolks with sugar and spice and then fold them back into each other. You add a little bit of alcohol to fortify it and then you can do that with rum…I think it’s best with rum. And then you add hot milk to it so it’s akin to an egg nog, it’s an old school drink. That’s my favorite for the holidays. I make that for the family.”

Tom & Jerry Drink Recipe by Jeff Bell


1 heaping tablespoon of Batter (recipe follows)
1/2 ounce demerara sugar syrup
1 1/2 ounces Zacapa Rum 23
4 ounces of hot milk to top
Grated nutmeg for garnish


1. Combine batter, Demerara sugar syrup and Zacapa Rum into a glass.

2. Top with hot milk and stir gently.

3. Garnish with grated nutmeg


Tom & Jerry Batter by Jeff Bell

1 dozen eggs
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground allspice
4 dashes of aromatic bitters
2 ounces Vanilla extract
2 ounces Zacapa Rum 23


1. Separate egg yolks and egg whites of 1 dozen eggs.

2. Whip egg whites into stiff peaks and set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and gradually add granulated sugar, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground clove and ground allspice while slowly incorporating aromatic bitters, vanilla extract and Zacapa Rum.

5. Fold egg whites into yolks.

6. Refrigerate.