There are two important features that go into serving drinks outdoors: presentation and chill factor, and it can be a little difficult to find a way to get both at the same time. Conventional beverage coolers will keep your drinks cold, sure, but they aren’t exactly stylish, and plunging your hand into cold water and ice to get a drink isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. On the flip side, having a nice display for your drinks often means leaving them out in the heat to sweat and get warm, which isn’t any better. Today, we’ve got a few options that blend the best of both worlds.
If you do a lot of outdoor entertaining, particularly for adults, a simple bar setup can be an invaluable addition to your outdoor furniture. Outdoor bars offer ample shelf or sometimes cabinet space to keep a full range of liquors and cocktail mixers stocked but out of the way. Admittedly you’ll still probably need an ice bucket to serve up cold drinks, but unlike cans or bottles of beer, you don’t need to keep the liquor itself cool, just add ice to mix or serve, reducing the mess without sacrificing the quality of the drink. If you mostly serve soda and water at your parties, this option probably isn’t for you, but if you want to let your inner bartender shine, an outdoor bar is a great, attractive and practical way to do it.
Serving carts are a similar beast: they’re great for conveniently dishing up drinks and food in style, but don’t have the capacity to keep a lot of drinks cold at once. Many models come with a built in ice bucket which helps, but where these carts really shine is when you’re serving food and drinks in an outdoor area that doesn’t have designated dining furniture. A cart on wheels can easily be moved outside from an indoor kitchen, and has plenty of room for food, drinks, plates, and so on.
Just want to have a lot of drinks cold and ready to serve at once? Instead of filling a big tub or cooler with ice, consider opting for a professional quality party cooler. These are similar to the large drink display tubs you sometimes find in convenience stores: they’re about the size and shape of a trash can and can be completely filled with drinks in cans or bottles. But unlike similar beverage coolers that have to be filled with ice, these have built in refrigeration systems. Better yet, many models don’t even need to be plugged in to stay cold; just allow them to charge overnight and wheel them out on your deck for up to 8 hours. Admittedly these can be a bit pricy, but for people who entertain large groups regularly, they’re almost a must-have, as they hugely cut down on the mess and expense of ice, and have a much higher capacity than low-tech models of a similar size.
For a more intimate gathering, having the ability to store a huge number of cold drinks probably isn’t a big priority – it’s more important to be able to stay with your group and not have to make a lot of trips inside whenever anyone’s drink runs out. Now, a traditional ice bucket will work here, either a tabletop canister or a freestanding one like the kind used to serve a bottle of wine or champagne. But to save space and earn a few style points, look for one that doubles as a side table, with a removable lid on the ice bucket that doubles as a table top for added functionality.
If you and your friends love beer, but a cheap can of the domestic stuff doesn’t always cut it, you’ll be pleased to learn that it’s possible to put your favorite beer on tap right in your own back yard. Beer refrigerators (also known as kegerators) are refrigerators specifically designed to hold one or more half, quarter, or mini kegs of beer linked up to a fully functioning tap. You’ll need to be able to plug them in to keep the refrigerator running, but plenty of models are rated for outdoor use, and can either be installed permanently into an outdoor kitchen or mounted on wheels to roll easily outside for a party.
If you live in a fairly mild climate, another great option is to simply install a mini refrigerator or beverage refrigerator somewhere in your outdoor area. These are often a part of larger outdoor kitchens, but they don’t have to be: as long as you have an outlet and a relatively sheltered stretch of countertop to install it in, you can easily add one to an otherwise fairly simple outdoor area to get ice cold drinks on demand.
How do you usually store drinks for a big back yard barbecue? Do you entertain large groups, or do you just hate buying bags of ice? Let me know in the comments!