Couples are toasting their wedding with cocktail experiences, showcasing their personalities and tastes, entertaining guests, and providing a memorable moment.
"Weddings can tend to be mundane, and I feel that couples are trying to avoid the dread of guests attending a wedding with bland food and uninspired bar programs," says Steven Kincade, beverage manager at the Ace Hotel New York's event space, Liberty Hall.
He says the bar program can make or break a celebration. That's why couples are motivated to make the "food amazing and the drinks to a quality you would receive at a cocktail bar or lounge."
To ensure guests enjoy the party, he suggests that couples serve premium drinks they know their guests like and that they have a favorite distillery or winery at the reception.
Signature drinks, from mai tais to margaritas, have been on the wedding scene for years as a way to keep the bar tab in check and to highlight a drink or two that the newlyweds love. But now signature cocktails are getting a major upgrade.
Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis has seen a rise in requests for next-level his-and-her cocktails.
"Cocktails show a little piece of personality and are also very Instagrammable, another growing trend in weddings," says Liz Janis, who represents the hotel.
*Raise a Glass
From hand-crafted drinks to wine flights and tequila tastings, it's more stylish than ever to toast the newlyweds and their guests.
Couples are setting up bloody mary and mimosa bars at receptions, especially for brunch weddings. Mix and match fresh ingredients to create the perfect celebratory drink.
"My brides and grooms have been including signature martinis, whisky tastings and wine from their favorite vineyard into their weddings," says wedding planner Katherine Frost of A Frosted Affair. "It's all about customizing the drinks to demonstrate the couple's personality and deepen the guests' experience."
If budget isn't a concern, Frost suggests ordering custom-branded martini glasses, which double as party favors for guests.
She says wine connoisseurs are always impressed when couples serve wine from a favorite vineyard.
Spirits such as tequila, rum and whisky are in demand, too.
"Whisky flights aren't just for the grooms," she says. "Brides are requesting this, too."
Flights typically feature three to four sample tastes of a brand of liquor or wine. The server explains each drink and handles the pours. Guests enjoy the variety and the ability to set their tasting preferences.
These days, customization is important.
"Some of our couples are brewing their own beers and ciders prior to the big day and serving on-site," says Paulette Alkire of Chalet View Lodge.
It's a personal touch that appeals to couples and their guests, especially the younger crowd.
"Millennials are looking to create never-before-seen cocktail experiences," says Alkire. "Having an on-site wine, beer or bourbon tasting adds an extra experiential layer to the event without dramatically increasing your wedding budget."
She says brides and grooms are even renting mobile bars, including vintage trailers, for a retro look and feel.
*Tips for Creating Custom Cocktail Experiences
--While planning the party, request one-on-one time with the event bartender to sample drinks and plan a custom cocktail menu. "A good mixologist can put together a cocktail tasting, just like a cake tasting before the wedding," says Frost.
--Tell your caterer and venue if you plan to brew your own beer, serve your own wine, etc. Local laws, as well as rules and regulations at venues, may impact your plans. Permits may be required.
--Hire an adequate number of servers, and keep the bar clean and well-stocked. Guests will be disappointed if the bar runs out or the area is a mess. "If you are planning to have a free-standing bar, consider if the back of the bar is visible to guests, and do make sure you have easy access to ice, trash cans or even extra glasses," says Alkire.
--Encourage guests to drink responsibly and not to drive.
--Be imaginative. "The same creativity that sparks the floral arrangements, color themes and decor goes into creating the drink experience," says Frost.
Kristen Castillo is a three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist. An editor and writer for wedding magazines, she's written hundreds of wedding articles, as well as an e-book, "Weddings on a Dime."