Editor's Note: You may know Michael Dietsch from his excellent cocktail blog, A Dash of Bitters. He'll be swinging by Serious Eats with cocktail techniques, recipes, and party hosting tips.
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Not everyone at your party will be drinking alcohol, even if it's a kids-free event. Providing booze-free drinks for your guests is just good hosting. Water, of course, is a given; keep bottles of water stashed in the cooler with plenty of ice to keep it well-chilled. Lemonade, iced tea, and Arnold Palmers are great choices in the summer. In colder months, offer non-alcohol punches, hot teas, or mock Toddies.
One fun way to impress your guests is with house-made sodas. They're not difficult to make, but they require advance planning. My preferred method is to make a flavored simple syrup, blend that in a tall glass with juice, top with club soda or seltzer water, and gently stir to mix without losing any fizz. Although in earlier columns I urged you to have cocktails or punches prebatched and ready to pour, your dry guests will enjoy seeing you take the time to cater directly to them by mixing up something on the spot. Non-drinkers are so often overlooked at parties that you can provide a grace note of hospitality by going out of the way for them.
This is a versatile template: homemade flavored syrup, juice, and fizzy water (or sparkling cider). You can play with many combinations. I love a Ginger Lime Soda, using ginger simple syrup and fresh lime juice. A jolly winter holiday variation might include cranberry syrup and Meyer lemon juice. Mint syrup marries well with many fruits, including berries and stone fruits.
Now, I know we're discussing the non-boozers on your guest list, but homemade soda is versatile even for the wets in your crowd. You can add a spirit to it if you want to give your boozier guests something new to try, or you can top it with sparkling wine instead of fizzy water.
For more alcohol-free drink ideas, check out Paul Clarke's April 2009 column.