Throwing a party can be stressful, and throwing one over the holidays can be even more so. You’ve got to decorate, wrap gifts, and mentally prepare for what will surely be scintillating conversation around the holiday dinner table. If your holiday parties always involve alcohol, then that adds another layer of complexity.
What do you serve? How much do you get? I can’t help you with that, but I do have some gadgets that will make whatever beer and wine you buy taste better, and a scale that just might intrigue your guests enough to have them make their own drinks.
I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about Fizzics back when it was an Indiegogo project. It was a device that promised to make your bottled beer taste like it came from a keg, without CO2 or nitro cartridges. You stick a bottled beer in it, insert a tube, and pull the lever. It creates uniform bubbles using oscillating sound waves and then delivers the beer to your glass. Having bubbles that are all the same size slows the rate at which tinier bubbles give up their gas to larger ones in the liquid, resulting in flavor loss.
I tried a few different kinds of beer, including a stout from Ninkasi and an IPA from 10 Barrel, and compared them to some I didn’t put through the machine. I could legitimately taste the difference. The stout, for instance, felt less dense and tasted a little less metallic. Could I taste the difference if I didn’t have the beer side by side? Probably not, but it will make for a fun experiment at parties. It’s pretty easy to clean, too, but unless everyone is drinking the same type of beer, you’ll probably want to rinse the tubing in between. It can also accommodate a 64-ounce growler, so you can stick that in and it should last a couple rounds.
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Sometimes, you just want to set out a box of wine when you’re hosting a party. The stuff has come a long way in the past few years, it’s economical and makes it less likely that you’ll run out. But if you want to give your wine a bit more complexity than you typically find in vino from a box, the Oak Bottle is an interesting option. First, it’s not the kind of thing you can whip out right before a party. You need to let water sit in it for 24 hours to prevent leaking, as the oak tends to shrink when not in use. Afterward, you’ll want to leave your wine in there for 24 to 48 hours, depending on your preference for oakiness. Since the bottle tends to start a little heavy on the oak flavor and mellow with time, I left it for 24 hours. The instructions say you can taste as you go until you find the perfect amount of oak.
I was pleasantly surprised that our $20 box of wine — which breaks down to about $5 a bottle — had been transformed into a smoother, more fragrant, wine. It took something that was easy-sipping and made it more complex. I say this as someone who drinks boxed wine regularly, so take that for what it’s worth. The Oak Bottle also works with spirits, like whiskey and tequila, adding smokier flavors. It’s definitely cool to taste the difference, but is it economical? At $80, it’s pretty steep given it only lasts about 50 uses (after that, wine gets substantially less oaky.) Maybe next time I should try to turn a $20 bottle into a $50 bottle.
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Nothing says party like punch, and that’s because it saves the host from having to make a zillion individual cocktails. Either way, the Perfect Drink scale is a smart scale that can lead you through all the steps. It communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth as you follow along using the Perfect Drink app. As you pour an ounce of gin, for example, you watch a box fill up in the app. If you overpour, it will automatically adjust the amounts for the rest of the ingredients and let you know if you have to go back and add more Lillet from an earlier step. If you want to start out making punch-sized amounts, you can change the number of servings yourself.
The list of drinks is pretty impressive, too. I found pisco sours, Ramos gin fizzes, blood and sands, and scofflaws. It has fun lists of drinks, like Prohibition-era cocktails and drinks from iconic books, films, and TV. I found a White Russian recipe so I can drink like the Dude from The Big Lebowski. From Ernest Hemingway’s cabinet, it offer the Jack Rose — which appears in The Sun Also Rises and is an amazing cocktail — but the Hemingway Daiquiri is listed elsewhere. Luckily, there’s a search bar to help you find what you’re looking for.
I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the Sidecar recipe (I prefer a 1:1:1 ratio for the three ingredients), but it’s fairly easy to edit existing recipes or add your own. That’s good, because it doesn’t have everything. I couldn’t find the Clover Club cocktail, for example. It’s an accurate scale, but $100 is still pretty pricey unless you’re absolutely serious about impeccably measured cocktails. Luckily, there’s a companion app for baking that makes it more versatile. If you have an iPad, leave the app open next to the scale and encourage guests to make their own drinks.
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I’ll be the first to admit the Coravin is not something designed with me in mind (see my previous comments about the amount of boxed wine I consume). But for some people, buying and keeping expensive wine is a hobby. It’s one that requires patience. The Coravin lets you cheat a bit, though, by granting you access to the wine inside a bottle without pulling the cork. You can enjoy a glass or two, remove the Coravin, and let the cork reseal itself.
Because it’s meant to let you taste your fine wines at different ages, but in a more casual setting, it could be fun to let people try a wide variety of wines without worrying about ending up with a boatload of vinegar on your hands the next morning. The insertion and removal processes aren’t as daunting as they look (though I did have to consult a video), and I felt very professional pressing the argon-gas-cartridge-operated trigger to release my wine. For those who turn their noses up at boxed wine but only want to drink a glass or two of wine, the Coravin might pay off. Eventually. It’s $300.
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At some point, your guests have to go home, which means they should switch to coffee. There are countless options, and your regular old machine will probably do just fine, but if you want to appease the cold brew lovers, the Bodybrew is a fairly simple, low-tech solution. It’s also another one you have to prepare in advance, but that means less work for you mid-soiree. All you have to do is fill up the basket with coarse grounds, fill the chamber with water, screw everything together, flip it a couple times, and wait 12 to 24 hours depending on how strong you like your brew. You can either serve it cold or add boiling water to make it hot, and you’ll have between 8 and 12 cups of coffee for your guests. Overall, it’s really easy to use (and dishwasher safe!), and my only complaint is that it can be a tad difficult to unscrew the one lid because it’s so wide.
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Updated 11/30/2016: Updated to clarify how the Fizzics works.