Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and soon after that the flurry of holiday parties will begin. Your friends and family all know you’re a bartender, so they expect you to bring something tasty to drink… no pressure, right? Don’t worry, we have you covered with a few suggestions – from the safe to the creative, and even a bit risky.

The Safe Bet: A Bottle of Wine

A little bit boring? Yes. Totally safe? Absolutely. Bringing a bottle of wine is a pretty standard protocol when it comes to parties, holiday gatherings and family events. Red is almost always safe, but if it’s a warm outdoor event, a chilled bottle of white is good too.

The price point is a bit negotiable, depending on the occasion, venue, and people who will be in attendance. I like to guess what the host / hostess might spend on a bottle of their own dinner wine, then double it. (For example, I have friends who don’t drink often, but when they do, they seem to be $15/bottle type folks. So I’ll spend about $25-30 if I’m bringing a bottle of wine to their house.

Just a Little More Fun: Craft Beer or Sparkling Wine

Feeling just a tad sparkly? Perfect. A bottle of sparkling wine or six-pack or growler of local craft beer can be a great idea, especially for a crowd that’s not going to be too adventurous. (But you are a bartender after all – so what did they expect?)

I like to use family events as a way to get my less adventurous friends / family to try something just a half-step outside their comfort zone. It’s a step in the right direction without scaring them away with a Verjus Sour with Cardamom shrub. (I just thought of that but dang, that sounds good…!)

Prosecco is a good low-cost sparkling wine that’s also a crowd pleaser. If you’re really looking to make a good impression, go for the Champagne – but be careful with that one, you don’t want to make it awkward. As for craft beer, price is less of a factor. Try to choose something that has a great story behind it – something local to the venue, or with a great pun in the name that’ll make the host laugh. Be careful with the super hoppy IPA’s – your craft beer nerd friends may be all about them, but they can be a bit too much for someone who’s used to Heineken and Coors.

Flexing your Bartender Muscles: Homemade Low-ABV Cocktail

So it’s a beer / wine crowd, but you really want to show off your sweet bartender / mixing skills? Don’t scare them away quite yet with something too boozy! Start with something low-ABV to welcome them into your tasty world of cocktails.

Pre-batched cocktails are a fun way to show you put a bit more thought into your contribution than just stopping by the grocery store. They are also a great way to look good without dropping a lot of cash. Sparkling cocktails like a French 75 can be pre-batched in advance with just the sparkly added at the last minute. Wine-based cocktails help lower the ABV and can still be great choices as well. Other ideas include Sangria (consider white sangria for summertime) or a Kir / Kir Royale. (If you’re feeling festive, you can even make your own fruit cordials / liqueur for this one!)

Living Dangerously: Bring on the booze!

Hey you! The one who just scrolled to the end because you knew you wouldn’t want to bring something wimpy. Yeah, this is what you’re looking for.

If you know your crowd well and / or you just love getting uncle Jerry drunk, then this is the list for you. Bringing booze as a gift is definitely a challenge, and the more you know about your host the better.

  • The Classic: Single Malt Scotch. While not cheap, if your guest is into Scotch, this will definitely put you at the front of the turkey line.
  • Getting Gutsy: Want to prove to your family that you’re doing really out-there stuff at the bar? Bring Mezcal and offer a sip. They will either love it or hate it – and if they hate it, you get the bottle to yourself. Win win?
  • Somewhere in between: Any mid-range aged spirit should work well, but you must bring something good enough to sip neat or on the rocks. An anejo Tequila or aged rum can work beautifully for this. But showing up with a bottle of 151 just doesn’t make you look good. (Unless it’s that kind of party… in which case, why are you reading this anyway?)

So go shopping and get something great – your hosts will appreciate the thought you put into the bottle you bring!

Psst – got a go-to bottle for this holiday season? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.