In December 2011, I was asked by my brother-in-law and his fiancée to write a cocktail menu for their wedding. Their wedding was this past weekend and I’m pleased to say it turned out pretty well.
The lovely couple wanted classic cocktails that were whiskey or vodka based. The idea was that not everyone wanted whiskey and many people enjoy vodka. I convinced them to add gin as there aren’t so many classic vodka cocktails and if someone wanted a vodka “martini,” the ingredients would be there for that. Further discussion led to the inclusion of sparkling drinks as well.
The drinks also had to be easy to make as the catering staff wouldn’t be craft bartenders. An informal survey of friends found that people generally don’t trust wedding bartenders to make a good cocktail. Guests tend drink straight spirits, highballs (gin and tonics, whiskey and ginger ale, etc.) or opt for beer or wine. One friend’s response was, “Never a Manhattan, as it will not be good enough.” Feel free to leave a comment of what you drink at weddings or in other open bar situations.
I set out to curate of a list of simple (or at least hard to screw up) whiskey, gin or sparkling wine based cocktails with no more than three or four ingredients. After scouring a dozen cocktail books and at least as many websites and extensive recipe testing, I narrowed it down to a dozen or so drinks of which the bride and groom selected eight. My final list:
The French 75 was requested by the bride. The Maple Leaf was also a request by the bride and groom as it was the drink they had enjoyed throughout the previous year. The Bridal was a late addition found in Robert Hess’ The Essential Bartender’s Guide, which I had received for my birthday a few weeks before the wedding. The Collins and Gimlet were the ways to get vodka into the menu. (The Moscow Mule was not chosen as I was trying to limit the number of juices needed.)
Of course you can’t just write a menu, you have to write out instructions for the caterers. This is easier said than done. Do you have any idea how many recipes exist for the French 75? I found that no two were the same. Ultimately, I modified the best one I found from Jim Meehan’s wonderful The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy. (While that recipe is my favorite, I thought it might look a bit small in a Champagne flute so I added another ounce of bubbly which still tasted decent.) Also, not knowing exactly which brands of spirits or mixers would be on hand, I couldn’t tailor the recipes to particular flavor profiles.
If you’re interested, here are the drink recipes as a pdf.
Once I had sent the menu and recipes to my brother-in-law, it was out of my hands.
Here’s what went wrong:
- The bartenders did not measure. Everything was eyeballed.
- Shaking and stirring appeared to be pretty much the same thing to the bartenders: gently swirling the drink in a shaker with ice.
- None of the drinks were served on the rocks.
- The Maraschino liqueur was for a time misplaced, which led the bartenders to use the red goo from the jar of Maraschino cherries, WHICH IS NOT THE SAME. After hearing a couple people (including my wife) note that the Bridal was too sweet and tasted a little funny, I sought out the bottle and remedied this.
While this may sound like a list of crimes, everything turned out fine and I was probably the only one to notice. I heard the next day that a few people attempted to try them all, which is sweet, but ill-advised. Everyone was happy with their drinks, particularly the bride and groom. And that’s the point.