When it comes to tackling your wedding to-do list, there are tasks that are tedious and those that you genuinely enjoy. Selecting your signature wedding cocktails definitely falls into the fun part of the process. The perfect drinks play a central role in the big day. They need to represent the event, be a reflection of who you are as a couple, and also find the perfect balance of strong but not too boozy—so that your crotchety great-uncle gets out on the dance floor, but your maid of honor doesn’t pass out before dinner. Below, we consult with two beverage experts, and they’ve shared their expert tips and tricks for finding signature wedding cocktails.
1. Make it your own.
When creating a wedding cocktail list, you want your selection to be reflective of you and your partner individually and as a couple. “I recommend offering two drinks, each representing the individuals’ tastes,” suggests Andrew Nichols, Bar Manager at Atlas Restaurant Group’s The Elk Room (recently named one of the best bars in the country by Esquire.) “Creating one cocktail for a wedding environment is also an option but more of a balancing act as it must represent not one person’s tastes, but two.” For Nichols, this requires getting to know the couple and finding the elements they love about their favorite drinks. Ask yourself a few questions to start narrowing down the options. Do you want something refreshing? Do you only drink whiskey cocktails? Do you like fruit flavors? Once you’ve settled on you and your partner’s personal tastes you can begin testing out the options. And while the drink should be a reflection of you, don’t forget to add in a little variety to appeal to the masses. “Using one un-aged (clear) and one aged (brown) spirit for each drink will help the list appeal to a broader audience,” advises Nichols. Try to opt for different types of liquors and flavors to set each one apart.
2. Consider the setting.
When mulling over your options, take your surroundings into consideration. “Location is everything,” says Zak Snyder, Beverage Director of Grand Banks, Pilot, and Island Oyster. “When preparing your drinks, do some research into the local drinking traditions. Are there any local distilleries that you could use to showcase the local flavor? If you’re having a tropical wedding, consider serving some Old Cubans or a Planter’s Rum Punch. For something in a cooler climate, nothing tastes better than a Whiskey Smash, Vieux Carre, or a classic ginger based buck. And for a fun twist, you can make your garnishes match the decor of the venue and your formal wear.The time of year and the food you are serving are other essential elements to keep in mind. “The flavors should complement the food you are serving the environment around you—no one wants a margarita in December,” says Snyder. “For summer, classic daiquiris and highball variations work well, whereas in winter, you’ll want drinks that are more rich, bold, and spirit-forward. However, a really cold martini is an amazing go-to cocktail for any season.”
3. Include a good story or name.
“A nice touch for any couple is to dig deep into your past,” Nichols suggests. Was there a memorable drink you had on your first date? Were there bars you frequented together? Are there specific drinking traditions in the region or city where you are from? “Finding a story to accompany the drink can make something very simple seem special and much more personal on the couple’s big day,” Nichols adds. When you name your drinks, go with something that will mean something to you both, whether it’s an ode to a funny memory or special trip.
4. It should be easy to make.
While it can be tempting to go over the top, it’s important to remember that the bartenders will need to make many drinks over the course of the night. As a result, the simpler the cocktail, the better. “The drink needs to be easy enough in construction to be executed during bursts of volume,” Nichols explains. Both Nichols and Snyder agree that opting for something that can be prepared in larger batches ahead of time (like a Pimm’s Cup or punch) and finished to order is usually a wise idea. “Consider batching drinks when possible instead of shaking or stirring to order. Above all else, do not include labor intensive techniques like muddling. The structured nature of most weddings causes guests to flood the bar at certain points in the evening’s schedule, particularly before and after the ceremony,” Nichols continues. The key is keeping a good flow to the night so that your guests can replenish as necessary. You want them to spend less time in a line and more time on the dance floor.
5. The look is key.
“The look is absolutely important. The cocktail and its serving vessel are just as much as part of your wedding decor as the flowers on the table,” says Snyder. When selecting your drinks, think about the color they’ll be and the type of glass you want them in. Is your look more of a Champagne flute or a copper Moscow Mule Mug? Think of the drink as an accessory that should fit with the style of your day. And when in doubt? Add in fresh ingredients. “A wedge of citrus may be easy to prepare and use during service, but so are beautiful herbs like mint or rosemary. Using something noticeably fresh, that you cannot get at your average dive bar, will increase guests perception about the value of your menu,” Nichols advises.
6. Strong, but not too strong.
When selecting your drink, pick something appropriate for a range of drinking levels, from your lightweights to your seasoned drinkers. No matter your guest, keep in mind that everyone should be able to drink more than one. “I recommend offering one low ABV (alcohol by volume) and one high ABV option. The low alcohol beverage will allow less-seasoned guests to take it slow while not feeling like they are missing out on the festivities, while the higher alcohol content in the second drink ensures that the menu’s perceived value is high and allows guests who are used to drinking spirits feel satisfied,” says Nichols.
Now that you’re well-equipped to select your drinks-of-choice, the only thing left to do is cheers!