'Tis the season for holiday cheer, New Year's Eve parties and stressful hosting duties. Playing bartender can be one of the most difficult parts of throwing New Years Eve festivities, particularly without any guidance. To help you learn the ropes, we've asked the experts to chime in on what to do, what not to do and the best ways to keep the party (and the libations) going strong.

These skilled mixologists run the renowned bar programs at hotspots Dead Rabbit (30 Water St., 646-422-7906) and Pouring Ribbons (225 Ave. B, 917-656-6788) and have earned their stripes as some of the best in the business -- and now, luckily for you, they're sharing their secrets with at-home cocktail shakers and stirrers around New York City.

From remembering to always having enough ice on-hand to their favorite punch recipes, these guys will help make your next at-home party as great as can be, without all the anxiety.

Dead Rabbit mixologist Jack McGarry

What's your #1 at-home cocktailing tip?

If you intend to make cocktails for your house party, always ensure you have a punch prepared in advance of your guests arriving. It's the ice-breaker when they arrive and will give you time to prepare the other cocktails you have in mind for the evening. My best tip (considering it's the season to be jolly) is to prepare a punch for arrival or a mulled wine, and finish with an eggnog. All of this can be prepared prior to arrival and will allow an easy execution.

What's your favorite cocktail to make for a 10-person dinner party?

This would have to be a punch and my favorite is the Punch a la Taylor. It's a style of punch known as the Orange Punch. It began appearing in British literature as early as 1691 when it appeared in John Worlidge's "Vinetum Britannicum."

In a mixing bowl add:

  • The zests of 10 oranges & lemons
  • 250 grams caster sugar

Muddle until all the oil has been extracted from the peels. Then add:

  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons boiling black tea

Stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Then add:

  • 1 bottle Redbreast 12 year Irish Whiskey
  • 1 ounce Pernod Absinthe
  • 20 dashes Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters (or any bitters)
  • 1 freshly grated nutmeg

Put through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate

What's your favorite cocktail / punch to make for a party in large quantities?

My favorite cocktail to make at anytime these days is the Turf Club -- it's a perfect example (in my eyes) of how the Martini would have started out life during the late 19th century. It's also a beautiful aperitif.

Into a mixing glass add:

  • 1.5 ounces Beefeater London Dry Gin
  • 1.5 ounces Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth
  • .5 ounces Luxardo Maraschino
  • 3 dashes Bittermens Orange Cream Citrate
  • 5 dashes Pernod Absinthe

Add ice and stir until ice cold. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass and finish with lemon oils.

What's the #1 mistake to avoid?

When you are starting out life as a in-house bartender, always start small and allow yourself to grow organically. Buy a bottle of booze at a time and work with that and move on to the next thing. I've heard many a story when someone gets the cocktail bug and goes out and gets absolutely everything a well stocked bar has and then a few months later they have a new passion. Making well-made cocktails in the home takes time. Get advice from bartenders on techniques, where to get accessible and affordable ingredients and what books to get recipes from. The best places to learn are bars themselves and nowadays most bartenders give their recipes away easily so don't be afraid to ask. Be patient.

What are your bar "must-haves" for any party, big or small?

Punch, punch, punch. It's perfect for any size of party and you can get beautiful punch bowl sets on various websites these days. It's easy to make, it's ready when your guests arrive, it's easy to drink and most importantly allows you to be the host.

Any other pearls of wisdom for at-home cocktailers?

Drink water whilst consuming cocktails. It's extremely important. We are all guilty of getting carried away while drinking beautiful cocktails but if you neglect your water you will quickly become dehydrated and the next morning will be anything but beautiful. Drinking water keeps you hydrated and also prolongs your evening.

Pouring Ribbons mixologist Joaquin Simó

What's your #1 at-home cocktailing tip?

Never add ice until you've got everything else ready to go. Prepare your garnish, chill your glass, make sure all ingredients and tools are at hand, then build the drink in your mixing glass/tin. Start with the cheapest/stickiest ingredients (like simple syrup) and the tiny, easy-to-forget modifiers (like dashes of bitters). Add your base spirit last -- that way if you mess something up, you're tossing a few cents worth of syrups and juices down the drain instead of a couple dollars worth of booze.

What's your favorite cocktail to make for a 10-person dinner party?

I love a French 75 -- it's delicious with either gin or cognac, and such a festive way to kick off a party. Champagne (and champagne cocktails) aren't just for New Year's Eve. Also, one bottle of booze, one of bubbly, a few lemons and some sugar is pretty low-maintenance, which is critical when you've got 10 people coming by.

  • 1 1/4 ounces London Dry Gin
  • 3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounces simple syrup (1:1 white sugar to water)
  • Top with dry sparkling wine or brut champagne

Combine the first three ingredients into a mixing tin, add ice and shake briefly, but vigorously. Strain into a flute, top with brut Champagne and garnish with a lemon pigtail twist (use a channel knife for optimum results).

What's your favorite cocktail / punch to make for a party in large quantities?

I improvise my punches with whatever I have laying around. I'll brew some strong tea, then sweeten and chill it. To that, I'll add some citrus, maybe some bitters and whatever bottle is cluttering up my home bar. Chill the whole thing, then right before serving, add about a quarter or so of the total volume of club soda and set it out with a big block of ice and some pretty floating garnishes (or simply grate some fresh nutmeg over the top). You can make the ice block a couple days before by freezing a Tupperware or Bundt pan 2/3 filled with water.

What's the #1 mistake to avoid?

Don't buy cocktail glasses at Crate & Barrel or department stores. Those 10- or 12-ounce martini glasses make you feel compelled to fill them up so as to not appear stingy and that's far too large a serving. Scour antique stores and Goodwill stores for old, preferably mismatched glassware. Go for 5- or 6-ounce glasses, which will give you a far more responsible serving size (and way more character).

What are your bar "must-haves" for any party, big or small?

Ice. You always need more than you think. A clamshell-style handheld citrus press makes short work of a bag of citrus -- which is crucial for making a great sour. Buying "freshly squeezed" or bottled citrus juice is a shortcut that only ensures your drinks will never rise above mediocrity.

Any other pearls of wisdom for at-home cocktailers?

Taste-testing, not skimping on product, over-stocking on ice -- those are all are things that make a drink made at home taste significantly like a drink passed over a bar.