Our Guide to Memorable and Affordable 21st Birthday Party
Most of us (hopefully) remember our 21st birthday party. This American rite of passage is one of the last gateways into adulthood. There is something satisfying about flashing that ID with your birthday printed on it, proving to the bartender that you are now officially a legitimate customer.
But we’d like to suggest another way to experiencing this momentous day. As the cost of a celebratory night on the town can quickly get out of hand, consider keeping the party at home. With all the right details, including a personalized bottle of wine for the birthday boy or girl, you can create a memorable party at home.
To make planning a 21st birthday bash a little easier, here’s our guide to a memorable home party.
Start with Preferred Flavors
The first step in planning a 21st birthday party for your friend or family member is to figure out what he or she likes. Wine and liquor come in many forms and each style is geared toward a specific palate.
Wine, for example, is often described as either sweet or dry and light or full-bodied. Certain liquors, like rum, are sweet while others, most notably vodka, try to be as flavorless as possible. Bourbon is much more complicated, with each brand focusing on a specific flavor profile, and gin features an array of botanicals designed to give it an herbal flavor.
Begin your party planning process with a little research on your birthday girl or boy. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does she have a definite sweet tooth or does she prefer spicy food?
- How much sugar does he put in his coffee?
- Does she prefer orange juice or cranberry juice?
Not only will this help you determine what type of alcohol to buy, but it will help you determine what type of mixers to use when making that perfect birthday cocktail. Mixers refer to non-alcoholic cocktail ingredients.
There are far too many liquor and wine variations to list them all in a short guide, but here’s a quick table listing the six most popular base spirits to get you started:
Rum: A Taste of the Caribbean
Rum is certainly a popular liquor, and considering its sweetness — it’s made from either molasses or sugar cane — it is often one of the first liquors that novice drinkers become acquainted with. It comes in two basic varieties: light and dark, which correspond with how long the rum has been aged.
The darker the rum, the more time it has spent in a cask. Both varieties are sweet, but different cocktails require one or the other, so start with a cocktail that appeals to your taste and choose your rum accordingly.
Here are a few of our favorite cocktail recipes to get you started.
Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke)This is a classic cocktail that is easy to drink and will appeal to a number of newly-minted 21 year olds. Plus, it’s such a simple recipe that first-time bartenders likely won’t mess it up. We recommend using Bacardi Gold, although a higher-end rum, like Zaya Gran Reserva 12YR, Angostura 1824 Limited Reserve 12YR, or El Dorado 12YR will give this drink an added dose of sophistication.
To create a Cuba libre, mix the following ingredients in a tall glass over ice:
- 1 ounce rum
- 3 ounces cola
- Lime wedge for garnish
MojitoThis is a classic drink that is sophisticated but simple. It’s especially refreshing in the summer and is a must in warmer climates. So if you’re making drinks for a first-timer who also wants to appear like they know what they’re doing, a mojito is a safe bet. Just make sure to use light rum, like Diplomatico Reserve Blanco or El Dorado Cask Aged 3YR.
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 6-8 mint leaves
- Club soda
- 1 lime, halved
- 2 ounces light rum
- Mint for garnish
Put the sugar, mint, and a little club soda in a tall glass. Muddle the mint, squeeze the juice of the lime over it, placing half of the lime in the glass, and then add the rum. After stirring well, add ice and the rest of the club soda, garnishing with a mint sprig.
Tequila: A Treat from South of the Border
Many young adults bemoan the hangovers caused by tequila, but generally that’s because they drank too much, not because they had tequila. This Mexican liquor, made from the juice of agave, is delightfully sweet with a pleasant hint of earthiness. Like rum, tequila comes in both white and gold varieties, and different cocktails call for different types. Here are a couple classics:
MargaritaThe margarita is synonymous with tequila. This delightful lime-flavored cocktail is easy to drink and perfectly balances sweetness with the signature spiciness of tequila. We like ours on the rocks (over ice), but they can also be made straight up (chilled without ice) or frozen (made with ice in a blender.) And we believe a margarita should always be served in a salt-rimmed glass. We recommend a white tequila like Mejor Silver or Milagro Silver.
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- 1 1/2 ounces tequila
- 1/2 ounce triple sec
- 1 ounce lime juice
- Lime wedge as garnish
- Salt rimmed glass
Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake well and then strain into the salt-rimmed cocktail glass with fresh ice. Garnish with the lime wedge.
Tequila SunriseThis visually stunning cocktail is perfect if you want a drink that combines the acidity of citrus with the sweetness of tequila and grenadine. Because the grenadine and orange juice do not mix well, the bright red grenadine falls to the bottom of the glass, creating the signature sunrise effect.
Typically, white tequila is used for this drink, but a top shelf dark tequila, like Mejor Anejo or Gran Centenario Anjeo, will add a smoky variation. Just be careful because these drinks go down easy, so pace yourself.
Here are the ingredients:
- 4 ounces orange juice
- 2 ounces tequila
- 1/2 ounce Roses grenadine
- Orange slice and maraschino cherry for garnish
Add tequila and orange juice to a highball glass with ice cubes. Stir and then slowly add the grenadine down the inside rim of the glass, making sure to let it settle in the bottom of the glass naturally. Add an orange and a cherry to garnish.
Brandy: Old World Tradition
Brandy is a sophisticated liquor made by distilling wine or other fruit juices. It retains much of the fruit’s sweetness, but age and alcohol content give it a strong, syrupy smokiness. Brandy comes in a number of varieties from different parts of the world, but the finest are said to be made in France.
Brandy is typically used in many traditional cocktails and most do not try to hide the liquor’s distinct flavor. This is a great option for a birthday party that longs for a certain degree of class. Here are a couple to get you started:
Brandy CocktailThis cocktail is the epitome of classic, so it doesn’t need a fancy name. It’s certainly sophisticated, so make sure it will match the birthday boy or girl’s tastes. Such a sophisticated drink requires a high-quality brandy, such as Courvoisier VSOP Cognac.
Here’s what you need:
- 2 ounces brandy
- 1/2 ounce orange curacao liqueur
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- Lemon peel for garnish
Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.
Brandy AlexanderThis creamy cocktail is a wonderful treat for those who like something smooth and spicy. Combining chocolate and nutmeg, it is rich and evokes a wintery warmth, even if it is served cold. So keep this one in mind if you’re planning a birthday celebration during the winter months. Also, make sure to use a good-quality creme de cacao, like DeKuyper Crème De Cacao.
Use the following ingredients:
Mix the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and then strain into a cocktail glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on the surface of the drink.
Gin: Pure English Class
Gin is an acquired taste. A combination of a neutral spirits and botanicals, it is spicy and herbal — and it makes a stunning cocktail. Most gin cocktails delicately balance different strong flavors, resulting in a mellow cocktail. But not all gins are created equal. With gin especially, you get what you pay for. So make sure to purchase a good-quality gin if you want to impress people with your cocktails. Here’s a particular popular classic:
Gin and TonicFamously, this drink was invented to make tonic — which contains quinine, an important medicine for battling malaria — more palatable. While the tonic you buy at the grocery store contains far less quinine than the original, it retains its distinct bitterness. Yet, when mixed with gin, the result is a remarkably refreshing and sweet drink, despite the ingredients. Use a classic gin like Bombay Sapphire or mix it up with a more modern take, like Tanqueray Rangpur.
Here’s what you need:
- 2 ounces gin
- Tonic water
- Lime wedge for garnish
Simply add gin to a highball glass with ice, and top off with tonic water. Stir and garnish.
Vodka: The Neutral Spirit
While every other liquor strives to offer the perfect flavor, the best vodka is as close to flavorless as possible. It’s clean and delicate and makes for the perfect mixer because it lets other ingredients shine. If your party goers aren’t the type that go for old-fashioned drinks, vodka is probably your best option.
However, there are also vodka drinks for the sophisticated crowd, such as James Bond’s famous shaken vodka martini. In fact, considering its versatility, you can’t go wrong with vodka. Here is just one option:
CosmopolitanThis gorgeous and delicate pink cocktail is quite popular among urban ladies. But it’s also pretty simple to make and will be a hit among a wide range of party goers. Choose a bottle of nice vodka, such as Grey Goose or Belvedere, and some Cointreau or Gran Marnier to bring the city home.
Use the following ingredients:
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 ounce cranberry juice
- Orange peel for garnish
Mix together with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.
Whiskey: Malt Made Perfect
Whiskey comes in a wide range of varieties with distinctly different flavors. Scotch is by far the smokiest, while Bourbon can have a wonderful caramel sweetness. All are made from some variety of corn or malt and then aged. Depending on your tastes, whiskey can easily be enjoyed straight, although it’s equally wonderful in a cocktail. Choose a special bottle of whiskey for the birthday boy or girl to celebrate in style. Try this classic to get you started:
Old FashionedLike the name suggested, this is an old-fashioned cocktail, but that doesn’t mean it’s stuffy or boring. Taking advantage of bourbon’s natural sweetness, this drink is fancy without being showy. It’s perfect for a 21st celebration that wants to maintain an element of class without being overly exclusive. Just use a good bourbon, like Woodford Reserve, Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Bourbon, or Buffalo Trace to make this cocktail truly memorable.
You will need the following:
- 1 sugar cube
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 orange slices
- 3 ounces bourbon
- Maraschino cherry for garnish
Place the sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass and soak with the bitters. Add the orange slice and muddle. Fill with ice and then add the bourbon, garnishing with the cherry.
Shooters: The Life of the Party
While there’s a wide range of fancy cocktails, sometimes a 21st-birthday party simply needs a good shooter. Typically sweet and often featuring suggestive names, these drinks are designed to be thrown down quickly. So while we strongly insist that you drink responsibly, these drinks are sure to make sure the party gets shaking quickly.
Here’s a list of some of our favorites:
- 1 ounce butterscotch schnapps
- 1/2 ounce Baileys Irish Cream
Layer the two ingredients, with the Butterscotch Schnapps on the bottom.
Mix ingredients over ice.
Sex on the Beach
Wine: Memorable and Easy
With wine, there’s no need to mix ingredients. Simply find some glasses and a corkscrew and you’re ready to share an unforgettable evening. There are as many wines as there are tastes in the world, so you will need to explore to find the perfect bottle. Take some time looking around, and remember nothing makes a 21st celebration special like a personalized bottle of wine for a birthday.
Whether you want to get your buddy a bottle of scotch for his birthday or have a girls’ night complete with shooters, we hope this guide has helped you plan a memorable and safe 21st birthday party.
With these recipes, you’ll impress your guests and make sure the new 21 year old has a night to remember (hopefully) forever.