I've been sharing glimpses of my recent All-American Beer Bottling Party this week — the initial party plan, the tasty Honey & Chili Chicken Thighs we had for dinner, and how to bottle your own beer — and today I'm going to show you how the whole shindig came together! There were shrimp tacos to start, a batch of amber ale that got bottled, and a table full of good food to share at the end of the day. This was such a fun way to spend a summer afternoon with my friends, truly. I can't wait to share it with you.
The Day Before
I learned long ago that the key to enjoying my own parties was to do as much work ahead of time as I possibly can, and thereby reducing the amount of work I have to do while my guests are actually here. For this party, I prepped all the ingredients for the rice salad the day before — cooking the rice, chopping the lettuce and grapes, roasting the pecans, and even combining the salad dressing in a jam jar. I wanted the salad to taste as fresh as possible so I packed all the different components into containers and waited to toss it together until just before serving.
I also prepped some of the smaller components of the other dishes. I made the mint-infused simple syrup for the fruit salad, whizzed together the creamy cilantro sauce for the chicken thighs, and chopped the mangos and jalapenos for the salsa (though waited to toss in the avocados until the next day to avoid browning).
A quick run to the store to pick up the pie and the soft pretzels, and I was ready for the party! I'll be sharing more of my best strategies for a do-ahead dinner party later this week, so stay tuned for that.
Setting Up the Party
I have a small apartment and an even smaller living room — our sofa, coffee table, heavily-laden book shelves and dining room table all co-exist in this space. To throw this party, I took Cambria's tip from her spring dinner party to heart and embraced re-arranging the furniture.
First, I moved our coffee table into a back room where it would be out of the way for the entire span of the party. Next, I cleared space on top of our bookshelves for the beer bottling station. When it came time to eat dinner, we moved my dining room table from its normal spot against the far wall and put it in the middle of the living room so we could sit on all four sides. Finally, I set up an appetizer station for the tacos out on the porch, both so that I could set up the beer bottling station inside and so that we could enjoy the sunny California day.
My friend Tracy Benjamin and I had collaborated on the table settings and the overall party to look, so she took care of setting up the taco station and making the table look beautiful while I finished up some last minute details for the beer bottling and the dinner.
Covering the whole table with a tablecloth was feeling a little fussy for this particular party, so Tracy ended up folding it into thirds and laying it down the length of the table like a table runner. Paired with matching, but differently patterned, napkins from Mia + Finn (love them!), the table looked and felt just right.
Cocktails and Tacos on the Porch
Not everyone at my party knew each other so a cocktail hour was a definite "must" to get everyone relaxed and comfortable with each other. The IPA Campari Spritzers were perfect — a little different from the usual, slightly fancy, and not too alcoholic that bottling the beer in an hour would be a challenge!
I had quickly roasted the shrimp and finished the salsa just before guests arrived, so once the spritzers were served, I transferred everything to bowls and we moved onto the porch for appetizers. I use the term "porch" here loosely — it's really more of a landing and only just wide enough to accommodate a few trays of food and some guests! But this was a reminder that even a small outdoor space is still outdoor space — some of us lounged against the railing and a few people found a seat on the stairs up to my apartment. It felt easy and casual. Note to self: eat out on the "porch" more often!
Bottling the Beer
This was the reason why we were all here, and once the tacos and spritzers were polished off, we were eager to jump into it! I started off with a short run-down of how to bottle beer, and then showed everyone how to siphon the beer into the bottles and put the caps on. I hadn't realized before this moment what a fun, communal activity beer bottling can be — with one person handing filled bottles to another for capping, someone else adding more empty bottles to the queue, and everyone chatting together as they worked. It was a great moment.
Partway through bottling, I slipped away to the kitchen to wrap up the chicken thighs, toss the salad, and finish everything for the dinner. In my apartment, the kitchen is only a few feet away from the living room, so I still felt like part of the conversation and activity even though I was focusing on the food.
Dinner Together at the Table
Beer bottles filled, equipment cleared away, and the table set: it was time to eat! All the dinner dishes were communal, so we passed platters and bowls of sauce around the table until everyone had a little bit of everything. The pretzels were a big hit — I warmed them in the oven for a few minutes before serving, so even though they were a day old, they were still soft and perfect for mopping up every last bit of sauce on the plate.
There was pie for dessert and no one turned it down! The baker at Whole Foods promised me that the huckleberry pie would be a surefire hit, and he did not steer me wrong. With a scoop of ice cream melting over the top, plates were clean in minutes.
An All-American Beer Bottling Party
As my friends left, I handed each of them a 6-pack of newly-bottled amber ale to enjoy back home. The day wasn't without a few hitches — I could have made double the amount of shrimp for the tacos (two of my guests were over 6 feet tall and they were hungry!) and I mistimed the thighs a bit so there was a gap between the bottling and dinner. But in the end, little things like this don't matter. In the downtime before dinner, one of my friends pulled out her guitar and treated us to an impromptu concert — you just can't plan moments like that!
All in all, a great party was had by all. It felt relaxed and casual, but a definite step above just ordering pizza with friends. And if we weren't all friends at the beginning of the day, we definitely were by the end!
We're not quite done with our series yet! Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on why I very consciously decided not to make the entire dinner myself, and on Friday, I'll share my best tips for throwing a stress-free do-ahead dinner, no matter what kind of party you're planning to throw.
Featured Party Resources
Beer Bottling Resources
At The Table
- Table Runner and Linens: Mia + Finn
- Square Plates: Williams-Sonoma
- Cocktail Glasses: Cost Plus World Market
- Water Glasses: Gilt
- Silverware: Williams-Sonoma
- Fruit Salad Bowls: Williams-Sonoma
- Rice Salad Bowls: CB2
- Wooden Platter: Cost Plus World Market
- Flower Arrangements: Trader Joe's
Food and Drinks
- Cocktail: IPA Campari Spritzers
- Appetizers: Roasted Shrimp Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa
- Main Course: Honey & Chili Chicken Thighs with Creamy Cilantro Sauce
- Side Salads: Fruit Salad and Chopped Brown Rice Salad with Grapes and Pecans
- Bread: German Pretzels from Esther's German Bakery
- Drinks: Various craft beers
- Dessert: Huckleberry Pie from Whole Foods with Vanilla Ice Cream from Trader Joe's
(Images: Danielle Tsi)