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5 bottles, 5 tools, 5 recipes: Add Champagne and your bar is ready for New Year's Eve

Emma Janzen
The Porton Sparkler, a Pisco cocktail, is made with Pisco Porton, St. Germain, Champagne and grapefruit juice. It's delicate and floral, with a bubbly kick.

Whether you're kicking back on the couch to watch the New Year's Eve ball drop on TV or having friends and family over for a more lively celebration, there's a good chance the booze will flow . A "well-stocked bar" might sound intimidating, but you don't have to go to extreme lengths to throw a successful cocktail party. If you want a fancy drink, you go out. If you want a simple, but solid drink for your New Year's guests, all you need are 5 bottles, 5 pieces of equipment, 5 recipes and a little bubbly.

The spirited staples

First on your list should be vodka, which remains the most consumed spirit in the U.S. Why? It acts as a blank canvas, indiscriminately showcasing whatever flavors you want to mix with it, making it an easy go-to liquor in any drinking situation. For the same reasons, it also can transcend the barriers between semi-fancy drinks like the Tito's sparkler recipe, back page, and simple mixes like vodka soda. Austin has plenty of local vodkas to choose from, making it an even better option for holiday imbibing.

Like vodka, rum also can act as a chameleon spirit — one you can gussy up to the nines as in the delightful punch recipe, at right, or simply stir with simple syrup for a Rum Old Fashioned.

For another clear spirit that provides an excellent alternative option to your standard party drinks, get a little wild and feature a Pisco from Latin America.

Pisco is a subtle grape-based brandy whose flavor lands somewhere between a tequila and a vodka. The sparkling wine cocktail recipe from Pisco Portón is a delicate and sophisticated New Year's Eve option.

The French elderflower liqueur St. Germain isn't typically consumed neat as a base spirit, but it can add an element of delicate sweetness to cocktails.

The signature Hummingbird cocktail (St. Germain, sparkling wine and club soda, with a lemon twist and served in a Collins glass) functions as a fantastic brunch cocktail. When dressed up with a strawberry garnish and minus the club soda, you have a classy and romantic New Year's Eve toast.

Finally, because winter is prime season for dark spirits (thanks to the warmth of vanilla, oak and other baking spice flavors inherent in oak aged spirits), whiskey should be essential for a holiday gathering. If you aren't going to use whiskey in the mulled cider recipe below, try a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or one of my favorites — mix it with some grapefruit juice and simple syrup with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Helpful tools

Mixing cocktails is a precise art. Like baking, the slightest variation from a dictated recipe will change the final taste of the drink, and usually not for the best. For this reason, a jigger is one of the most important tools needed to make excellent cocktails. Measure everything for optimal results.

If you're not following a recipe, start out with small proportions and adjust the drink to your taste. Remember, you can always add more sweetener if needed, but you can't subtract sweetener without adding more booze.

Use a cocktail shaker for drinks that include juice. Citrus juice doesn't like to naturally blend together with spirits, so to get a smooth final product, incorporate all the ingredients together with a good shake over ice before straining and serving.

On the flip side, stir, with a stirring spoon, cocktails that are spirits only (no juice). This will create a flawlessly clear, velvety looking drink that has a wonderfully satin mouthfeel. There's nothing worse than a frothy Manhattan or Martini, which should be the kings and queens of sexy cocktails.

After your drink is stirred or shaken, strain everything into a chilled glass to serve. Strain even if you don't think it is necessary.

No one likes particles of fruit, mint or ice floating around in their drinks, which distracts from the overall drinking experience. A Hawthorne strainer fits neatly in most shakers, making the process elementary.

Finally, when peeling citrus fruits to use as garnishes, use a wide vegetable peeler for thick peel garnishes, and a smaller fruit one for twists. Try to capture the least amount of white pith in the twist or peel because pith will add a chalky, bitter element that you don't want in or around the drink.

The drinks

Each of these recipes makes perfectly festive New Year's Eve cocktails that are quick to mix and sure to please many types of drinkers.

Most of the drinks call for Champagne, although cava or another sparkling wine might be a better option for mixing in cocktails, Eric Pelegrin from Beverage World says. For one thing, cava is much less expensive than Champagne, which helps when you're hosting a large party and would like to have more than one bottle on hand for midnight in addition to the cocktails you plan on preparing. And the semi-dry, semi-fruity flavor of cava balances cocktails instead of dominating with oak flavor.

Tito's Happy New Year Cocktail

Because one can't have too many sparking wine drink options for New Year's Eve, consider this local-centric recipe. The baseline of Tito's provides a boozy canvas for the rich Texas honey and Champagne. The lemon juice balances the drink as a whole, making it a great option for those looking for something not-too-sweet or frilly.

1.5 oz. Tito's Handmade Vodka

0.75 oz. Texas wildflower honey

0.75 oz. Fresh lemon juice

2-3 oz. Champagne

Strawberry on the rim for garnish

Shake the Tito's, honey and lemon juice in shaker over ice. Strain into Champagne flute. Top with Champagne. Garnish with strawberry.

— Russell Davis, formerly of Péché Austin

Boom Boom Punch

1.5 oz. Treaty Oak Rum

0.5 oz. Sweet vermouth

1 oz. Cranberry juice

Splash simple syrup

Champagne

Lemon twist garnish

Combine the rum, vermouth, cranberry juice and simple syrup in a mixing glass with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail or old fashioned glass and top with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Punch is a great idea for a party because you make a big batch ahead of time instead of mixing up the drink on the spot. There's nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen making drinks for guests all night instead of enjoying the party yourself. With this recipe in particular, batch everything but the sparkling wine ahead of time, then top off each individual drink as you serve so that the fresh effervescence pops.

— Jennifer Northcutt of Frank

St. Germain and Champagne

It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without a little bubbly. This Champagne cocktail embodies the romance and excitement of ringing in the New Year with your sweetheart. The floral elderflower-based St. Germain liqueur softens and complements the eager bubbles. I love the strawberry garnish on this drink, but the fine folks at St. Germain recommend trying out whatever garnish you favor, such as a lemon twist or raspberries, as long as you "don't tell the strawberries — you know how jealous they can get."

½ part St. Germain

Dry sparkling wine or Champagne to top off the glass

Half a strawberry

Pour ingredients into a chilled fluted glass and stir lightly. Float half a strawberry as a garnish.

Portón Sparkler

My favorite of the bunch, this cocktail is delicately sweet and complex. The floral notes of the Pisco further complement the St. Germain, and the grapefruit juice provides a perky punch.

1.5 oz. Pisco Portón

1.5 oz. St. Germain

2 oz. Ruby Red grapefruit juice

3.5 oz. Champagne

Top with club soda

Shake the Pisco, St. Germain and grapefruit juice in shaker with ice. Strain into champagne flute. Top with champagne, and a splash of soda and enjoy. I added a grapefruit twist garnish to emphasize the aroma of the completed cocktail.

Maker's 46 Mulled Cider

No harm in drinking a piping hot cider or toddy while watching the New Year's ball drop from the comfort of your couch. This recipe from the people at Maker's Mark brings out the holiday spice of the Maker's 46, and is very easy to make.

4 cups apple cider

2 pieces cinnamon stick

1 tsp. whole cloves

1 tsp. whole allspice

½ piece vanilla bean

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

3 thin slices of orange

Juice of ¼ lemon

4.5 parts Maker's 46 Bourbon

Combine the cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, the scraped vanilla bean and pod, and the brown sugar in a medium pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the orange slices, lemon juice, and Maker's 46 Bourbon. Stir to combine and allow the cider to steep over low heat for another 5 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4-6.