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Rethinking your signature cocktail

We recently moved from our neighborhood in Seattle that we called home for 7+ years, to a town about 30 miles north. Though we're only 45 minutes up the highway, sometimes it feels like a world away. However, what we may lack in a bustling metropolis, we have more than gained in space, quieter streets, community and old house charm. That said, there were a few creature comforts I was weary of losing: namely the restaurants and shopping our old neighborhood offered.

Luckily, some friends had blazed the northern trail before us and already discovered some great local haunts for us to check out.

One such place is a small distillery and bistro just down the hill from our house. It's a local, all organic spot making vodka, gin and aquavit (aqua-what??... I'll get to that too). Their rotating craft cocktail list and menu are great, but what keeps me returning is their monthly cocktailing classes.

These classes have single handedly helped me understand the craft of mixing drinks (follow up post to come on everything you need for your home bar).

They have also challenged my thoughts on signature cocktails for my client's wedding receptions. Most couples choose among the known classics. Matt and I offered an Old Fashioned and French 75 at our wedding. Though these are tried and true favorites (and still a couple of our go to's), they didn't really offer our guests anything unique or overly personal.

Let's take a step back... What is the purpose of a signature cocktail at a wedding?

I think it's twofold:

One - it shares a bit about you as a couple or individuals. What are your drinks of choice? Maybe you'd like to offer what you ordered on your first date/ vacation/ favorite restaurant together. Or perhaps it's a nod to popular beverages where you live, where the wedding is taking place, or the season.

Two - Signature cocktails are a way to offer a more robust beverage selection without hosting a completely open bar. Many couples want to expand beyond just beer and wine, but sometimes a full bar can be cost prohibitive. It can also be a lot of work to build a complete bar yourself if you are hosting the bar outside of your caterers.

A signature cocktail gives guests a special drink to enjoy - usually during the social hour before dinner. Guests will most likely switch to beer and wine at this point and for the remainder of the evening. Just as a lot of thought and time goes into creating the menu for the reception dinner or flavors in wedding cake, I like to encourage my clients to choose signature cocktails that are unexpected and memorable to their day.

Sounds great, right? So what are the next step in choosing some options?

I like to suggest choosing two drinks, a "his" and "hers."

I also recommend choosing a brown liquor and a clear liquor.

Other details to consider: Options that don't require too many ingredients

Cocktails with a base that can be prepared in advance or made in large batches

Avoid blended drinks

Is it crowd friendly? (maybe your absolute favorite liquor is an acquired taste that might not appeal to the masses)

There are ten "basic" cocktails:

  • Martini.

  • Manhattan.

  • Bloody Mary.

  • Margarita.

  • Old Fashioned Cocktail.

  • Mojito.

  • Daiquiri.

  • Gin and Tonic.

  • Screwdriver.

  • Gimlet

Most all drinks are variations from these classics. From here, have some fun with it.

A midday wedding with an afternoon reception would be great with a Black Pepper Bloody Mary and Citrus-infused martini.

A Manhattan served up with chocolate bitters would certainly compliment a black tie evening wedding.

So where does the creativity come in? By adjusting certain ingredients or swapping spirits for a new take on an old favorite. Many drinks call for a simple syrup. Instead of the basic sugar/ water, the syrup can be infused with ginger, sage, lavender, rose, mint, etc. Or swap your white sugar for brown sugar, maple syrup, agave or honey.

Vodka has minimal flavor and is great to infuse as well- jalapeno for a Bloody Mary, earl grey tea for a Chai Martini, or fruit favorites like raspberry or lemon. (You can't go wrong with berries, herbs or spices) Swap gin cocktails for Aquavit - A Scandinavian spirit similar to gin. Instead of juniper, it's made with caraway and aniseed. Like Mezcal, it's a previously unknown option that is starting to gain popularity.

Hopefully I haven't lost you in this post. Cocktails can be confusing and overwhelming. I know it took a bit to click with me. If we're being honest, I went to the first few classes just to sample the drinks.

There are a number of craft cocktail companies who specialize in wedding bartending. If mixing up a unique cocktail for guests is something you're interested in, you can schedule tastings with them just like you would a cake or catering tasting. If you are providing the ingredients for the bar yourself, you can still pre-make a big batch of infused simple syrup or liquor for your bartenders to use.

Here's a page from our local distillery with some inspiration for unique drink variations.

I'm also more than happy to chat ideas, recipes or direction if you'd like to learn more. Email me at

Photos: A collaboration with Matthew Land Studios and The Faimont Olympic Hotel

Gowns from The Dress Theory

Hair and Makeup by Yessie Libby Artistry

Glassware, furniture, bar cart and silver rentals from Vintage Ambiance

Wedding rings by T Anthony Jewelers

Cake by The Fairmont

Stationery by Perfect Press Invitations

Models: Barret and Natalie of SMG Models

Flowers and styling by yours truly


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