Raising the Bar: Cocktail Talk with Mark Addison

Mark Addison believes that life is a series of special occasions meant to be celebrated in high style. As an award-winning designer and producer, he has created extraordinary environments, from celebrity events and major product launches to destination weddings and international galas. His uniquely creative vision has earned him an impressive client list of celebrities, top consumer brands, and Fortune 500 companies. Splitting his time between New York City, Palm Beach, and Vermont, he is always energized by his shifting environment and inspired by the natural beauty of his surroundings. This brings a fresh perspective and contagious optimism to all his work, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.

I recently became acquainted with Mark’s work while hunting for the perfect gift for my fabulous client. She and her husband love entertaining and are famous in their circle for their inventive cocktails. When I stumbled upon Mark’s new book, Cocktail Chameleon, I loved the inventive recipes which harken back to a more glamorous era of entertaining as well as the graphic layout of the book itself. I ended up getting the book and some beautiful cocktail napkins by Hibiscus Linens for my client and then a few days later, I received a pitch about Mark’s book– talk about serendipity! I recently sat down with Mark to dish about keeping entertaining fun and (somewhat) effortless as well as for his advice on cocktails. 

{The Provence Champagne Cocktail}

Paloma Contreras: Your mantra is: “it’s called entertaining for a reason; you get to have fun while you do it”, what’s the trick to getting “out from behind the bar” and enjoying ones’ own party?

Mark Addison: I think the biggest problem people face is over complicating their party plans (and I’ve been there). You want to try new recipes and give your guests lots of options (just in case they don’t like something) and this is where the fear of throwing a party comes in and why many people just don’t do it! I have a 50/50 rule for home entertaining and it applies on many levels:

  1. 50% pre-prepared (homemade or not, who’s to know) and 50% that you must prepare the day of your party. Keeps you from overloading yourself, because life always gets in the way of best laid plans – am I right?
  2. 50% of your party plan must be in your entertaining repertoire and you can turn it out in your sleep (you may just have to) and 50% new(ish) to keep things fresh. Taste test at least a week before to work out any kinks.

I can answer that in two words for you SIGNATURE – COCKTAIL! It is what the book is all about finding your signature cocktail with understanding the basics of the classics cocktails.

{Cranberry Sauce Punch}

PC: What 5 spirits should everyone have at their home bar?

MA: The 5 standard spirits everyone should have at their home bar: 

There are several varieties within each spirit type that will allow you to create a wide range of cocktails for you and your company. Vodka, Gin (London Style), Rum (Light or Gold), Tequila (Blanco or Reposed), Whiskey (Bourbon, Scotch, or Rye) are musts for a well-stocked bar.

{Old Black Magic}

PC: You say that glassware is the “cocktail attire” for your cocktail, how do we pick the right glass for a cocktail?

MA: The cocktail glass is the cocktail attire for your cocktails and is as important to the enjoyment of the libation as the cocktail itself! And, as in fashion there are rules to adhere to and rules to be broken. The rule that must be adhered to is form vs. function meaning, you wouldn’t serve something over ice in a champagne flute or a cocktail “straight up” in a rocks glass. The single most important decision is the style of the occasion to determine the style of the glassware; stemware vs stemless, ornate vs. simple, cut crystal vs. glass. Clear glass is always preferable over colored glass. You wouldn’t want to serve a beautiful red Bordeaux in anything but a clear glass as the color a big part of the enjoyment of the wine. The same is true of cocktails, whether it is a crystal-clear martini or a ruby-hued colored Bloody Mary, the color is an essential aspect of the experience.

{An Arnold Palmer Collins}

PC: Why did you write Cocktail Chameleon and what does it teach the uninitiated to the cocktail culture? Why cocktails versus wine?

MA: Making cocktails can seem daunting to the uninitiated, especially when it’s referred to as “the art of mixology.” And that’s the main reason I decided to write this book. I want to demystify cocktails by providing an understanding of the classics and show how, with that basic foundation, everyone can join in the fun and excitement of creating their own ­signature drinks. The cocktail’s rich history provides an opportunity to sift through a vast archive of resources and recipes spanning generations. Looking back, we can avail ourselves of a great wealth of inspiration that allows us to look forward with renewed intrigue and creativity. There are rules and formulas to be adhered to—and broken. That is the guiding premise of “Cocktail Chameleon,” in which each of 12 classic cocktails serves as a point of departure for 12 wildly diverse variations. These need not be an end in themselves but should, in turn, inspire you to create even more variations to reflect your individual taste and personality. The possibilities are endless. A signature drink is an extension of your aesthetic, with the power to transform your next cocktail party into the ultimate personal statement.

{A Couple of Great Holiday Cocktails from this Beautifully Designed book: Berry Fruity Sangria and Pom Pear}

PC: How do you choose the right cocktail for holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve which are coming up, what drinks are best to serve for large parties and which ones are better for smaller, more intimate holiday gatherings?

MA: Great question! The short answer is a signature cocktail is required for both. Larger groups require more time from the host and therefore a signature cocktail that serves multiple guest or one that can be scaled up into a pitcher with minimal effort on the hosts part to serve are ideal for larger groups; obviously punches, sangrias and even champagne cocktails (which I will show you) that can be served in a variety of glassware are great options (mix and match). These surely work for intimate gatherings as well, but more detailed cocktails with elaborate garnishes in specific glassware is best for smaller groups. And then there is the MYO bar concept, a classics cocktail with a few options that guests can craft their own signature cocktails from what the host provides; Bloody Mary, Margarita, Champagne Cocktail and Coolers are great choices as MYO Bars.

{Photography Courtesy of Mark Addison}

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