Easy Entertaining with Colleen Jeffers.
For our Easy Entertaining series, we’ve partnered with some of our favorite, food-forward influencers to learn how they throw a party and keep their cool. For this round, we emailed back and forth with cocktail writer and photographer Colleen Jeffers (@colljeffers). Best known for her modern takes on classic cocktails (yes, there’s a recipe below), we asked Colleen what goes into stocking your bar for the season, and about her personal entertaining philosophy.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your “origin story,” as it were?
I’m a cocktail writer and photographer, which nicely combines my educational background (creative writing and film) with my long time passion for food, beverage, and travel. My husband, dog, and I just moved from Portland, OR, back to the Philadelphia area, where we’re both from. We’re renovating a little river cottage on the Delaware from top to bottom, but also living and working here throughout the process. It’s a labor of love that will probably take years, but we really couldn’t be happier to be here, construction dust and all.
How did you get into making drinks?
I’m both creative and a research geek — when I really like something, I have a natural inclination to learn about it. Drinking good cocktails led to reading about them, then making them, then writing about them. I also think there can be a sizeable gap between the ‘insiders’ of the spirit world and the people actually drinking the cocktails. Not everyone has the time to learn everything there is to know about cocktails, but that doesn’t make them undeserving of a good drink, or even a good recipe. I do my best to take all the information I know, then distill it down to the techniques and ingredients people will actually be able to try successfully at home.
How does your approach to making drinks inform your overarching entertaining style?
I think we can get a little caught up in perfection and the “correct” way of doing something, when really we should be aiming for intention. My ideal Old Fashioned is very specific, down to the order of ingredients, the temperature of the glass and the number of stirs, but someone else might prefer his with muddled fruit and a splash of soda. That person isn’t wrong, and knowing what you like doesn’t make you less impressive. When entertaining, I want to know my audience, and I want to make them happy. Thoughtfulness will always trump impressiveness with me.
What does a typical party with Colleen look like? Walk us through everything: from prep to party to clean-up!
My parties are as different as the people I spend time with, but my favorites tend to be those that center around a special dish or drink, where everyone’s hanging in the kitchen helping out, or just watching and eating and chatting as we go. I’ve spent whole afternoons roasting clams and shucking oysters on an Oregon beach, or roasting David Chang’s bo ssam into the wee hours of the morning, or shaking through all of the seasonal syrups in my fridge. If you can gather good people around you, put good food in front of them, and good drinks in their hands, you have a party — anything else is just window dressing.
In terms of prep, I try not to freak about things like the dust on my baseboards and focus my energy on the things that have a direct impact on the guests; for example, making sure there isn’t dog hair on the furniture, a pet peeve of mine and a feat that was nearly impossible until I switched to leather. I love dogs and don’t mind a bit of hair, but I never want people in my home to be made uncomfortable by it.
Clean up always happens the next day for me, unless it’s a family party, where the norm for the women in mine is to gather in the kitchen and do the dang thing together. Is that gender dynamic problematic? Absolutely, but I’ve always genuinely enjoyed and respected the collective feminine push to take on an unpleasant and overlooked but necessary task, and just get it done. We’re catching up and laughing and sipping our drinks the whole time — who cares if it’s over a backdrop of dishes?
What are your tips for stocking the ultimate winter bar?
People know to break out the whiskey and darker spirits for the winter months, but my best tip for stocking a winter bar is not to banish clear spirits altogether — try swapping them out for a cold-weather alternative instead. In place of gin, vodka, tequila, or white rum, grab some malty genever, spiced aquavit, smoky mezcal, or funky Batavia arrack. I’m a huge believer in making different drinks for different moods, and just because it’s winter doesn’t mean I’m in a whiskey mood every single day. Give yourself options to play with; a new spirit means a whole new category of recipes to try.
Any bartending essentials that our cocktail-curious readers should pick up?
I think a lot of people have the basics — strainers, shaking tins, jiggers… the kind of things that get talked about, or can be purchased in a set. What get overlooked are some culinary tools that have become indispensable to me for infusions, syrups, etc… the kind of ingredients that really open up your creative options in terms of flavor and seasonality. A kitchen scale is at the top of that list, because I use it in every single syrup I make, but I also rely heavily on my sous vide/precision cooker and my high speed blender. I actually pack my kitchen scale when I travel, because I find myself missing it so frequently — very few kitchens seem to have them, but they’re ridiculously cheap and will change your cocktail making (and baking!) forever.
- 1.5 oz Krogstad Aquavit
- .75 oz fresh squeezed and strained lemon juice
- .5 oz honey syrup (see below)
- 1-2 oz Champagne or Cava to top
Shake all ingredients except Champagne with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with star anise.
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup very hot water
Stir or shake in a sealed container rapidly until completely combined. Store in the fridge.