Holiday hosting gold: a winter G&T station. Spanish style G&Ts loaded with aromatic garnishes (and zhuzhed up with herbal liqueurs) are basically the Bloody Mary bar of the evening hours.
If you've been to Spain, you might have spent some blissful hours conversing over crisp gin and tonics, lovingly (and often quite ornately) garnished with everything from fresh juniper berries and herbs to citrus wheels and flowers, usually in a sizable goblet. It's an art form, and the only thing better than watching your own personal masterpiece being prepared is taking your very first sip.
Some cocktail purists turn up their noses at any flamboyant display of wanton garnishing, insisting that the cocktail should speak for itself. But I'm a fan, and here's why: a good drink should signal a special moment, a full stop to pause and enjoy. The care that goes into dressing up a Spanish G&T isn't superfluous effort, it's a visual cue that you should stop and appreciate what's in front of you.
Stateside, Gin & Tonics can signal quite the opposite -- something you'd order carelessly, with low expectations. But even though this drink has few ingredients, none of them "craft" or homemade, doesn't mean it can't be sublime. The trick is to use a high quality tonic, make sure your ingredients are extremely cold, and protect the carbonation as best you can.
When you set yourself up this way for G&T success, they can really be the ultimate party drink -- beautiful, festive, and easy for guests to assemble on their own. I leave out an arrangement of aromatic garnishes, a variety of spirits to try in place of gin, a few verbal instructions, and then let people do their own thing.
Over the holidays, my two favorite twists on the G&T format are to switch in aquavit (a winter spiced Scandinavian spirit) or Lillet Rouge (stunning color and jammy wine notes) for the gin, and use aromatics like peppercorn, rosemary, star anise, figs and pears to garnish. You'll have just as much fun decorating your glass as you will drinking it.
(1) Put your spirit in the freezer ahead of time so it's extra cold, then bury well in a large ice bucket along with the bottles of tonic for serving.
(2) Have your guests assemble their drinks in this order: pour the cold spirit into the goblet, then the tonic (slowly and carefully at an angle to reduce foaming). Slide ice gently into the goblet, then squeeze citrus over top.
(3) Garnish as shamelessly as you please.