New Year’s Eve Party Planning: Advice on Drinks and Entertaining

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Bar Virgile’s Daniel Sartain

By Matt Lardie | Photography by Beth Mann

Durham Magazine If you were going to stock your bar for New Year’s Eve, what are some of the must-haves?

Daniel Sartain Franciacorta! From Northern Italy and made in the traditional Champagne method, it’s just as good as true Champagne at half the cost. Contadi Castaldi is a go-to producer for me, and they make a killer sparkling rosé as well. (Go see Drew Lazarus at Hope Valley Wine & Beverage for those options.) Next, a quality rye whiskey like Rittenhouse Rye or High West Rendezvous Rye [whiskey], Blanton’s Single Barrel or Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel [bourbon], and The Balvenie Caribbean Cask Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. I would set those three bottles out with some nice Old-Fashioned glasses and a bucket of ice for the purists. That’s really all you need on New Year’s Eve.

DM Beyond New Year’s, what are some things you like to serve for parties this time of year?

DS For the holidays, mulled wine is just awesome for gatherings. Simmer a decent red wine (doesn’t need to be expensive, but not cheap) with Captain Apple Jack’s apple brandy; fresh fruit like pears, oranges, lemons, apples or cherries; and introduce some spice box flavors with cinnamon, clove, allspice and nutmeg. French 75s are also perfect for cocktail parties, as are Old-Fashioneds. As the host, I would always offer to make someone an Old Fashioned or a French 75. These drinks take a minute at most, and you can teach someone how to do it if they’d like another. It’s interactive.

DM You also mentioned how strongly you felt about ice.

DS I’ve seen so many cocktail parties saddened by horrible bag ice. I recommend reaching out to a local restaurant or bar for some quality ice. If you bring a cooler and a plate of cookies, you can have all the ice you need from Bar Virgile. Good ice
is imperative.

DM Are there any local spirits or liqueurs you like to have on hand?

DS I go to Durham Distillery for all things gin, but don’t sleep on their liqueurs. I like to use Damn Fine Chocolate Liqueur with Fernet-Branca and coffee. Dollop some whipped cream on top and then grate a frozen York Peppermint Pattie all over that cream. Righteous! Cider is also highly underrated and especially nice around the holidays. Seek out some good local finds like Botanist and Barrel. They make world-class cider right in Durham’s backyard [in Cedar Grove].

DM Any final tips for someone setting up a bar for their holiday party?

DS Figure out your glassware, ice and mise en place [restaurant speak for “setup”] well beforehand so you don’t have to rush around as guests arrive. During the party, everything you do, undo. If you make six drinks, then walk away, it should look as if you were never there. Respect the mise! Also, the ice! Seriously, bring me cookies, and I’ll have you covered.

Daniel Sartain’s Go-To Holiday Punch

Much like mulled wine, crowds will swarm around a big bowl of punch at parties this time of year. Daniel’s punch combines Durham Distillery spirits and a lively kick from ginger liqueur and spicy kombucha to make a drink that will have your guests coming back to the punch bowl for seconds (and probably for thirds. Lyft and Uber are around for a reason!).

New Year's Eve Bar Cart
For the ice block, find a container that matches the size for one very large cube. Boil water, and then let it cool before freezing. The result is a clearer, prettier ice cube that sits in the center of your bowl. It will keep the punch cold without diluting it.

•  2 parts (1 bottle) Conniption American Dry Gin

•  2 parts (1 bottle) Durham Distillery Cucumber Vodka

•  1 part (½ bottle) Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

•  1 part (12/3 cup) fresh lemon juice

•  1 part (12/3 cup) simple syrup

•  4 to 6 cans of your favorite spicy kombucha (Daniel prefers Tribucha Controlled Burn)

•  More lemon or simple syrup to taste

•  Baby rose bud tea, mint and thinly sliced cucumber for garnish

Mix the gin, ginger liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup and spicy kombucha in a large punch bowl. You can add more lemon juice or simple syrup as needed. Just before serving, sprinkle in the garnish, and add a large ice block. Scoop with a ladle, and don’t be afraid to let some of the floating ingredients get into the glass. They add depth of aroma and are just festive.   

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