Couples are creating custom mixed drinks, using molecular gastronomy and even serving edible photos at their weddings.
When Richard Swan and Josh Rosenthal, founders of the creative beverage service the Grand Bevy, first saw Snoop Dogg post an image on Instagram of his face on a cocktail, they knew they had created something great.
“We saw people losing their minds over it,” Swan said of the post.
That photo was of their SipMi live activation, an invention where guests at a wedding or other event can snap an image in a photo booth and have it printed, on flavorless edible paper with edible inks, on top of their cocktail. The result is an interactive and memorable moment for guests. And it’s representative of how couples are elevating the cocktail at their marriage celebrations.
“The couple is able to express their own taste, personality, and love story with signature cocktails,” explained Swan, who is based in Los Angeles. “Meanwhile, their guests get to enjoy an unforgettable drink that is unique to that special night.”
Raising the bar
Signature cocktails are nothing new at weddings, but gone are the days of brides and grooms picking their favorite classic tipples. Now, couples are opting for entire custom bar programs, which tells their love story through unique mixed drinks, molecular gastronomy, craft beers, mocktails and even new inventions, like the SipMi activations.
“Fifteen years ago, if there was a cocktail served at an event, it was a mojito or a spicy margarita,” said Talmadge Lowe, the founder of Pharmacie, a specialty bar and cocktail company, also in Los Angeles. “That was the extent of the creativity. Now, cocktails are a must. They have grown from the familiar and classic to the custom and creative.”
Lowe started Pharmacie a decade ago after repeatedly crafting drinks for friends’ dinner parties and realizing a demand for high-end mixology at private events. He now creates custom beverages for 90 percent of the events he does. The essence of the demand, he says, is that a specialty beverage elevates the experience. A drink is sensual and ignites responses from sight and smell to taste. It is often remembered long after the event.
Couples use cocktails as a vehicle to deliver a message about their relationship, incorporating, say, a margarita-inspired drink to denote their first date a local taco restaurant or an ingredient discovered by the couple on a memorable trip.
For one Los Angeles couple, Lowe suggested employing their mutual adoration of music and the groom’s career as a musician as inspiration for their cocktails. The bride, Melanie Ayer, recalled that many of their best memories were on the road as now-husband Kelcey Ayer toured. Since he proposed the day after a Radiohead concert in New York, the couple and Lowe fashioned a dark Bourbon cocktail with Dubonnet Rouge, Benedictine, and Angostura Bitters to evoke the experience.
“It reminded us of the moody, romantic vibes of that entire weekend,” Ayer said of the drink, which they dubbed “Everything in Its Right Place” after the rock band’s song.
One of Lowe’s other couples requested bourbon for the groom; and for the bride, yuzu, a citrus fruit often found in Asian cuisine. The bride, Jackie Noh Davis, says she wanted it featured in a drink but didn’t have the basis of anything classic to work from.
“We could have ended up with something too on-the-nose, like a yuzu sake drink,” she said. Instead, Lowe concocted a bourbon-based cocktail titled “Eastern Star.” It blended together the brown spirit, yellow chartreuse, honey, cardamom bitters and, of course, yuzu, with a star anise garnish.
“It felt like meeting in the middle, and very special to have a new drink created for us,” Davis said of her celebration last October. “Our guests were effusive about their praise of the drinks.”
Alcohol has long fueled dance parties and wedding shenanigans, but the experience of sipping an elegant drink gives guests an opportunity to converse with one another and bond while enjoying the beverage, much like a cocktail party. It’s another form of entertainment.
Bobby Brown, a founder of Craft Cartel Cocktail Catering in Boynton Beach, Florida, explained that couples know more about cocktails than before, thanks to the mainstream cocktail craze, and use that knowledge to put playful spins on their wedding beverages. “People don’t want cool, craft drinks anymore,” Brown said. “They want engagement.”
For Brown, this has led to alcohol-infused adult ice pops as welcome drinks and slushy drinks like a frozen Aperol spritz. At receptions, his team offers a wheel that guests can spin to determine which custom cocktail to order. He has cheekily named drinks, such as the Dalé Lama, for a yerba maté-infused, Kashmiri chili cocktail for an Indian wedding with South American touches. He has even matched the hue of a mocktail to a National Football League player’s team color. “The bar is often the focal point of any celebration,” he added. “A proper drink can galvanize that.”
When Melanie Smith and Matt Minzes got married in New Orleans in March, the bar became just such a focal point. Along with the Grand Bevy and their planning team at Sapphire Events, the couple erected a smoked cocktail station for their wedding, where guests could see in action how their cocktails were infused. “The bar program, much like the food or the band, is a touchpoint that every guest will interact with and notice,” Jack Kane, of Sapphire Events, said.
In addition to stations, Swan also experiments with molecular gastronomy to upgrade classic recipes. Most popular are his spherification cocktails, whereas the alcohol and mixers are held together in a jellylike sphere, often topped with a garnish such as gold leaf. When a guest eats the cocktail, the bulbous edible bursts on the palate.
“People can enjoy familiar flavors in a completely new way,” he said. The team has paired molecular cocktails with plated dinners and has even used them as “cocktail courses” in between plates of food.
A pricey addition
The cost of signature cocktails can vary widely. Rosenthal of Grand Bevy said it can range from $3,800 to $90,000 depending on the services, guest counts, products and vendors are included as well as where the event is held.
For Craft Cartel Cocktail Catering, Brown said they require a minimum of $1,800, and approximately $45 per person is the “sweet spot” for a custom cocktail program. At Pharmacie, Lowe noted that they take in multiple variables when determining the price, but said the cost averages $50 per person for craft cocktails. If it’s a full-scale beverage program including wine, beer and nonalcoholic drinks, it will be more.
The entire trend has trickled down to nonalcoholic mocktails, too. Lowe said he has seen an increase in requests for custom spiritless drinks, while Brown has worked with both custom mocktails and low alcohol by volume cocktails. These are cocktails based on a liqueur rather than a high-proof liquor.
Couples favoring beer or wine only should not despair either. All three companies find personalized ways to showcase couples’ love of local beers, home brews, wines, and ciders by hosting on-site tastings at stations and beverage pairings for coursed dinners. It’s all reflective, they say, of the growing importance couples are placing on beverages as a way to personalize their days and even carving out specific budgets.
“We both love food and drink, so we couldn’t image slacking in that department when throwing the biggest party of our lives,” Davis said of collaborating on custom beverages with Pharmacie. “We tried to make every component very personal to us. The drinks were no exception.”