Mason Jar Cocktails for a Crowd

April 11th, 2012

Going beyond BYOB on a budget

I hope this doesn’t get me stricken from future guest lists for all time, but I am so over potluck and byob parties. So I told my co-hosts when we started tossing around ideas for a springtime 40th birthday celebration for our dear friend.

It’s not that I mind bringing a crusty loaf of bread, or bottle of wine, or a bag of good coffee beans to round out a menu, but as a hostess, I want to treat my company, not make them fend for themselves. What I’m saying is, we’re grown ups now. Potlucks and byobs are the milk crate furniture of entertaining. Fine for when you’re starting out, but less charming at mid-life. A good guest will always bring a little something anyway, but it’s liberating for everyone when the occasion doesn’t depend on it.

The problem is that many of us are still working with a milk crate budget. But with a little creative thinking, it’s wholly possible to entertain even a crowd without requiring anything beyond the pleasure of their company. The key is to choose one or two focal points to make an impact, and keep the rest simple. I like to have an interesting pre-dinner cocktail, because 1) it serves as the thematic overture to the rest of the occasion, and 2) guests become extremely easy to please after one or two of them.

So when my co-hosts and I met for our party planning session, I volunteered to do drinks. Even though guests had been invited to bring a favorite beverage, I thought it would be lovely to greet everyone with something special. And I had just the thing in mind: mason jar cocktails, perfect for a springtime cottage setting. According to Pinterest, mason jar drinks have been all the rage at weddings for the past few seasons, but I stumbled on the idea one happy hour last spring when all the dishes were dirty, and I was too tired to wash out a glass. I poured a vodka lemonade in a wide-mouth mason jar, threw in some mint leaves and lemon slices, and noticed how pretty it looked. Bonus: mason jars have lids, and thus are portable and storable, perfect for a make-ahead batch of drinks.

mason jar cocktails: spiked lemonade

Mason Jar Spiked Lemonade for 30


30 pint-size, wide-mouth mason jars with lids and collars

1 pitcher or measuring cup with spout for pouring

1 shot glass or jigger for measuring

2 coolers for storing/transporting

1 galvanized tub for serving

1 chalkboard sign



2 10-lbs bags clean filtered ice (plus 2 more for transporting and serving)

6 cans frozen lemonade concentrate

vodka (amount depends on strength of drinks–for a standard ratio of 1.5 oz liquor to an 8 oz drink, you’ll need 90 ounces. One 1.75 l bottle = 56 oz)

4 lemons


I went with concentrate instead of liquid lemonade, because I wanted everything to stay icy cold until party time. With the concentrate, I could substitute ice for most of the water called for, and the drinks wouldn’t be diluted as they warmed up. I mixed the drinks several hours ahead of time, keeping them in my freezer or on ice until served, and they stayed icy cold all night. As long as there is alcohol in them, and you don’t screw on the lids too tight, I should think it would be possible to mix these a day ahead of time and keep them in the freezer overnight.

I packed 30 pint-size, wide-mouth mason jars to the brim with fresh filtered ice (working in small batches to keep everything chilled).

Into each jar, I poured 2 oz of thawed lemonade concentrate and 3 oz of vodka (give or take).

I poured water to the “neck” of the each jar, and floated a slice of lemon on top.

mason jar spiked lemonade filling the jars

I screwed the lids on finger-tight and shook each jar gently to blend before storing them in the freezer while I mixed the next batch. I transported them in coolers filled with ice, and served them from Pearl’s galvanized tub stand, with a chalkboard sign telling (or warning) what they were.

Grown up lemonade stand

They stayed deliciously cold all night. Even though some guests stuck with the beer or wine they brought,  there was something visually and psychologically unifying about a lot of people mingling over the same drink instead of everyone clutching their own “usual.”

Cost of ingredients: about $60 (or $2 per serving), plus jars, which are infinitely re-useable.

How do you feel about potluck/byob invitations? What are some of your high-impact, low-budget entertaining recipes and tips? 

Like this? You might like my recipe for Mason Jar Sangria and Mason Jar White Sangria, too!


8 Responses to “Mason Jar Cocktails for a Crowd”

  1. […] Drinks: Spiked lemonade in mason jars (recipe here) […]

  2. Cid says:

    Can’t wait to try the Lemonade when it warms up again and I agree with you about entertaining as a grown up. I am always happy to pitch in but I also like to plan all the details of a menu and not end up with another Caesar salad to throw together. When people insist on bringing something I always say, “I never say no to wine.”

  3. Martha says:

    Puts me in the mood to throw someone a birthday party! If all your dishes are ever dirty again that retro pyrex looks like a winner as well! I find with any BYO/potluck affair there ends up with so much waste because everyone feels obligated to bring store bought cookies or too much beer…thanks for a fun idea!

  4. Patty says:

    You know, I’ve just been thinking about this lately and the concept of not hosting potlucks anymore. For super big neighborhood gatherings, it makes sense, and for holidays with my extended family, absolutely. But, like you, I’ve been wanting to make a spread for my friends at recent gatherings that we host in our home. Tomorrow night I’m hosting a clothing swap with my girlfriends and I’ve enjoyed putting together the fun mix of “heavy” munchies and wine for an early dinner and swapping clothes. A friend asked if she could bring something and i said no–it feels good to host for them and make it all look lovely! This has been on my mind, so thank you for articualting it the way you did. Love your lemonade idea!

  5. Zak says:

    I adore this idea! And I think BYOB/potlucks are the way to go.

  6. H says:

    Growing up whhen my parent had a party their friend brouught them a little hosttest gift or a bottle of wine. No one brought food. Times have changed and women like me work and dont have all day to put something together. However, nothing feels better than to go to a party and not have to make anything. That is a true gift. So I like to do that for othhers. I never as them to bring something. If they insist I typically ask or something I know I need but is super easy tobring. For exmple ice cream cones from the store for the kids.

  7. Teresa says:

    This is sooo cute!!!

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