Your guests are quickly arriving; what do you do? Timely service from this mini drink menu will give them a warm welcome, as it includes just enough alcohol to get the party off to a smooth start.
Seasoned hosts know that the key to entertaining without worry is to prepare as much as possible — and to keep guests’ glasses full. Having an arsenal of drinks ready to serve before folks arrive is essential. With something to sip in hand, people can more easily mingle while you polish off the final details of the evening. While a pre-dinner aperitif (or two) is a great way to get the party started, our recommended drinks are fairly low in alcohol in order to keep everyone on their best behavior before the first course.
Barboursville Vineyards Brut Cuvée 1814
Sparkling wine is a favorite (and easy!) pre-dinner drink. Cuvée is a champagne typically made from a mix of grapes from different vineyards and varietals, usually from France. The Barboursville Vineyards Brut Cuveé hails not from Champagne, but from Orange County, Virginia and is a perfect selection for cocktail hour. While most Bruts are dry, this 100 percent pinot noir cuvée is fruitier and softer on the palate, making it a great way to get company settled. Be sure to get a couple of bottles, though, as flutes will be empty before you know it.
Broadbent Madeira, 5 year reserve
Madeira is your great grandfather’s great grandfather’s favorite drink. Produced on the Portuguese islands of the same name, Madeira was incredibly popular among Southerners during the Colonial era — it was a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Although sometimes referred to as a dessert wine, its balance of sweetness and acidity makes it a great early evening option, especially if you’re serving rich appetizers.
SweetWater Take Two Pilsner
$8.99 for a 6-pack
Bready booze may not be the most obvious drink when paving the way for a filling meal, but a pilsner’s bitterness actually helps stimulate the appetite. This German-style, Atlanta-brewed beer’s Czech Noble hops and dryness make it an excellent pairing with savory apps like cheese or crackers. Its medium carbonation helps your guests not feel too full before dinner begins.
Live Oak Hefeweizen
$7.99 for a 6-pack
Classic Bavarian wheat beer inspires this golden brew from Austin, Texas. Wheat malt and mild hops drive the light-tasting flavor with notes of clove and vanilla. A slight acidity tamps the flavor back in balance with a slight banana aroma and solidifies this hefeweizen’s place as an aperitif.
Campari and Cannon
$25.99 for a 750mL Campari bottle
$10 Cannonborough Honey Basil for a 750 ml bottle
Gaspare Campari invented this eponymous bitter liqueur in 1860. Given its strong taste, it’s not usually drank straight, but cut it with some soda water and it makes for a great pre-dinner drink. Another great mixing option is South Carolina’s Cannonborough Beverage Co. sodas, in particular the Honey Basil soda. It’s made with fresh lime juice and provides a great blend acidity, sweetness and bitterness when mixed with Campari.
$35.99 for a 750mL Southern Amaro Liqueur bottle
Mint Juleps are a Southern staple, but they can be a bit stiff to serve before dinner. Alex Day, founder of the widely renowned NYC cocktail bar Death & Co., invented a less boozy version that substitutes amaro for bourbon. We like where his head's at, but instead of Amaro CioCiaro, we recommend Southern Amaro, made by Charleston’s High Wire Distillery. It works wonderfully with his recipe.