Well-crafted stories and expert culinary insights

Apr 2011

Drinking Right on Game Night

It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in all the great food options that surround an ideal game night scenario: mini serving dishes, favorite game-friendly ingredients (endive leaves, cocktail bread, mini tart shells), fun little picks and skewers to use, finger-food menu plans and such. But at some point you and your guests are going to get a bit thirsty! What’s a game night host to do?

A pitcher of Orange Negronis ready to go......

In my opinion the thing you shouldn’tdo is try to be the master mixologist on game night. There are plenty of occasions on which you can show your cocktail-crafting finesse, shaking up a perfect Manhattan for one guest and a kaffir lime gimlet for the next. Game night, however, isn’t the night for such showmanship. One of the credos of a successful game night is that once play is under way, food and drink really shouldn’t distract from the fun. You hopping over to the kitchen to shake up a few more cocktails and putting the game in “pause” mode only cools the fun that’s been building since you sat down. Instead you’ll amaze and delight your friends with the simple act of filling their glasses in a matter of moments, poured from a chilled pitcher in the fridge.

Yes, pitcher.

Just like the food you serve while playing dominoes or Cranium, the drinks you serve should be game-friendly as well. And game-friendly can be most succinctly defined as “not distracting from the game at hand.” Distraction can come in many forms. Having to put down your poker cards to pick up a knife and fork to cut a piece of meat. The host leaving the table for 10 minutes to dish up some food or cook something à la minute. Or to make a new round of cocktails.

So instead of the shaken-to-order beverages that are de rigeur for cocktail fans most nights of the week, think instead about those great films from decades gone by when stirring up a pitcherful of spirits was in vogue. The Thin Man, of course, with the gallons of martinis they drank each film. Or Auntie Mame in which the dapper young 10-year-old Patrick has been well taught in the art of
stirring an extra-dry martini “so it doesn’t bruise the gin.”

A refreshing strawberry-ginger Champagne cocktail served in my favorite stemless wine glasses

Okay, so crafting the drink’s been covered. Find yourself a fun, sleek, kinda retro pitcher and you’re good to go. Larger ice-tea-and-lemonade type pitchers can certainly be used — but are best for punches and sangrias and other drinks that will make good use of the volume of a big pitcher. Unless, of course, you’ve got quite a large crowd of cocktail drinkers on hand to consume the couple bottles’ worth of gin or rye it’d take to fill one of those things!

Now on to serving the evening’s libation. There’s generally a lot going on around a game night table. Cards being dealt, dice being tossed, Monopoly money being distributed, dominoes being shuffled. It takes just one bit of extra flourish with one of those gestures and a tall wine glass quickly goes crashing down over the evening’s accoutrements. Stemless glasses to the rescue. And it’s incredibly convenient that stemless glassware’s been hot stuff lately. Even the primo lines of classy wine glasses are now coming no stems attached, such as these elegant ones from Spiegelau or this fun set from Riedel.  And yes, of course, you can serve a Negroni in one of these glasses just as well as you can a splash of Merlot!

I’m also a big fan of using other fun small glasses as multi-purpose vessels for cocktails, wine, beer, or whatever else you’re pouring. Tumblers such as these, or any old-fashioned type glass that’s short and squat and does its job of holding tasty beverages with little risk of spillage. Though, granted, unless you give everybody one of those charming baseball caps with the cups attached and a tube you sip your — well, isn’t it usually beer?? — from, there’s really no guarantee nothings gets spilled. But just hedge your bets, the way you do when you’re holding pocket queens but not sure what the guy to your left has.

Pomegranate-Mint Fizz served in lovely tumblers made by a glass artist friend

So, here’s what it comes down to to drink well on game night:

A) don’t skimp on quality — this is a wonderful dinner partly like any other, you just happen to be playing games in addition to the other great conversation you usually have with friends when sharing an evening together.

B) pull out the pitcher and stir things up in big batches. Yes, you do get to have both quality and quantity.

and C) secure a little insurance against dampening the evening — both literally and figuratively — with spilled drinks by keeping a low profile with the glassware.

And with that, I wish you a wonderful game night full of fun and good spirits! Cheers.