"I don't know how to do minimal when I entertain," Ann Soh Woods confesses, her sparkle-adorned eyes widening with excitement. "For me, more is more." It's not surprising that the founder of a spirits company embraces every opportunity to host in the welcoming, art-filled Westside home she shares with her husband, Mel, and two sons.
"New Year's is the ultimate party about excess," she adds while donning a knee-length fuchsia dress and a golden bejeweled spiked crown. And yet given Soh Woods' love of art and design, each detail is carefully chosen with her discerning eye and sensibility.
Above all, however, she prioritizes "the comfort of the guests."
She's thrown enough parties of all kinds, from kids' birthday bashes to smaller adult gatherings that she's efficiently honed her approach — and makes sure that she gets to have fun too.
Here’s what she’s planning for this New Year’s Eve:
"The first thing guests want to do when they walk in is get a drink, and second, pop something in their mouth," Soh Woods observes. So to keep things running smoothly, she's a proponent of prepping as much as possible in advance, with small touches that go a long way.
Freezing edible flowers inside ice cubes? Easy. Visual impact? Major.
For cocktails, Soh Woods likes to offer at least two contrasting options. She makes an alcoholic beverage with a citrus flavor profile and some sweetness, and "one that's straight up spirit-forward," she says.
Then she factors in seasonality, such as incorporating persimmon and citrus into the Kikori Punchy Persimmon. No surprise, this batch showcases her brand's Kikori rice whiskey and Yuzuri, a yuzu-based liqueur imported from Japan. She finishes it with a splash of holiday-appropriate cava bubbly.
As with food garnishes, making liquid concoctions really pop means looking for "that texture and the color, and anything to enhance whatever flavor is in there" she says, dropping a star anise pod into each coupe glass. (And a sprinkling of gold dust never hurts.)
What she calls the New! Old Fashioned is pre-batched into single-serve bottles, ready to pour into rocks glasses over ice and topped with both traditional and unconventional accompaniments.
"Even though it seems really easy to make something that I make every night, it can be intimidating," she says about this classic cocktail. "I want to take that out of the equation." Another perk: this DIY technique frees up hosts to mingle instead of getting stuck behind a bar.
For a showstopper of a spread, she typically turns to chef Julie Coser of Bites & Bashes catering and events company for a variety of Japanese-inspired mezze finger foods for grazing, such as dried fruits, pickles and savory, crunchy snacks.
While a catered affair is not for every budget, Soh Woods says everyone can elevate presentation with thought and care, even a potluck.
While moderation and discipline are hardly on order here, Soh Woods incorporates some Marie Kondo-esque tidiness and editing. The tableau is a preview of Coser's artful bento boxes filled with miso glazed-salmon, nori tamago and various components. For something sweet, ceramic pedestal plates full of fresh mochi sit on the coffee table next to a minimalist sculpture by Suki Seokyeong Kang.
After a dent has been made in the supply of punch and Old Fashioneds, groups mingle and reconfigure while the conversation level seems to go up a few decibels.
Given Soh Woods' involvement in the art world and diverse interests, she brings together an intriguing mix of friends, such as artists Stephanie Taylor and Gala Porras-Kim (both of whose work Soh Woods collects), professor and gallery owner Kibum Kim, and interior designer and artist Azadeh Shladovsky.
Among these individuals, along with documentary filmmakers and other media professionals in attendance, "the common ground is a facet of being creative," she says.
They're also all game for a good time. "It's rocking," says prolific architect Kulapat Yantrasast of the firm Why Architecture, of Soh Woods’ parties.
With everyone feeling a little looser, the crowd moves to the patio with the help of Kara Karaoke Entertainment, a staple at Soh Woods' celebrations.
Her company, Soh Spirits, launched its first product, Kikori, in 2015, and Yuzuri followed in 2017. (The bottle and label design of the latter product is a collaboration with Yantrasast.) Establishing the business was an ideal entrepreneurial confluence of Soh Woods' many passions that encompass Japanese culture, travel, design and food.
At home, she seizes the opportunity to add dramatic yet tasteful flourishes to make the ultimate festive setting. Abel Castro of Natural Objects studio crafted bold floral arrangements and an installation of cascading eucalyptus branches over the Paul Ferrante dining room chandelier. It's "an extension of something natural, and I love a waterfall. Again, my philosophy is more is more," she says with a laugh.
All these efforts are really about people and experiences. "Entering and departing are some of the most important moments," Soh Woods says. "You want someone to feel welcome, and you want them to leave feeling like they had a great time."
Hence, parting gifts.
In this case, a flask of Kikori, a karaoke microphone with a suggested song list, Advil packets and a half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts to ease the transition into the new year, and to hopefully prepare for indulgence to give way to restraint.
Here are the recipes that Kikori spirits founder Ann Soh Woods will be serving at her New Year’s Eve. Note: These recipes have not been tested by the L.A. Times Test Kitchen.
(Makes about 1 serving)
2 ounces Kikori
1-2 teaspoons ginger syrup (equal parts sugar and water, add pieces of ginger sliced up and cooked over low heat, and let steep for at least 20 minutes)
4 dashes Peychaud's bitters (or Angostura bitters)
Stir well, and garnish with citrus peel or edible flowers
(Makes about 10 servings)
10 medium sized, ripe persimmons
10 ounces Kikori
5 ounces Yuzuri
5 ounces honey syrup (2 parts honey: 1 part water)
5 ounces lemon juice
2.5 ounces yuzu juice (yuzu concentrate or use additional lemon juice)
Purée persimmon with syrup and citrus juice in a blender. Pour into a mixing bowl and combine with Kikori and Yuzuri. Strain into a pitcher or punch bowl and chill. Serve in a punch cup or coupe and top with a splash of sparkling wine such as cava.
Garnish with star of anise or a slice of persimmon.