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Chris Amirault

Designing Good, Workable Wedding Cocktails

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Hi. 

 

I have been asked to design a wedding cocktail for an event in late spring. I've created cocktails for events in the past, but all of those have been in my control as bartender. In this situation, I'll be part of the wedding and thus not coordinating cocktail prep and service, which changes my role. 

 

So I'm wondering what two different groups think about two different topics. 

 

1. If you have been a guest or participant at a wedding with a signature cocktail,

 

or

 

2. If you have catered or bartended a wedding with a signature cocktail,

 

tell me about that drink and the experience:

 

a. how was the recipe determined?

 

b. what were the ingredients? were all readily available or did you have ingredients (infusions, bitters, etc.) that were prepared specifically for the drink? 

 

c. who made the drinks? if not you, what instructions did you provide for the person/people who made them? 

 

d. were they batched or made to order by someone?

 

e. did people like it? was the quality of the drink (dilution, temperature, garnish, etc.) truly up to snuff? 

 

f. any general advice? 

 

Thanks in advance! 


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I  think generally you need to be careful that people don't get too schnockered by the signature cocktail.

 

Will it be the only cocktail available? What else will be available to drink?

 

Is it a cocktail/hors d'oeuvres only wedding, or will there be a sit-down dinner after cocktail hour?

 

I'd lean towards a lower alcohol cocktail - Bamboo, Adonis, something along those lines.

 

And i'd want it batched ahead of time, leaving as little ability to fuck it up by whomever is going to be serving it.

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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Now I remember a great cocktail we had in Bologna, which works nicely as an apertif, and would be hard to screw up, once the spirits are batched.

 

From Nu Lounge Bar in Bologna (a great place, if youre ever there), the Bolognese Americano...

 

The Bolognese Americano


40 ml Rosso Antico
40 ml Martini Bitter
1 dash Angostura BItters or Rhubarb Bitters
40 ml Tonic Water
Orange twist
Lemon twist

 

Shake Rosso Antico, Martini Bitter, Angostura/Rhubarb bitters & lemon twist with ice.  Pour un-strained into old fashioned glass. Add the tonic and orange twist.

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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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2. If you have catered or bartended a wedding with a signature cocktail,

 

tell me about that drink and the experience:

 

a. how was the recipe determined?

 

b. what were the ingredients? were all readily available or did you have ingredients (infusions, bitters, etc.) that were prepared specifically for the drink? 

 

c. who made the drinks? if not you, what instructions did you provide for the person/people who made them? 

 

d. were they batched or made to order by someone?

 

e. did people like it? was the quality of the drink (dilution, temperature, garnish, etc.) truly up to snuff? 

 

f. any general advice? 

 

Thanks in advance! 

 

Hi Chris, we do a fair amount of weddings and rehearsal dinners at the restaurant but they usually max out at 50 guests. My boss really likes a welcome cocktail and she is insistent that its a mixed drink and not just wine like prosecco.

 

We try and take suggestions from the bride and groom, but lately they want our recommendations and we seem to gravitate to French 75's and Old Fashioneds. More out of inventory and stocking constraints than any other reason. These definitely get batched. The Old Fashioned is batched with no dilution and simply gets poured over ice with an expressed orange peel. For the French 75, the gin, lemon juice & sugar are batched and diluted then kept in an ice water bath.

 

A big problem we've had with these drinks is that they are just too delicious and people get into trouble drinking them. I remember attending a wedding at probably the fanciest place in Boston. There was a cocktail chosen by the bride and groom but they were not batched. It really took absolutely forever to get a drink, BUT it really kept us all out of trouble. Their drinks were exquisite and I think the guests really respected the care it took to assemble them and were not aware of the batched possibilities. When you work these weddings its almost seems like slow drink times are better than having to cut off hoards of people. Though I would really love to hear other people's ideas in the age of automation. When I made the first craft kegged cocktails all those years ago, egullet member David Santucci in attendance was quick to names them Panty Dropper Party Killers. Back then I was even exploring High Extract drink making which is now a banned technique though few are even aware the potential exists.

 

One important thing that has dawned on me after playing with this stuff for years is that the drink needs to cement a memory. And this memory will eventually have to be retrieved. I think the best way to do this is with classic cocktails rather than with inventing something. The fact that the memory needs to be retrieved means people need to be able to experience the drink again somewhere, maybe even across the country. So this is the power behind Moscow Mules, Negroni Sbagliatos, and French 75's.

 

I've used invented cocktails for events like weddings and for that I love sparkling drinks so I now rely on my Champagne Bottle Manifold. Flutes are celebratory, but they just aren't used enough these days and the manifold has allowed me to make drinks with truly fluteworthy carbonation levels. You can also easily do non alcoholic drinks or bottle (with my newest tool) in small take home party favor bottles so attendees can retrieve that memory down the road. Carbonation as a trend has been a horrible crapshoot with too many people not hitting high enough carbonation levels or making these drinks far too alcoholic. I really try and hit the minimums of alcohol yet make people feel like they are definitely consuming a cocktail so that way you can be indifferent to serving wines like prosecco as far as inebriation is concerned.

 

Next time I do a large wedding I'm definitely doing a Mule if its my choice. I'll keg the ginger beer with lime juice then simply add vodka or gin. This way I have a non-alcoholic option with the ginger beer and can short the pours for the bleary eyed.

 

Not sure if any of that helps.

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A big problem we've had with these drinks is that they are just too delicious and people get into trouble drinking them. I remember attending a wedding at probably the fanciest place in Boston. There was a cocktail chosen by the bride and groom but they were not batched. It really took absolutely forever to get a drink, BUT it really kept us all out of trouble.

 

That's the point I was making above.  How many people can really handle 2 real cocktails without getting a tad polluted, and then some?

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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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For my wedding five years ago our primary cocktail was the Jack Rose - it was the first cocktail that really got me into the cocktail scene and according to David Wondrich it was supposedly invented in Jersey City, where we live and where the wedding was, so it was a nice story for the guests. We also had beer, wine and a few bottles of booze for things like gin and tonics, scotch on the rocks, Martinis, etc., but the Jack Rose was essentially the cocktail choice of the evening.

 

The wedding space was totally DIY, we were not obligated to anything by the venue. I was in charge of all booze purchasing; I didn't trust anyone else to hunt down Laird's Bonded or anything else I wanted for the evening.

 

The caterers had a bartender who handled beer and wine, but fearing they couldn't handle the cocktail I hired a bartender friend to be in charge of the Jack Rose and any other spirit-based drinks for the evening. She came over the week before to learn the proportions, how to prepare it (at the time she generally free-poured but I asked her to jigger for this drink) and had her taste the final product as a baseline comparison.

 

I made the grenadine a few days in advance and brought it to the venue on the day of the wedding. I provided jiggers, shaking tins, strainers, etc. My bartender friend prepped all the lemon juice in the hours before the wedding but made the drinks to order. However, during the cocktail hour rush she started making a few at a time in a big shaker and "batched" them that way. Knowing what I know now I probably would have had her batch the ingredients without dilution and then shake them to order. There was something about seeing someone prepare them that added to the ambiance (the venue was an old art-deco Loew's Theater), and the point bostonapothecary raised about slowing down orders

(although I didn't think of it at the time) is probably a pretty good one to keep the drunken sloppiness to a minimum, especially to people who think pink drinks are "girly" and won't eventually get you drunk.

 

The drink was really well received, enough so that people still mention them to me, and in general my friends are not huge into cocktails. The one I tasted was good - obviously it'd be better at home or at a nice cocktail bar, but considering the circumstances (wet bagged ice, everyone rushing to the bar at once, and so on) I was happy with the quality. As I mentioned earlier we had a lot of control over every aspect of the wedding, this probably would have been harder to pull off if we were at the mercy of a typical wedding-venue bar.

 

All in all I'd say keep the drink simple - it makes it easier to prepare and easier for non-cocktail inclined guests to understand what they're ordering - but also just different enough to make it memorable. I think the story definitely is important, a little placard at the bar briefly explaining it and listing the ingredients went a long way for us.

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Back when I worked for a catering company, we did small weddings. My boss was big on having the staff create custom cocktails for each event (including other types of events) because she thought it set us apart, as being super-high end. We would then have to make a selection of drinks for a tasting and consultation. Invariably the client (bride) would come in with something from Pinterest and insist that we make that instead, even though they had never tasted it. These drinks invariably involved marshmallow flavored vodka, cake flavored vodka, energy drinks, branded juice drinks, etc. I still remember the event we had to make jello shots for...

 

I'd have a set menu of some sort, just to have some control over the situation and have a chance at making things you want to serve. I think at a certain point, you have to put your foot down and not serve some things because they don't represent your style or commitment to quality. I also agree with the above comments about memories, and making a great cocktail that already exists so that people can have it again someplace else. It doesn't do the business any good if you're the only ones making some secret formula drink. (this would be different if you were a full time bar)

 

We used to batch when possible, our bartending staff changed a lot, so we had to keep things simple for them. Depending on the event size, we would also try to have a couple of stations, at opposite sides of the room, to keep the flow and balance good. In many cases, the guests really enjoyed seeing the final flourish of garnishing the drink but didn't really care about the nuts and bolts construction of it. It's not their 'usual' so they aren't as tense about the bartender getting things perfectly correct.

 

If you are in charge of water, or other non-alcoholic drinks as well, give them their own station and server, don't bog the bartender down with handing out water bottles, or pouring Perrier, etc.

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Good points above regarding batching and slowing down the consumption - although everyone will want the first drink quickly. I'd suggest something shaken for the show and for the pace. You could shake several together at first and then slow down to singles. Need something accessible to the masses. I thought of French 75 at first, too but that might be a bad idea because everyone will drink them like champagne and get trashed more quickly and won't go well if there is a champagne toast later. I think a knickerbocker would be an interesting choice.


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I recently designed a cocktail program for a restaurant where the staff didn't necessarily have cocktail skills, and had a lot to do at once: everything was batched, pre-diluted and chilled, so there was nothing to mess up: just pour and garnish! A few other drinks were just bubbly/soda and a mixer. I had a sample glass with lines taped on it for where to pour each ingredient to. I could see the same thing working really well for a wedding! (I also used shrub or wine for the sour ingredient so there's no juicing or spoilage). I was really happy with the results.

Or punch. what's more festive than punch?

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I think there's no need for too many choices. It makes it easier for guests and bartenders if there are just two or three cocktails (assuming beer and wine are also available). And anything that avoids lines at the bar (batched drinks, punch) is a good idea. If there's a full bar, people just end up ordering vodka and soda anyway, unless this is a really sophisticated crowd.

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Definitely batch and pre dilute. If you have a carbonation rig I would highly recommend a carbonated cocktail. Use a Cornelius keg to carbonate pre diluted gin and tonics for example. If you don't have a carbonation rig consider serving champagne and leverage the champagne for a champagne cocktail. The best wedding cocktail I had came out of a slushie machine (NOLA style frozen daiquiri). If the wedding is in the warmer months this would be great.

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We cater weddings at my venue and the most successful signature drinks I have seen have either been a really fun shot (kind of low alcohol) that really went with the couple's personality or a twist on well-know drinks that many people like (margarita version, etc).  Keep in mind that a full bar was offered alongside these drinks so even when we pass the cocktail to get it out to people, they usually switch to what they would normally drink after the first drink.  The more options there are, the less you need of any one thing, including specialty cocktails.  It really depends on the crowd too.  We are an upscale facility but in a rather small town where people aren't going out and buying $14 cocktails on a regular basis and wouldn't necessarily be looking for them at the wedding.  Signage is also important.  If the attendees don't know it is available they don't order it. 

 

As far as batching vs. on-the-spot, I definitely prefer to batch. And if I'm providing a bunch of ingredients that I don't normally carry I let my couples know that I will get a certain amount and if it runs out, it runs out - this goes the same for special requests on beer and wine too.  There will always be plenty of options overall, but I've been burned one too many times with bringing in a special request and having a ton left over, even when that is the only option offered.  I remember one party where I got a keg beer in special for them and every single person drank wine.  I served four beers from that whole keg!

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Everything Stephen said accords with my experience working wedding receptions. I've worked off pre-batched, limited menus and open bars. Both have their merits, with the care and spectacle of cocktail preparation to order serving as a useful deterrent to overindulgence.

 

As far as a signature cocktail, something low-proof and sparkling is a good bet. My plan for my own wedding in October is to serve something akin to a Negroni Sbagliato. The bubbles are appropriately festive, the proof is right, and adding the sparkling wine at the point of service allows us to batch the vermouth/amaro mix while still making drinks to order.


Edited by Rafa (log)

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”In Demerara some of the rum producers have a unique custom of placing chunks of raw meat in the casks to assist in aging, to absorb certain impurities, and to add a certain distinctive character.” -Peter Valaer, "Foreign and Domestic Rum," 1937

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Apologies if what I have to say has been said before, I didn't read every response in detail, or if what I'm saying is too obvious.

 

 

Everything Stephen said accords with my experience working wedding receptions. I've worked off pre-batched, limited menus and open bars. Both have their merits, with the care and spectacle of cocktail preparation to order serving as a useful deterrent to overindulgence.

 

As far as a signature cocktail, something low-proof and sparkling is a good bet. My plan for my own wedding in October is to serve something akin to a Negroni Sbagliato. The bubbles are appropriately festive, the proof is right, and adding the sparkling wine at the point of service allows us to batch the vermouth/amaro mix while still making drinks to order.


Edited by Hassouni (log)

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Thanks, again, everyone, for these responses. I'm going to have the first conversation with the couple this weekend, and I wrote up some framing comments/questions for that discussion. Here they are:

* * * * *

First
 
Each of you tell me the story you'd like to be able to tell on the day after the wedding about this drink: what was it, what happened, and why. 
 
Some Contextual Concerns
 
Bartender and waitstaff quality/training. 
 
Batched vs fresh ingredients. 
 
Timing. 
 
Glupability, intentional production delays, & drunkness. 
 
Ingredient, ice, & prep quality control. 
 
The Logistics
 
Where is the event going to be held? When? 
 
How many people are expected at the event? 
 
How many servings of the drink per person do you anticipate? 
 
Where will the drink ingredients be prepped? 
 
Where will the individual drinks be prepared? In what space, with what components & tools? 
 
Who will be catering the event? Who will be bartending the event? 
 
What ingredient options are there? 
 
What bartender training/execution options are there? 
 
What other beverage options will be available? 
 
What ice handling options are possible? 
 
 
The Drink Itself
 
How many signature drinks do you want? 
 
When will the drink be available/served? 
 
What food will be served with the drink? 
 
Will there be a toast (requiring everyone being served and drinking at once) with the drink?
 
Are there any must-avoid ingredients? 
 
Are there any must-have characteristics?  
 
What liquor sources will you have at your disposal?  
 
What should the drink say about you each/both? your relationship? the wedding?
 
Are there any family traditions you want to recognize? 
 
Do you want a one-time contraption or something repeatable at home? 
 
Specific options to consider:

  • champagne plus (easy to make; expensive; silent killer if not careful)
  • sour (juicing a drag and perhaps labor-costly; lower alcohol) 
  • old fashioned (boozy but works with bad ice; easy to batch & serve; not for everyone)
  • other low-alcohol options (less boozy; possible to batch & serve; not for everyone)
  • punch bowl (adjustable proof; possible to batch some ingredients; easy to serve)

How important is glassware? 
 
How important is a garnish? 
 
What memory do you want associated with this drink? 
 
Etcetera
 
Next steps. 
 
Tasting plan to determine final recipe. 
 
Naming. 
 
Contact information for caterer or bartender(s). 
 
Drink story/recipe card at end?

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Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Well. 
 
A lot has happened in the last several weeks. I walked the bride and groom through much of the content here -- thanks to everyone for their contributions! -- and we settled on two drinks: a punch for the transition from ceremony to reception and a bubbly toast for the best man's speech. I then set about identifying available ingredients, testing recipes, having recipes confirmed with the couple, and finally researching the two of them for the names. There is also a side project wrapping up that involves the design and printing of cocktail cards for the guests to take home.
 
Here are the two drinks scaled for those cards. (Names are still a secret from the couple to be shared on the wedding day.) 
 

the punch: 

 

1 1/2 oz Plantation Three Stars or other quality white rum 

1 oz Appleton V/X or other Jamaican dark rum

1/4 oz St. Elizabeth Pimento Dram

3/4 oz demerara rich simple syrup

1 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz Valencia orange juice

 

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker; shake with plenty of ice. Strain over fresh rocks in double Old Fashioned glass. Twist lemon and orange peels over the top and drop in. 

 

the toast: 

 

1 oz Aperol

1/2 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz lemon juice

3 oz prosecco

 

Stir Aperol, Cointreau, and lemon juice with ice and strain into champagne flute. Add prosecco. Twist long, thin (horse neck) lemon peel over and into drink. 

 
When all that was completely finished, I wrote up instructions for the catering company, which had assured the couple that they'd be able to handle anything as long as the ingredients were available. 
 
Turns out, not. They will pour liquids into glasses. The rest is on me. 
 
So... on the Saturday we arrive and then the Sunday morning of the ceremony, I'll be donning my new apron, unpacking my bar kit, and assembling the drink components for bottling and chilling. I may have some assistance and will have to sort out different assignments based on task complexity -- that is to say, I'll be making the 100 horse neck garnishes. (Joke's on me -- see below.) Here are the instructions I sent to the caterer that I'll now have to revise. Please feel free to share any feedback you have on how I should pull this off.

 

Below please find the instructions for preparing the two drinks for the wedding. The information below is for 100 servings of each beverage. As I'm not sure who will be doing what, I've have erred on the side of including too much information. 
 
I will be very happy to help in any way that I can with prep. I've worked in the industry as a consultant, bartender, and assistant bar manager, can bring my own tool kit, and I would be happy to help with juicing, portioning, whatever is needed. In particular, making those 100 lemon horse neck garnishes will be a project -- and I'm happy to take it on! 
 
Basic Prep Information
 
a. It's my understanding that the punch will be served to guests upon arrival by a bartender in a large drink vessel with a spout. The recipe makes ~400 ounces (3+ gallons) of undiluted punch designed to be served over rocks; if you want to serve it without ice, then ~80 ounces of water should be added for dilution. 
 
b. All ingredients should be chilled at least 3-4 hours in advance of service. 
 
c. The juices should be squeezed the night before or (preferably) the morning of service. Juice can be strained for the punch and must be strained for the toast. 
 
d. Valencia oranges are difficult to use for garnishes. So, either the orange twists have to come from Washington/Riverside, Cara Cara, or another orange variety, or we should only use lemons. 
 
e. The toast directions below require that the base (Aperol, Cointreau, lemon juice) be made and bottled well in advance of service. That makes it easiest on service staff: the base can quickly be added to the flutes, topped with prosecco, and garnished directly on service trays as waitstaff are available. If you want to go that route, you'll need sufficient clean bottles for 200 ounces of the base and space for chilling them. (The prosecco can't be added until just before service or the drink risks being flat.)
 
f. I have not listed replacement spirit possibilities for the punch. Please let me know if you are having trouble finding any items and I'll make specific suggestions. The prosecco can be a dry inexpensive bottle; I used a $15 Carpene Malvolti 1868 extra dry, for example.
 
g. I will be bringing one additional ingredient (the oleo saccharum, or sugar and citrus oil combination) for the punch which can be stirred in an hour or so before service. 
 
h. The rich demerara syrup is made as follows: Combine two parts demerara sugar with one part water and simmer until sugar dissolves. Turbinado, piloncillo, or other raw sugars can be substituted; brown sugar cannot. 
 
Punch
120 oz Plantation Three Stars or other quality white rum (5 bottles)
80 oz Appleton V/X or other Jamaican dark rum (3 bottles)
20 oz St. Elizabeth Pimento Dram (less than one bottle)
60 oz demerara rich simple syrup
80 oz fresh lemon juice (~50 lemons -- also for garnish)
40 oz fresh Valencia orange juice (~20 oranges -- see above on garnish)
[iF DESIRED: 80 oz water -- see above]
 
Combine all ingredients and stir well. Chill thoroughly before service. Serve over rocks with lemon and orange twists.
 
Toast
100 oz Aperol (4 bottles)
50 oz Cointreau (2 bottles) 
50 oz strained fresh lemon juice (~30 lemons -- also for garnish)
300 oz dry prosecco (12 bottles)
 
Bottle Aperol, Cointreau, and lemon juice; chill thoroughly before service. Immediately before service, pour 2 oz of base into flutes; add prosecco and lemon horse neck garnish.

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Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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