Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Host: A Bourbon Party

Mr. 3 is a lover of all things bourbon and requested a bourbon party for his 33rd birthday.  I can't stand bourbon, but being the wonderful wife that I am I said "on it!"   Surprisingly, the bourbon party theme hasn't caught on quite yet and I didn't find a whole lot of inspiration with my google searching.  If you are interested in throwing a party, I hope this post helps you get inspired to plan your own!

The idea behind a bourbon party is that each couple or single person brings a bottle of bourbon to share with the rest of the group so that you can try multiple bourbons and compare them to see what you like best.  The host winds up with a really well-stocked liquor cabinet of interesting bourbons that he might not have otherwise bought for himself.  We decided to start the party at 5 PM with the idea that our guests would leave around midnight.  Including Mr. 3 and I, we had 23 people at our bourbon party.

The Decor

Since it was a "man party," Mr. 3 was more interested in the food and booze than having a great deal of birthday decorations.  Me being me, I still set out to make this party have a bourbon theme.  If you are following me on Instagram (and you should!), you saw a sneak peak of my bourbon themed party gear:

I really lucked out at Home Goods when I found these napkins for $2.99 per pack and the wood grain plates at TJ Maxx for $1.99.  Unfortunately, I only found one pack of the wood grain plates which I set out for appetizers, so I supplemented with red Hefty brand plates from Walmart.  I also decorated the bathroom with some man-friendly paper towels on clearance at Sur la Table for $1.99, a Kentucky Bourbon candle that someone gave us as a present, and soap we had previously bought for our other bathroom with a pepper and ginseng fragrance.

We used red solo cups to go with the red Hefty plates for those DD-ing it and I pulled down all the barware we own so that people could drink from real glasses.  I also used real wine glasses for those non-bourbon drinkers.  Since it was a night time party, I lit all of our non-scented candles.  Other than that, I used our everyday brown tablecloth and set out all the same items I've had (gold and white paper coasters, servingware, etc.)  All in all, I spent about $20 on all the paper products and themed items.  Although I really lucked out in finding my themed items, I think Home Goods is a great resource for finding cocktail party themed napkins.  I bought mine back in November, but I was there earlier this week and there were several options that would have worked pretty well if I had planned this party last minute.  Just keep checking!

The Food

My main concern with planning this party was the high likelihood that someone would over serve themselves and wind up head down in the toilet.  Therefore, I wanted to have lots of high carb and filling food to soak up the alcohol.  Needless to say, this was not a figure friendly party.  I chose my food options based on what could be cooked at the same temperature and what could be cooked either the day before or in the morning.  My other considerations were using bourbon in my recipes and making Mr. 3's favorite foods for his birthday.  My usual theory on hosting large parties is to make a variety of things rather than multiple batches of the same recipe.  However, I made the exception with the ribs, cornbread, and chicken just because I figured they would be super popular...and people can eat a pile of ribs and cornbread let me tell you.  Here's how I fed a total of 23 people:

Bourbon Baby Back CrockPot Ribs - Doubled the recipe with 2 packages from BJ's, which is 4 racks or about 10 lbs (You will need a 7 quart CrockPot to cook this many ribs...I only had a 6.5 quart CrockPot...which would have been problematic, except I accidentally flung a 5 rib section on the floor as I was putting it in the CrockPot. Whoopsies.)
Chipotle Bourbon BBQ Sauce - 1 bottle from World Market (I bought this in case I didn't want to make the recipe in the rib recipe above...which I wound up not making)
Bourbon Chicken - aka Chinese mall chicken (We used a large pack of chicken breasts from BJ's which was about 9 breasts)
Buttermilk Cornbread - 2 cast iron skillet pans using a family recipe
Bacon Jam - made a half batch (huge hit of the party!)
Mac & Cheese - made one 9 x 13 pan using a family recipe
Apple Pie - used store bought roll out crust using a family recipe
Bourbon Cherry Pie - used store bought roll out crust
Chips & Dip - 2 bags of Fajita flavored Tostitos Scoops, 1 jar of Tostitos salsa, 1 jar of Tostitos queso
Pickled Green Tomatoes - 1 small Mason jar, grown, harvested, and pickled by my daddy
Nacho Cheese Filled Pretzel Bites - 3 boxes or 36 pieces, Safeway's Snack Artist brand
Ginger Ale - 2 bottles
Coke Zero - 3 bottles
Pepsi - 1 bottle
Sweet Tea - 2 jugs
Lemonade - 1 jug
Red Wine - 1 box (that's right box...see why I love box wine even though it gets a bad rap here)
White Wine - 1 box and 1 bottle (I have a friend who only drinks wine and doesn't like anything sweet, so I accommodated her with the 1 bottle.  Everyone else got boxed Riesling because it is awesome.)

I made the cornbread and bacon jam the night before and the pies and ribs the morning of the party.  The bourbon chicken was prepped in the morning, but I let it marinate until the afternoon.  I was able to cook the mac and cheese, chicken, and pretzel bites all at the same time, which really cut down on the stress level of getting everything on the table.  For your own bourbon party, I would highly recommend making the cornbread and a mac and cheese.  They are cost effective ways to get people fed!  Even though I made a pile of food, we had practically no leftovers - some salsa, some pickled green tomatoes, and one pan of cornbread (because I forgot to restock until after people started leaving, I think.  Whoopsies.).  I checked around to see if anyone needed more food and I offered to make gourmet truffled popcorn, but everyone said they were fine.  I'm pretty sure no one went hungry and people were eating just to eat.  I can't tell you how the pies turned out...neither Mr. 3 nor I got a chance to try them before they got scarfed down....all of which I'm pretty sure are signs of a successful party!

The Set-Up

I kept all the drinks and barware in the kitchen next to the sink.  Because I figured most people would be hangin' with the bourbon, I didn't want to crowd people trying to get food.  Mr. 3 also made his giant ice cubes for the party using these molds (I put him on a strict ice cube making quota the week before...he was cranking out about 16 cubes a day!), so I wanted people to be close to the freezer to access the cubes which were stored in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  We also made the bourbon tasting self-serve.  If you have a smaller group of people like 8 or less, you could probably line everyone up and taste one bourbon at a time, but with a large group it becomes impossible - someone is going to get to talking and get behind, someone won't like the bourbon, someone will want to pour more or less of one because they have tried it before, etc.  I did the same for the wine and other drinks.  I tried to offer everyone a beverage as they arrived, especially so the non-drinkers would know they had soda, lemonade, and tea as options...but then I left refills up to them.  My one exception was the pregnant lady....I checked in on her often to make sure she had everything she needed and wasn't about to go into labor or anything like that...pregnant ladies get special consideration at all my parties.  

I put the rest of the food in the dining room, splitting up the chips and dip from the main food and I put the pretzel bites on the coffee table to keep people from congregating too long in one place.  I used my tiered stands to make enough room for all the food and servingware.  Make sure to place coasters and napkins throughout your home so people have easy access and no reason to leave rings on your nice furniture.

Our apartment gets really hot with that many people in it, so I lit candles on the patio so that it would be welcoming for people to step out if it got too hot.  I also kept all the soda and some of the wine on the patio so that the kitchen and our fridge wasn't so crowded (only perk to cold weather as far as I'm concerned).

Tips & Tricks to Take Away

1. By making the drinks self-serve, no one needed to play bartender.  Also, if we had done a more structured bourbon tasting, people who arrived later would have missed out.

2. By cooking some dishes the night before and only picking recipes that could be cooked at the same temperature, I saved myself a lot of stress on figuring out timing.

3. I made all of the main food, but relied on store bought items for the appetizers.  No one expects everything to be 100% homemade, but nobody wants to attend a party platter party either - so mix up your food!

4. Use what you have for decor and servingware.  If you find gaps, hit up Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Target, Target or World Market.  They have the best prices and the most diversified selections.

5. Use glassware for your booze.  Wine and bourbon do not taste the same when swilled from a paper cup. See #4 for suggested sources for barware if you need to buy more.  I didn't need 23 old fashion glasses and 23 wine glasses for our party.  We used about 12 old fashions and 6-8 wine glasses.  Try to figure out who is likely to try the bourbons and add a couple to your count just in case.  Don't forget...even DD's may want a glass or two of wine over a 5 hour period.

6.  Use paper products.  You would need 3 dishwashers and piles of china to keep up with hosting 20-something people.  Paper products are also a great way to convey a theme!

7. Spread out your food and drink.  People tend to congregate where the food is, so by putting the food in different areas you can ensure more mingling!

8. Make lots of dense food and diversify your food.  If one dish doesn't turn out so good, your guests will probably quickly forget because there were so many other wonderful dishes!  I'm happy to report that no one got sick!

Everyone left by 1:30 AM which was pretty awesome.  I managed to run a load of dishes and throw all the paper plates away pretty quickly while the last 3 people were still here.  Since we didn't have any leftovers, that also saved time on clean up!  Mr. 3 was super happy to see all of his friends and is now the proud owner of 11 bottles of bourbon!  Anyone else been to a bourbon party?  If so, leave your suggestions below!