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Color and Creativity
Putting your signature on your wedding drinks
by Molly Templeton
So you’ve got the flowers picked out, the rings purchased, the cake ordered and the dress bought. You’re narrowing down your caterers (forgive me if I’ve got this out of order, wedded folk; as I’ve not gotten married, I don’t know the precise schedule) and you’re thinking about drinks. A full bar can be expensive. Beer and wine are a common pair. But what if you want it both ways?
Enter the signature cocktail, which you can see as a budget-trimming choice, a personal touch or a bit of both. “It’s sometimes a good way to stretch a budget,” says Colleen Brainerd, the catering director for Cravings Catering. Brainerd suggests that if you can only afford to do beer and wine but would like to have something with hard liquor in it, you might consider a single cocktail that’s available for a shorter period of time.
Pat McCallum, from Mac’s Restaurant, Nightclub and Custom Catering, agrees: “Having a signature cocktail available at a reception is a really nice alternative to a full bar,” he says. McCallum has seen fewer full bars in recent years, and expects that the number of couples opting for a single cocktail — currently about 20 to 25 percent of his clients — is likely to increase.
But how do you choose the one drink you’ll serve? Depending on how you look at it, the possibilities are endless. Wedding websites are full of suggestions for drinks based on color as well as ideas for garnishes that suit both the drink and the style of your wedding. And you can always ask your caterer for suggestions. Brainerd says that Cravings can make a signature drink by adding vodka to any kind of punch, and points out the aesthetic appeal of “champagne glasss filled with a drink, or a martini glass passed on a silver tray.” At Mac’s, McCallum makes a rum punch that can be named after the happy couple.
If you and your partner both adore the same cocktail, obviously, you’re set: Serve it as is, or change the name to make it more personally relevant. Brainerd once had a couple who were getting married in the fall opt for the Washington Apple as their drink, and another pair chose each of their favorites as his-and-hers cocktails. If you had a fantastic toast on the night of your engagement or a memorable martini on your first date, you might consider that cocktail for an encore appearance at your wedding. “The idea that a lot of couples come in with,” says McCallum, “is, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had something special that represents who we are?’”
James West, the bar manager at Marché, says that when it comes to wedding cocktails, his aim is to make “a drink that is as universally approachable as possible that is featuring whatever local seasonal fruit is available at the time.” Champagne, West says, is always a good choice for a wedding, and there are many ways to combine fresh fruit in a Champagne cocktail.
You can also try for something new (or borrowed, or blue …). Maybe your favorite drink and your partner’s favorite drink lend themselves to a new concoction that’s a variation on both. Maybe your wedding is down the road from a farm, and you can incorporate something truly local into your drink as an ingredient or garnish. Maybe I’m getting carried away: Richard Geil, who tends bar at The Rabbit, offers a reminder that “cost, quality and ease of preparation” are things you’ll want to take into account, whether you’re dreaming of the Manhattans you had on a Manhattan vacation or a drink you’re having your caterer or a bartender pal whip up. If you get especially creative, you may have to supply the ingredients or garnishes your drink calls for. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun with it, though. “Many classic cocktails have a story, and the frozen Midori sours at your wedding should have one too,” Geil says. “To me, it comes back to fun. A wedding is a celebration, and nothing gets a party going like a cocktail!”