LaTanya White has the recipe for holiday spirits.
"There's more to life than vodka and tonic," says White, 29, a full-time mixologist. White owns 71 Proof, Tallahassee a bar catering and consulting company for weddings, corporate functions and other private events. The holidays, White says, are the perfect occasion to branch out from your usual cocktail.
The key to successful yuletide bartending is to incorporate as many senses as possible. For instance, wine is nice, but sparkling wine will tickle your nose and make you feel extra-festive. Add to that a dose of gin, whose juniper berries are reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Garnish with cranberries.
"It brings the whole experience," White says of her original creation she calls Mistletoe.
If you're on a budget, it's better to stock the bar with a few top-shelf bottles than to offer mediocre versions of everything. "It's the quality of the ingredients, just like with beef," White says. "You have your Grade A, then you have what you would give to the dog."
For family gatherings, try eggnog. Leave it as is for the kids or spike it with a spiced rum or cognac for the grown folks. Irish coffee is nearly as simple as making coffee. Fix yours the way you like it, stir in a splash of Irish whiskey and top with whipped cream. For something different on New Year's Eve, White suggests trying a sparkling wine that isn't Champagne, like lemony prosecco from Italy or a Spanish cava.
So maybe playing bartender doesn't require training from the American Bartending School in Tampa or acknowledgement as one of the country's top 100 mixologists at a summit in Vail, Colo., both of which White has.
"Just to be a bartender, would you need all that? No," says Michael Lynch, senior culinary management instructor at the Art Institute of Tampa, where White is enrolled. But, Lynch says, a trained professional is more aware of the legal and safety issues that accompany bartending. "And her breadth and scope, in terms of knowledge of wines and signature drinks and proper planning, appearance, presentation, all that would certainly be beneficial at a private function," he says.
Hiring someone to mix drinks at your party means you can actually enjoy your guests. A gathering for 50 to 75 people would cost about $150, White says.
"You want to be a part of the party," she says, "but you can't be a good host and bartend."
Dalia Colon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.