Throw the ultimate summer cocktail party
Summer may well be fleeting in our typically temperate country, however it is equally fabulous – as soon as the sunshine rears its head, most of us rush to the shops quicker than a stampede of migrating wildebeest to stock up on everything we need for that ultimate of gatherings: the summer cocktail party. Firstly, pick a date and let your friends know – it’s likely you’ll be invited to a few across our short-lived sunny season, and date clashes need to be avoided at all costs – then, all you need to do is follow our handy tips and guidelines and you’re good to go.
What to drink:
You’ve hailed your do a cocktail party, so cocktails you must drink. They’re a great way to kick start the day being both ‘special’ in that we don’t drink them all the time, and a very effective social lubricant too.
Stick to one star of the show, which brings something different to your party – we’d recommend a twist on a classic G&T using Bullards ‘Strawberry & Black Pepper Norwich Gin’ – pitched as the perfect summer refresher, this brand new gin is available nationwide and is a sweet, fruity and slightly peppery combination made using real strawberries, black pepper, cardamom and lemon peel, aimed at gin connoisseurs who are looking for something different and delicious that can be enjoyed as a long drink.
How to drink it:
Invest in some proper copa gin glasses and half fill them with ice. Add a 50ml shot of Strawberry & Black Pepper Norwich Gin, two halves of fresh strawberry and three mint leaves before topping with Fever-Tree ‘Naturally Light’ tonic water.
Creating cocktails one at a time is hugely time consuming though, so to compliment your ‘signature’ cocktail, also opt for a couple of classics such as the margarita (2 shots tequila, 1 shot lime juice, 1⁄2 shot triple sec, served shaken and strained into a salt-rimmed glass), and the cosmopolitan (1 shot vodka, 1⁄2 shot triple sec, 1⁄2 shot cranberry juice, 1⁄2 shot lime juice, served shaken and strained into a martini glass) and make batches of them in jugs beforehand that can be easily poured over ice. Remember the non-drinkers too – a virgin peach Bellini is a thirst-quenching 50/50 combination of peach juice and sparkling lemonade that you can garnish with mint to make a little more party appropriate.
Top cocktail tip:
Ice is one of the most important ingredients in your cocktails – especially when, fingers crossed, you’ll be sipping them to stay refreshed on a warm summer’s day. To compliment a freezer-draw full of bags of ice cubes (handy, but melt quickly when left out) make your own ice by filling clean oven trays and as many other large, flat containers as you can fit in your freezer with filtered water. Once frozen solid, bash into smaller blocks, or add a whole block to a punch bowl for slow dilution.
What to eat:
Of course, the most obvious choice here is to have a barbecue and that’s exactly what you should do to provide the foundations of your summer spread – forget boring bangers and burgers though and opt for chicken breasts, prawn skewers, minute steaks and salmon fillets instead.
Make sure you marinade them too. For the fish and chicken go for a Caribbean-style marinade using (per four portions) 3tbsp lime juice, 2tbsp olive oil, 3tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 2tsp finely chopped rosemary, one large red chilli, finely chopped, and four thinly sliced spring onions; and, for any red meat try a Korean-style marinade made with (per four steaks) 3tbsp sugar, 6tbsp soy sauce, 2tbsp vegetable oil, 2tbsp toasted sesame oil, 1tbsp peeled, grated ginger, three grated garlic cloves and one finely chopped shallot.
Often, the very best thing about barbecued food is all of the accompaniments you can easily prepare to compliment them. Make sure you have plenty of dips and crudité set out for your guests to pick at throughout the party – stirring some roasted cherry tomatoes and red peppers into guacamole produces a lighter version that cuts through some of the rich avocado with a hint of sweetness and tang; and anchoïade is a really bold, gutsy dip made using anchovy fillets, garlic, onion, tomato and herbs that works with crudité and with slices of crusty baguette too.
Bite-sized finger food is always well appreciated by milling partygoers, but that doesn’t have to mean straight-out-of-the-seventies vol-au-vents are your go-to solution. Blinis are the new vol-au-vents and can be piled high with beetroot and quail’s egg; smoked salmon and crème fraiche; and artichoke and lemon dip. Potato salad and salsa verde (recipe below) is a crowd pleaser that will go with all of your barbecued meats and fish; and, in my greedy opinion, no party is complete without a cheese board groaning under the weight of a huge Brie. You’ll think you’re full, but a few cocktails down the line as day turns into night, somehow you’ll always find room for cheese.
Salsa Verde (makes 1 jar)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2tbsp red wine vinegar
30g flat-leaf parsley
4tbsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
120ml extra virgin olive oil (more if you like)
- Soak the shallot in a bowl with the vinegar for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mash the anchovies in a pestle and mortar, then gradually add the herbs and capers to form a coarse paste.
- Stir in the shallot with half of the soaking vinegar, then slowly whisk in the oil until you reach your desired consistency. Add vinegar and salt to taste.
What to do:
Other than sip on delicious drinks, eat some good food and catch up with your nearest and dearest, there’s not an awful lot anyone needs to ‘do’ at a summer cocktail party, and there’s nothing worse than a forced schedule of games. That said, you need to set the scene and give people the option to have a laugh if they want to. Make sure there’s space suitable for a bit of a boogie if you have known movers and shakers among your peers.
Next, music. Compile your party playlist well ahead of time – for the musically challenged among us, there’s lots of inspiration and pre-prepared playlists that you can legally pinch from streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud. Make sure you’re plugged into a good speaker too.
It won’t do you any harm to hire a karaoke machine. They’re a relatively cheap option (you’ll probably be able to borrow one if you ask around) and can simply be set up somewhere to be pounced on as and when your guests may feel the need to belt out a bit of Meatloaf, before launching into an existential debate about what on earth it could have been that he wouldn’t do for love.
When day has become night and the party’s over, pack your guests off into taxis (pre-booked taxis; you’ll thank me for that) and slam the door shut. You’ve done it. Sling your shoes off, kick back with one for the road, and don’t, under any circumstances look at the mess they’ve made of your house and garden – it’s a party; give yourself a break and tidy up in the morning.