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(image: David L. Reamer)

Alcohol and the holidays—they can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies. When applied wisely, booze can melt away the inherent awkwardness of any family gathering or office party. But alcohol can also summon our inner Grinch. One minute you’re singing “Oh Holy Night” in sweet harmony, the next you’re screaming “UR A RAAACIST!!!” in your grandma’s face.

In these final and booziest days of the year, you’ll come across all kinds of articles on how to pace yourself and your guests. Along with the obvious advice like “drink water,” you’ll often find some more creative/questionable ideas like “start the party with fun, non-alcoholic mocktail” and “eat a big meal first.” To which I would counter: “Has a party that started with a mocktail, started at all?” And “have you ever tried to drink after a big meal?” In my experience, it just ends up with a bunch of people burping into a karaoke machine and going to bed at 9pm.

The advice in these articles typically comes from some well-intended physician. But, with all due respect to my friends in the medical community, maybe the authority on how to pace a party shouldn’t be the person who’s on call at 5AM on Christmas morning. Just sayin’.

Absent from this analysis is the idea that not all alcohol is created equal. And that the art of pacing isn’t just about IF you’re drinking but WHAT you’re drinking and WHEN you’re drinking it. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I am a man with a very particular set of skills, and top among them are experience design and drinking alcohol. So let’s proceed with a more nuanced guide on how to pace your holiday party.

COCKTAILS

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Nothing like a Caramel Apple Pie Cocktail to take the edge off a stressful day of second grade. (image: happyfoodhealthylife.com)

Nothing sets the tone for a day of celebration like a refreshing seasonal cocktail. But google “holiday cocktails” and much of what you’ll find looks like it was conceived by some six-year old mixologist.

Pumpkin Pie Martini, Hot Peppermint Rod, Gingerbread Eggnog White Russian (that is one drink, mind you)—starting the party with something so sugary and potent is like going all-in on your first hand. Before the party can pick up any steam, your guests will have a cement mixer in their stomach and a “last days of Elvis” blend of uppers and downers coursing through their bloodstream.

Save the dessert drinks for…well dessert and ease in to the festivities with a drier, low alcohol cocktail, holiday aperitif, or a seasonal punch. Remember, wintery drinks don’t have to be an exercise of piling sweet upon sweet; you can make something equally seasonal and far more refreshing, by pulling ingredients like cranberries, blood oranges, pears and pomegranates into the mix.

WINE

Where there is food there must be wine. And holiday feasts are a chance for wine nerds everywhere to play the hero and prove their skills useful to regular, non-wine nerd friends and family members. Pairing standard holiday fare with the standard vino that most unenlightened drinkers reach for out of habit only amplifies the salty, cloying qualities of the already heavy food. Use this year’s main event meal as an opportunity to introduce a loved-one stuck on fat, teeth-staining Cabernet or Malbec to something leaner and food-friendly like Cru Beaujolais, Dolcetto or quality Pinot Noir. Steer those who’ve settled all too readily for lifeless Pinot Grigio to more dynamic whites like Vouvray, Albariño or Riesling.

All of the above bring a balance of fruit and acidity that simultaneously complement the holiday fare and cleanse the palate.

BEER

Ah the sweet siren song of the Christmas ale. Every December the beer aisle looks more and more like the Island of Misfit Toys. Bad Elfs, Mad Elfs, Rude Elfs, so many elfs. Labels adorned with images of Kris Kringle, Krampus and dead-eyed Santa-droids that will forever haunt my dreams.

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He sees you while you’re sleeping… (image: behance.net)

The quality of Christmas ales charts the full spectrum of naughty and nice. Some are spectacular and worth looking forward to all year, others are pure novelty and taste like a melted down Yankee Candle.

What almost all of them have in common, however, is a high alcohol content, so proceed with caution. For the sake of pacing, consider adding some sessionable alternatives to the wintery mix, like Bell’s Christmas Ale or Anchor’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year (both around 5.5% ABV). Of course, if you go off theme with a simple lager or pale ale, that won’t stop Christmas from coming.

It’s probably worth noting that all the above advice is born from an assumption that you actually want your holiday party to be somewhat civilized. And that may not be the case for everyone. Some of you may enjoy the drama, or believe that hosting a no holds barred sh*t show is what the holidays are all about.

In which case, I’d urge you to ignore it all. Whip up a big batch of Chocolate Martinis, introduce a topic of conversation like, “Hey, how about that election?” and watch the chaos ensue.

Happy Holidays, everyone!