From Our Print Issue:
Ensure a SPIRITED RECEPTION by tapping into the LATEST IN LIBATIONS
By April Miller
Before you decide what to serve, you’ll need to determine what type of bar to offer. A cash bar is often considered impolite and tacky, yet for those who don’t want to go with an open bar (guests can order anything imaginable and the costs can quickly add up) a limited bar is a great option. With this style of bar service, you choose the selection of drinks to be offered and can limit the amount of time the bar is open. Perhaps you wish to offer only beer, wine and champagne during cocktail hour, then switch to simply beer and wine for dinner. Or opt for an open bar during cocktail hour with limited service the rest of the evening.
Whatever you decide, here are several beverage trends to keep in mind as you plan what spirits to serve.
Offering a signature cocktail is a great way for you and your groom to put your special mark on the festivities. And, if you’ve opted for limited bar service, including a signature cocktail in the mix adds an air of sophistication. So, how to choose your special libation? Consider basing the drink off your predominant wedding theme; your favorite color; you or your groom’s favorite liquor (one that your guests will like too); a cherished locale; or even perhaps a cocktail you enjoyed on your first date.
Your signature drink can be a classic concoction with a fun name or a custom drink developed just for your day. Hire an independent or special event mixologist to craft a cocktail or talk to the bartenders at your venue. Many couples choose to offer their signature drink during cocktail hour only and then serve just beer and wine with dinner. Whenever it’s served, have fun. Play up the signature drink with a decorative recipe sign at the bar or print the recipe on coasters or napkins.
FRESH, SEASONAL AND LOCAL INGREDIENTS
Culinary art and cocktail culture has combined to create a demand for fresher, higher-quality drinks. Artificial and sugary spirits are out, in are fresh, seasonal, local and natural ingredients. Using these, bartenders are now creating fabulous seasonal cocktails, so why not add these to your special day. Herbal and botanical ingredients such as spearmint, rosemary, tarragon, sage, roses and lavender are being used to update traditional drinks or to create tasty new ones. Flavor-infused liquors—fresh and light, not sweet and syrupy—are also popular. Think cucumber-infused vodkas or ginger-infused rums. Fresh ingredients allow for contrasting flavors and aromas and a proper balance of taste; sweet, salty and spicy such as a mango margarita with cayenne salt rim.
Fresh fruit, herbs and flowers are not only kicking cocktails up a notch, but make for a pleasing presentation, either floating in the drinks or used as garnishment.
CLASSIC MIXED DRINKS
With a renewed interest in the craftsmanship of cocktails, the classics are making a comeback. Fresh ingredients are being used, giving a modern twist to the libations of yesterday. Talk to your bartenders about serving up some of the following: mint juleps, sidecars, sazeracs, manhattans, martinis, bellinis or a Tom Collins.
This is your special day so don’t just offer guests any old beer, especially when there’s so much going on with the beverage. Thanks to a growing industry of microbreweries (breweries that produce fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year) and brewpubs (an establishment that brews its own beer on the premises) there is a growing craft industry and appreciation for homemade and specialty beers. With attention to quality ingredients and detail, smaller batches tend to result in more interesting, tastier beers. What better way to put a personal stamp on your reception then to offer up a locally brewed beer or a regional specialty? Consider adding three to five artisanal brews or one dark and one pale ale to your mix. Guests will appreciate the selection.
You can even go so far as to ask your caterer or bartender to do food and beer pairings for the meal. Perhaps start light with a pilsner, wheat or fruit beer and move toward a full-flavored chocolate porter or rich stout.
Don’t let those guests who don’t imbibe feel left out. If you have a signature cocktail, definitely offer a non-alcoholic version. Other great options are alcohol-removed wines and champagnes, sparkling fruit juice, soda, sparkling water, flavored teas, regular and decaf coffee and sparkling cider.
Whether it’s a classic cocktail, your signature drink or a non-alcoholic “mocktail,” presentation counts. There are many festive and fun ways to garnish a drink glass. You can work with your catering staff to create that wow factor and the only rule to follow is match the garnish with the flavor of the drink. In addition to fresh fruits, herbs and flowers, you’ll also find candies, chocolate, cinnamon sticks, vegetables and spices topping stemware. More drinks these days are also seeing their glasses rimmed and it’s not just with salt. Consider a cocktail rimmed with colored sugar, powdered chocolates, crushed nuts or chopped coconut. Non-edible garnishments, like swizzle sticks, umbrellas, flags, even glow-in-the-dark drink stirrers—can add a bit of festive flair.
Poor service can ruin even the best-planned receptions. Make sure your venue will be staffed properly for the number of guests, so that guests are not forced to wait in long lines for their first drink. To help alleviate any lines that may form at the bar (especially during cocktail hour or the beginning of the reception) have waiters walking around with trays of wine, simple cocktails, beer and sparkling water.
Charismatic bartenders can also leave a lasting impression with guests and keep the evening entertaining. Ask to meet with your bartenders and wait staff ahead of time and don’t hesitate to ask for a tasting of the drinks that are going to be served, especially if you are going to offer a custom cocktail. If you’re considering asking a friend or relative to bartend as a way to cut costs, it is highly recommended not to do so. You want prompt, professional and personable bartenders. Hiring an experienced bartender will provide you and guests a higher level of quality service and save you from any potential stress during the reception. A professional bartender also has the experience of tracking guests’ drinking and can find ways to tactfully slow an individual’s consumption when one has overindulged.
To make your final beverage selections, consider the type, style, theme and location of your wedding; your guests (how many are coming? Are they a bunch who likes to imbibe?); the time of year; and the types of food that will be served at your reception. Find ways to mix the latest trends with the tastes of you and your groom for a truly personal, memorable and spirited affair.