Toast to the new year in style with these tips

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Among celebrations, New Year's Eve stands apart in its insistence on being fancy.

Standard party foods and drinks aren't going to cut it — we're setting the tone for an entire year, after all.

If you were thinking about plopping a keg in a bucket of ice and handing out red Solo cups at your New Year's Eve party, please do reconsider and treat your guests to a proper bar. For some advice on how to put one together, we turned to Michael Sharry, distiller, manager, salesman, social media guru, etc. at Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield — a place well-known for making award-winning craft liquor.

"The first thing you'll want is Champagne," Sharry said. "Then you'll want rum and bourbon — especially rum. There's some visceral calling for rum this time of year."

Whatever you decide to use for your home bar — card table, bookshelves, actual bar furniture — it's what you stock it with that counts.

We asked Sharry what the proper bar should have. Here are a few of his suggestions:

Booze

Obviously, but it's not as simple as setting out some bottles. You'll want brown as well as clear liquors. Bourbon is in the midst of a revival among American drinkers, so have some available. Rum is often a clear liquor and has more flavor and heft than vodka or gin — it's another great addition to the bar. Aged spirits tweaked with new flavors are popular right now, too. While some distillers create flavors by adding syrup or sugar to the liquor; if sweet isn't your thing, look for flavored spirits that get their extra notes from being aged in interesting barrels, like old, wooden wine or beer casks or the maple syrup barrels Berkshire Mountain uses to make Maple Bourbon.

Sharry says to figure out how much liquor you'll need for a party, get enough for every guest to have one drink — which is about 1.5 to 2 ounces of spirits per cocktail.

"It ends up equating to about half your party drinking cocktails and the others drinking wine and beer. So, make sure you've got some interesting beer and Champagne on hand."

Mixers

Rum and Coke is a standard, so having cola on hand is a must. After that, set out some seltzer, juice, and, for an extra kick, some ginger beer made with ginger root.

"There's a lot of great soda companies. It's not just Pepsi or whatever anymore," Sharry says, noting he's a fan of Fever Tree pop. "If you're not looking for a Polar or a Canadian Dry, go to a natural food store and get something different."

A little something extra

To go above and beyond the standard home bar, offer your guests a signature cocktail — but a good one. Signature cocktails created specifically for events have gotten a bad rep as people who are not mixologists or very good at putting ingredients together blend well-spirits with something intolerably sweet. Sharry, though, had a few tasty ideas.

To make your Champagne even more special, serve it in a fluted glass poured over a single cube of sugar with two dashes of bitters (he likes wormwood bitters). Garnish with an orange or lemon twist.

"When the sugar hits it, the bubbles go crazy," Sharry said. "It's not very sweet, the flavor is balanced, but you'll want to use a dry Champagne."

Another suggestion is to put out a crockpot of mulled cider with a good ladle and let guests add their own rum to their beverages. Sharry also suggests not overlooking eggnog for a New Year's Eve party.

"It's not just for Christmas," he says.

The essentials

Get vessels to match the beverages you're serving, but in general lay out some highball, rocks and wine glasses for your guests. And don't forget the napkins, we all spill a little now and then. James Bond isn't going to like this, but NYE drinks at a home bar should be stirred, never shaken. There's a certain finesse to using a cocktail shaker without making a mess and unless you have bartender friends, your guests are likely not to have mastered this skill.

Ice

Frozen water is having a moment. Mixologists debate the perfect shape of ice for each variety of drink. Spherical ice cubes are excellent for straight-up drinks you don't want to water down. Large square chunks are good, too. Whatever you decide to do: You can never have too much ice for a party.

A good toast

Try out this Irish cheer: "May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live." Happy New Year!

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com and @kristinpalpini on Twitter.


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