How to Start and Host Your Own Cocktail Club

"My one goal in life is to take pleasure seriously."

This is a second-hand quote from an unknown donor that I have borrowed for this post because it's a fair reflection of my own philosophy. You can define pleasure in whatever way you choose, of course, but high on my list of joy-inducing activities is the drinking of delicious cocktails.

Happily, I'm in the good company of fellow lush-ous ladies like LP and Trader Vicky. In the summer of 2010, we formed the NY Cocktail Club, which is dedicated to the pursuit of tasty libations.

The genesis of the Club came about over drinks well mixed by a neo-speakeasy bartender at one New York gin-joint or another. We thought, "Hey! We could totally make fabulous drinks at home with our friends." And LP famously said, "It will be like book club but better!"

And, indeed. It was way better than book club.

We quickly grew into a group of eight, now nine, ladies who gather each month to creatively explore the boozy yet civilized world of the cocktail. The designated hostess chooses a theme and develops a menu. She might ask Clubettes to bring specific ingredients or leave it open for members to conjure whatever they'd like along the theme. Experimentation is encouraged, and at some point during the meeting, the "bar"inevitably opens up to free mixology.

If you have a healthy interest/obsession with cocktails, you might now be thinking "Gee I'd like to be part of a cocktail club!" Well, guess what!? You can start your own. It's easy and super fun!

Here are some tips on how to get started as well as considerations for hosting that we have put together over the two and a half years of hosting club meetings.

How to Start a Cocktail Club
  • Step One: Recruit your lushes: Identify a group of like-minded friends who believe in the spirit of the club. It's fun to start with two or three people you know well and ask them each to invite a few friends to expand your circle. Eight to twelve makes a good number. Make sure you are all enthusiastic imbibers (aka lushes).
  • Step Two: Set an imbibing schedule: Decide how often you will meet. Monthly was best for us. You will need time between meetings to a) conduct research at great bars in your city, b) experiment at home to hone your own mixing skills, and c) detoxify your liver.
  • Step Three: Identify a calendar-keeper: Someone will have to take responsibility for circulating the calendar every few months.
  • Step Four: Relax! It's just a club: This is important even if you are a type A, innate planner who likes everything to be "just so."(At least that is what they tell me.) In LP's words, "As long as people feel at home and can enjoy themselves, and each other...then you have success. And if your drinks taste terrible? That's okay....the beauty of the cocktail club is that you can work together to improve them."
Tips for Hosting Your Cocktail Club Meeting
  • Choose a theme: find something that tickles your own lushous fancy. Here are a few ideas to throw in the shaker:
    • Spirit -- Set a base spirit like gin, bourbon, rum, etc. and build your menu around this spirit.   Or, choose a normally complimentary type of liquor that your curious about like chartreuse, amaro, vermouth, etc. (For an example, see Tequila and Tacos, Salud!)
    • Cocktail -- Crazy about a particular style of cocktail? Or maybe you're just curious about what a sour, sling, fizz, flip, smash, toddy, julep, punch, nog, or highball is exactly. One great way to find out is to host a meeting where you serve only drinks that fit into that category.
    • Season -- You know how crazy I am about in-season produce. Maybe too crazy, but I'm sticking to my greens. If you are too, think about picking a few local, seasonal ingredients to feature in your menu. (Farm to Bar: Recipes for Late Summer.)
    • Flavor -- Do you really love a particular flavor? Want to see how you can incorporate it into cocktails? Then, this is a great way to go. (Honey It's Hot Outside.)
    • Era or Genre -- We have a fabulous cocktail history here in the States, and there are many ways to re-create a particular era or style in your own home. (Speakeasy and Pour Another and  Shake Up Your Summer with a Little Tiki.)
    • Fiction -- Fiction makes great fodder for creative cocktails--whether you want to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice and find the "drink me" bottle or sip martinis ala James Bond. (Happy Birthday, Harry!)
    • Holidays -- Oh holidays give us wonderful excuses to make themed drinks, or just to take classics and give them a holiday twist. (Spirits and Hi-Jinx.) 
  • Create a menu: Keep the menu small, but be selective. Choose 3-5 cocktails that fit your theme. It's nice to use a few recipes and create 1-2 of your own. There are loads of good books out there like The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and The Essential Cocktail by David Wondrich. You can also find recipes online, though I would recommend sticking with well-known sources until you develop an eye for balance. 
  • Serve mini-cocktails: This will help your guests taste the whole menu and a few experimental concoctions without getting plastered. Make one full-size cocktail for every 2-3 guests.
  • Always include food: Not only is it fun to play with pairings, but cocktail drinking should also be civilized. Some grub in the bellies will help keep the party from getting too sloppy (though occasionally even we get a bit untidy).
  • Leave room for experimentation: Some of your best new cocktail recipes will come from the "open-bar" portion of the meeting.
And with that, ladies and g's, I say, go forth and imbibe! May the spirits be with you!