From seasonal flavors to clever naming conventions, signature wedding cocktails will not only go beyond the usual mix of beer, wine, and bubbly, they’ll also add a unique layer of personalization to your big day—and should be every bit as tailored as your suiting. But making those all-important decisions isn’t always, shall we say, Cristal clear.
With that in mind, we called up Food and Beverage Director Will Rentschler of The St. Regis—home of The King Cole Bar—in New York. This historic watering hole in the heart of Manhattan is known for its craft concoctions and celebrity clientele, and over the decades, it has catered to a number of famous bar-hoppers, including Salvador Dalí, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio. Nowadays, you’re likely to spot Anne Hathaway kicking back with one of their signature Bloody Marys, which is less of a stretch considering the classic drink was born at The King Cole back in 1934 (then called the Red Snapper). Your soon-to-be bride may also recognize the iconic setting from its appearances in The Devil Wears Prada and Gossip Girl. But when it comes to the booze, take it from, Rentschler, the expert behind the bar: Here, he schools us on all things custom wedding cocktails. Whether it’s served mixed, shaken, or stirred—read on for everything you need to know to know to create one-off cocktails that pair perfectly with your wedding day.
Know Your Limit
While custom refreshments are a great way of adding a layer of personalization, too many options will dilute its bespoke appeal. It’s not how many is too many, but rather, how many is enough. “One is sufficient,” Rentschler insists. “Anymore than that and it’s not a ‘couples cocktail.’ ” But you may be hard pressed to find a couple who agrees on everything, especially when it comes to their spirit of choice. If your budget can handle it, consider serving two to three recipes tops (one for the bride, another picked by the groom, and a third for good measure). Or, Rentschler suggests asking your venue’s bartender to magically combine your requests into one: “If the couple wants a crazy cocktail made with rum and bourbon because those are their two favorite spirits, then we should all get creative.”
Keep Up With Cocktail Trends
When it comes to your wedding, signature cocktails are one of the few areas where you can afford to be trendy. While American bartenders are mixing up more classic cocktails of late (think: Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, Daiquiris,), many are serving them with Mezcal. The smoky liquor, made like tequila from the agave plant, promises to shake up an old standard. Rentschler notes that pre-bottled cocktails are also quite cool, and can easily be customized with details like your wedding date to mark the moment. If it’s more complex, simply ask the venue for recommendations. “It’s the venue’s responsibility to make [a couple’s] vision come to life,” Rentschler says. “Whatever it is that is important to your about the cocktail, the bartender should find ways to highlight it and make it the couples’ own.”
Much like a custom wedding hashtag, signature cocktails warrant the same sort of creative signage—be it a pun, a metaphor, or a play on words. It can be as simple as replacing a prefix with your last name (Taylor-Tinis, anyone?). Or maybe you’re that cool, fun couple who serves kamikaze shots and calls them “Something Blue.” Just make sure it feel significant to your relationship, which will delight you and your guests. “It can make the guests feel like they’re ‘in’ on the secret,” says Rentschler. For example, if you fell in love on a trip to Mexico, pay homage to the destination by serving a signature Margarita—or go all out with a Margarita Bar. “If it’s the special rum swizzle from the resort you got engaged at, reach out to their head bartender to get their recipe,” says Rentschler, “since it’s so specific.”
But Not Too Creative
Your signature cocktails should reflect your uniqueness as a couple, but throwing in too many ingredients is the quickest way for things to go sour (and not in the whiskey way). Not only will it rack up your bar tab, it will also weigh down the bartenders, and time is money. Instead, Rentschler urges couples to first and foremost consider scale. “Making a drink for two people at home is very different than making it for 100 to 200 of your closest friends and family,” he says. “I’ve been asked to create layered cocktails before—it’s usually not worth it in the end and causes more disappointment than anything else.”
About That Giant Bar Tab . . .
Signature cocktails are a great way to bridge the gap between a beer-and-wine-only situation and a full-scale open bar. But when the drinks are on you, there’s no shame in being strategic about how to keep unnecessary costs in check. According to Rentschler, most venues will charge the same as a premium cocktail if you’re doing a cash bar, but if it requires calling in a specialty product, you may see a higher difference in price. On the other hand, if you plan on having an open bar at your reception, the venue may charge you an extra fee to bring in a product that that’s not included on their banquet bar list. Ask the venue if they have “dead stock” inventory that could be suitable for the cocktails you have in mind. “Most places love to move dead stock inventory through specialty cocktails” says Rentschler.
Match the Flavor Profiles to the (Finger) Food
The best signature cocktails are light and pair well with the canapés you have planned, but they needn’t be dictated by the entire menu. Rentschler suggests pouring custom beverages early in the evening so that guests are given a chance to wet their palette–and maybe even hear about the drink’s special significance. Whether it’s inspired by your first date or your favorite vacation spot, word is sure to get around, and it’s a great way for guests who don’t know each other to, um, break the ice. Once the novelty wears off, most guests will switch to their drink of choice for dinner. After all, signature cocktails tend to be on the sweeter side, and that’s a tough taste to stomach for as long as you want your guests to stay.
Remember: Presentation Is Everything
While traditional martini glasses and classic Champagne coups are nice in theory, they aren’t always the most practical choice for wedding guests (particularly the ones who may need a little liquid courage out on the dance floor). Fortunately, there are things that you can do to make the experience foolproof and spill-free for both your guests and your waitstaff. “Serve in a rock or collins glass whenever possible—there’s a lesser chance of it falling over, and it’s easier to pour into.” advises Rentschler. “If it’s something that can be batched ahead of time without sacrificing coloring or flavoring, all the better.” That way, your guests can clock less minutes at the bar—and more time having fun.
And don’t go overboard on the actual serving process, either. For example, if you plan on having passed drinks before dinner, ask you servers to mix in your signature cocktail(s) with the requisite glasses of wine or beer. Having a separate set-up will create confusion for both parties, and guests will be more likely to try a themed refreshment if it’s already on offer. Just because you’ve chosen a craft cocktail that’s a bit more complex, it doesn’t mean ordering one has to be.