This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
For the past year and half, engaged couples have had to drastically alter how they say “I do,” adapting all sorts of elements of the traditional, pre-pandemic wedding. But one must-have that never changed? The signature drink.
As the wedding boom kicks off — a confluence of the postponed weddings from 2020 alongside the already packed 2021 and 2022 schedules — couples are set to sling plenty of themed cocktails with catchy names reflecting their inside jokes and beloved pets. Whether it’s shaken or stirred, the beverage trend is clear: People are ready to party.
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“Tequila reigns supreme as our most asked for liquor,” Amy Shey Jacobs, event planner for Chandelier Events, says. “If you display Don Julio 1942 on a bar, it makes a statement, and expect your guests to go for it.”
Jacobs says that couples and guests alike are opting for all things tequila, from sipping versions such as Casa Dragones and Clase Azul, to full tastings with a range of styles, including reposado and anejo. Don Julio Blanco, Casamigos, and Patron Silver remain top choices for cocktails like the ever-popular Margarita.
Sweet and Spicy Margarita Riffs
The Margarita has held its longstanding position as the drink of summer weddings, but now various riffs on the tangy tequila cocktail have taken over for warm-weather events. Wedding planner Leslie Mastin has watermelon Margaritas on the menu for all of her upcoming nuptials, many of which take place along the Northeast coast. Similarly, event designer Jove Meyer has been adding Ancho Reyes Chile Poblano liqueur and a pepper garnish for a spicy version. Other spins include tajin rims, additions of sweet and sour fruit juices like yuzu or white peach, and colorful ingredients like hibiscus-infused syrup.
When the weather turns cool, couples have a different approach: They are harkening back to the 1920s with speakeasy vibes and post-Prohibition-era Champagne fountains, all recalling scenes from “The Great Gatsby.” Prior to the pandemic, wedding professionals predicted the “Roaring ‘20s” would inspire many couples hosting weddings in 2020. It seems that, post-pandemic, there is even more of a reason to pull ideas from the grandeur of the early 20th century.
“People are reminiscing over cocktails of past generations,” says Jeffrey Selden, managing partner of Marcia Selden Catering. His team has been serving up classic drinks like Martinis, and recently put on a rather dramatic Champagne tower, something he said hasn’t been requested this much in years.
Gimlets are on the rise, as are a slew of highball cocktails, such as the gin fizz. More than one planner reports that gin has surpassed bourbon as the signature drink spirit of the moment, which is evident when it comes to welcome refreshments, too.
The French 75, a blend of gin, sparkling wine, lemon juice, and sugar, is putting a twist on the traditional wedding Champagne. Gretchen Culver of Rocket Science Events likes to have flutes filled with the drink displayed on trays at the entrance to the event, setting the celebratory mood right from the start. She explains that the drink feels approachable while being “new and different” from the Aperol Spritz craze of recent years.
After Dinner ‘Cake and Shake’
The signature drinks continue well past cocktail hour, too. Event planner Percy Sales likes serving classic after-dinner beverages like the Brandy Alexander while guests boogie on the dance floor. He dubs it the “cake and shake,” and even offers non-alcoholic milkshakes to younger guests to sip alongside slices of wedding cake.
In fact, for all the booze-filled glasses, signature mocktails are having a moment. More and more couples opt for a zero-proof drink on the menu for guests who either abstain or are below drinking age. Josh Rosenthal, chairman of the creative beverage service company The Grand Bevy, whips up blood orange mocktails with ribbon candy tied in a bow as a garnish. The specialty drink looks just as jovial as any bartender’s cocktail, and every guest can take part in the toast.
“It’s so fun to see kids’ eyes light up when they find out it’s for them,” Rosenthal says.