Photo: Catherine Mead
You have plans for monogrammed napkins, personalized photo booth signage, and table names that reflect your and your husband-to-be's favorite date spots. Why stop the personalization there? Keep it going by creating a signature wedding drink to be passed during cocktail hour or served all night at the bar. Trust us: Your drink will trump a standard gin and tonic every time. Here, Leanne Strickler, the head mixologist and signature-cocktail-crafting pro with Blue Plate in Chicago, offers six tips on how to create a cocktail that fits your wedding and you two as a couple.
Go for Two
For most couples, a signature cocktail is about capturing the theme of the day rather than trying to match certain flavors with your S.O.'s personality traits. But, that doesn't mean you can't pick a cocktail that speaks to each of you. "A lot of times we have a 'his' and 'hers,'" Strickler says. Your groom may want to serve his signature old fashioned, for instance, while you may be leaning toward something more refreshing. In the spirit of compromise, serve both! And don't worry about overwhelming the bartenders. Your caterers should be prepared to accommodate the flow of guest so no one's waiting too long to get their hands on the tasty drinks.
Start with Your Go-To Order
Only armed with amateur drink-making skills? Start by considering the flavors and drinks you gravitate toward on an average Saturday night out. "I try to find out what the couple normally drinks, what flavors they are interested in and drawn to, and what flavors they don't like," Strickler says. In general, cocktails fall into four categories: strong like a Manhattan, sour like a Tom Collins, sweet like a French martini, or low alcohol, with something like sparkling wine as the base. The choice is yours, but Strickler suggests serving a low-alcohol option. It can save money, and it'll keep your Uncle Tom from getting too rowdy on the dance floor.
Incorporate Trendy Flavors
If you're a vodka soda kind of girl, use that as the base and then add of-the-moment flavors to make it more complex. "Tea is very popular, and there are lots of different flavors," Strickler says. "It's a great way to add flavor to a drink really inexpensively." Sherry wine and herbs are also popular in the mixology realm right now, she says. Consider tossing a sprig of rosemary or sage to your final product as a tasteful garnish and flavor booster.
Complement the Theme
Lean on the signature drink as yet another way to tie the evening together. "I like to have cocktails that can be paired with food if possible," Strickler says. "An outdoor barn wedding is going to have a very different menu than a formal, sit-down wedding." Consider the menu, the venue, and your overall style. Sometimes all it takes is a simple swap in glassware to make a cocktail fit your big day. "You could take a very basic drink like a vodka gimlet, put it into a martini glass, garnish it more carefully, and it becomes a fancy drink," Strickler says. "Or you can throw it into a mason jar over ice, add a really cute straw, and it can go to an outdoor barn wedding."
Consider Your Guests
"While this is your wedding, your guests may not have the same tastes," Strickler says. Shoot to create a cocktail that's both interesting and universally appealing. Think spirits like vodka and rum versus more polarizing gin and whiskey flavors. Even if you create a cocktail that is to die for, not everyone will be a fan. "People assume everyone will have two or three specialty drinks, but people who drink wine will still drink wine," Strickler says. Your best bet is to estimate one to one-and-a-half signature cocktails per guest, Strickler says.
Don't Get Hung Up on Color
Your wedding colors may be red and cream, but that doesn't mean your drink needs to be the same shades. "That's going to require a lot of food dye," Strickler says. "And you don't want your guests walking around with red or blue lips." Instead, bring your colors through with garnishes — say a strawberry for that pop of red — and bar accessories like straws and napkins.