A Spirits Expert’s Guide To Planning The Cocktails For Your Wedding

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Pour My Party - Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Spirits Tasting

When you really think about it, all of life’s most important events are celebrated with a drink. The day you get married is no exception. While the champagne toast is a long-standing tradition, couples nowadays understand the role that the cocktail experience plays in setting the vibe of their wedding. From the menu and alcohol selection to drink presentation and style, they are incorporating fun and fresh ways to keep their guests are in a festive mood from the moment they take their seats at the ceremony to when they step off the dance floor last song.

Even if you and your partner consider yourselves spirits aficionados, deciding what to pour on the big day is going to be a challenge. Sure, you may know what whiskey to order at the bar or bottle to bring to a birthday party, but serving a large group of people with different tastes and preferences introduces factors you’ve never had to think about before. You want your drinks to be interesting with a bit of flair, but not so much that they will only be appreciated by a select few. Impressing your friends with an innovative concoction is essential, but you also want to make sure your parents are happy sipping from their glasses. And with so much focus and energy being put into curated cocktails, do you even need to serve beer? Managing these considerations requires one to have a background in hospitality.

Not wanting to lead you astray (our expertise is in flowers after all), we decided to pass this baton onto Brian Kantor, Founder of Pour My Party, a New York based company that creates pop-up tastings for weddings and special events. You may remember Brian from when we interviewed him for our Industry Influencer series. Here, he answers all the essential questions, helping couples to create the ultimate drink experience at their wedding.

Let’s be honest, alcohol and wedding celebrations go hand and hand. What should a couple consider when choosing a spirit or specialty cocktail at their reception?

When it comes to selecting a specialty cocktail, much like with fashion, you want to pick something that feels both timeless and of-the-moment. Go with something “too classic” and you may alienate the twenty-somethings and go with something “too trendy” and your parents’ generation will steer clear. We’ve found that unique twists on classic drinks are win-win; they feel fresh-and-new while still being approachable to all.

We recently worked with Mad River Distillers to create a Blood Orange Manhattan custom signature cocktail to pair with the pop-up liquor tasting we created at a recent client’s wedding. People hear “Manhattan” and they think of a classic drink that has stood the test of time and they hear “Blood Orange” and they think “Oh, that sounds interesting”.

Specialty cocktails in general are essential, in my opinion, because they can be pre-batched in advance by your bartenders and quickly poured and garnished upon serving. We all know that people make a mad dash for the bar as soon as it opens and having one or two pre-made cocktails (with a recipe sign on the bar) can help to keep the lines shorter.

Pour My Party - Mad River Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Mad River Spirits Tasting

Offering guests a variety of drink options is important. How can a couple make sure there is something for everyone while keeping it simple and budget friendly?

When it comes to the bar as a whole, make sure that you have enough of a variety to please the masses. We poured a 40th Birthday recently where the host only served bourbon and margaritas. No beer, wine or seltzer at all. I actually saw people leave the party only to return 20 minutes later with a six-pack or a bottle of rosé.

You don’t need to go nuts buying every single liqueur, modifier and wine varietal, but cover your bases. You’ll want at a minimum of two beers and three wines. One light beer like a Bud Light, Corona, or Peroni and one that’s fancier or more interesting like an IPA. For wine, at least offer one red, one white, and champagne or prosecco to toast.

Expanding beyond that, I’d offer a seltzer or hard cider and your key liquors—vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum. Add in some dry vermouth (and olives) for martinis, some basic mixers like sodas, juices, simple syrup, and you’re golden. If you’re a big cocktail aficionado, you can get as crazy and into-the-weeds as you want with ingredients for your bartenders to make your personal favorite drink or drinks.

But yes, if you’re on a budget, beer, wine and prosecco/champagne are all that you need. Even as someone so entrenched in the spirits world, liquor is what I suggest cutting if you’re on an uber-tight budget.

And if you are adding in liquor, but still want to be price conscious, stick to the basics as noted above. You can do a ton with the 5 classic liquors (whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila, and rum), simple syrup, lemon, lime and a few mixers.

A few modifiers like sweet and dry vermouth, triple-sec and St Germain can really elevate your cocktails, but are not necessary if you’re counting pennies. The same goes for expensive Scotch. People love it, and will drink it, but won’t complain if it isn’t there.

Pour My Party - Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Spirits Tasting

Do you see the time of the year affecting the type of spirits that your clients serve at their wedding? Should a couple consider the season when planning their drink menu?

I’m going to give you a fairly nuanced answer here. In short, yes, we do see the time of year affect the type of spirits the people serve at their wedding. Keep in mind, though, that the people who go the extra mile and hire Pour My Party to create a pop-up liquor tasting at their wedding or event are typically the same type of people who are into fancy drinks and super-into the idea of a carefully-curated cocktail offering at their event. In other words, we are more likely to work with those clients who’d be interested in a seasonally-adjusted offering.

This is part of the reason that most of our clients also work with us on a custom signature cocktail featuring spirits from the same distillery leading the tasting.

We are far more likely to feature a fruit liqueur tasting or a tequila tasting in the summer than we are during the winter. With that said, most of our tastings feature whiskey, no matter the season.

If you want to cater your cocktail menu to the season, think about lighter, more-refreshing drinks with lower alcohol content during the warmer months, and darker, bolder, more spirit-forward drinks during colder months.

But getting back to what I said earlier, if you’re on a budget, don’t get cute; just stick to the classics.

From plated dinners and family style to buffets and small bites, there are many catering options for wedding receptions. What advice do you have for couples struggling to choose a drink or spirit to pair with their cuisine?

Honestly, don’t overthink it and worry about pairing your drinks to your cuisine. If you’re throwing an intimate dinner for 8 or 10 people, then you’ve got the opportunity to pair your beer, wine and spirit to the dishes you’ve created or curated. That’s the right time, to be intentional with your drink menu.

But when you’ve got 50, 100, 200 or more people at your wedding, you’ve got way too many opinions and tastes to be overly precious about it.

When it comes to wine, my wife for example, almost exclusively drinks sauvignon blanc and my father almost exclusively drinks old vine zinfandel, and neither are straying from that no matter what the cuisine. I am a huge bourbon fan and usually will have a glass after dinner, no matter the season or what I just ate.

Pour My Party - Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Spirits Tasting

The last two years have been tough for anyone working in the wedding industry. Now that we are getting back into the swing of hosting social events again, have you noticed a shift in values and sensibilities among your clients? What do they want to express now that their friends and family are finally able to get together? And what role do spirits play in creating a special vibe for the occasion?

I don’t see a big change in “values” per se, but everyone just seems really grateful to have the opportunity to gather with their families and friends to celebrate. Not that these events weren’t celebratory before, but people are definitely looking to let loose and put aside all of the heaviness of the past couple of years.

There is also a huge group of weddings that are actually just receptions for courthouse or family-only ceremonies from the last two years. Many people are celebrating on the anniversary of their actual vows.

Spirits have always been a huge part of weddings, so again, not a huge difference in that. But as always, spirits and celebrating go hand-in-hand. Many people are looking to plus-up their weddings to make them extra special, and that carries through to the bar and special add-ons like a Pour My Party pop-up liquor tasting.

Pour My Party - Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Spirits Tasting

We are heading into high wedding season. Have you noticed any trends regarding spirits and cocktails for 2022?

I’ve seen two trends picking up steam this year that are both intertwined. One is sort of a continuation of the wave that’s already begun with the hard seltzer craze, but taken in a slightly different direction with actual cocktails. I love an old fashioned and my go-to spirit is bourbon, but when you’re at a wedding, or any social event really, more than one whiskey drink is a recipe for disaster. No one wants to be remembered as the one who had one-too-many.

Hard seltzers, on the other hand, are light and refreshing, but carry a stigma. At the other end of the spectrum, no one wants to be remembered as “basic” either, and fairly or unfairly hard seltzer doesn’t scream “refined!” Amaros and/or liqueurs mixed with soda and maybe a few other modifiers are starting to make a splash.

I’m seeing a lot of amazing fresh fruit liqueurs and ‘cellos (limon and otherwise) gaining steam. Locally in NY, I am loving Heimat fresh fruit liqueurs, especially their Rhubarb and their Nectarine, and Brooklyncello‘s Blood Orangecello is silly-good. Wild Moon in Hartford is distilling some really creative liqueurs—they have a chai spice and a rose that I really like.

I also was recently introduced to Kleos, a Greek “mastiha” liqueur that reminds me of St Germain but more interesting and less floral—more drinkable. Any of these mixed with soda is like a fancy hard-seltzer with less sugar and zero embarrassment; a great socializing cocktail and something I think we’ll see a lot more of over the coming years.

And similarly, non-alcoholic drinks are having a moment. Talk about a growing category. Non-alcoholic spirits are EVERYWHERE. They’re appealing to everyone from pregnant women who miss the occasional tippler to the average joe who feels like a few fewer drinks in their life isn’t a bad thing.

Seedlip was a first-mover in this space, and their flavors are very unique, but I’m liking some of the newer brands emerging now. Ritual isn’t meant to drink on its own, but rather to replace your whiskey, gin, or tequila in a cocktail, and they do a great job at that.

Kin and Tenneyson take more of a holistic/wellness approach with ingredients meant to make you feel something better than intoxicated—and frankly, I find Tenneyson’s Black Sesame to be the most satisfying neat of any of the non-alcs out there. Curious Elixirs is tacking the RTD space from the non-alcoholic angle, and their premixed mocktails are no-fuss, no-muss, with a ton of depth. Great stuff all around, and a category that I think we’ll see a lot more of over the next few years.

Pour My Party - Brooklyncello Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Brooklyncello Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party has partnered with some amazing spirit brands. Can you tell us about the various options you offer clients? Have you started working with any new brands since we last spoke?

It’s been a while since we last spoke, and we’ve broadened our offering up to 52 total distilleries. We’ve always had a strong representation of US-based craft distilleries, but we now balance that out nicely with a bunch of international craft distilleries as well.

We recently poured an event outside of Philadelphia with a great craft Irish Whiskey brand called Two Stacks that I really love. They’re really good at focusing on the “finishing” aspect of their whiskey to impart a broad range of flavors. Their portfolio focuses on their signature aged whiskey blend, which they then finish in different types of barrels for their final 4 to 6 months to create what taste like totally different spirits, even though the liquid inside is technically the same.

We also had our first-ever rum tasting last year, with Barbancourt out of Haiti, who distill a wonderful aged spirit that would go toe-to-toe with many whiskeys and cognacs that share a similar aging process.

Pour My Party - Two Stacks Spirits Tasting

Pour My Party – Two Stacks Spirits Tasting

What are you most excited about for the spring/summer event season?

Outdoor entertaining! There is something so special about socializing, entertaining and imbibing outside. When it comes to our events, it’s always fun to see the unique ways our clients leverage outdoor spaces for their events and how they integrate our liquor tastings in those spaces.

What should a couple consider if they want to serve welcome drinks to guests as they arrive to the ceremony?

Welcome drinks should be mandatory at weddings! Of course your closest-closest are there for the ceremony, but let’s be real; most people are there to have a good time. When guests get to the ceremony and they realize they’ve got to wait until cocktail hour to have their first drink, fairly or not, many are going to be disappointed.

With that in mind, it’s a great idea to have something ready for them. The key things to remember are to keep it simple and keep it light. To keep it easy on guests, your bartenders, and servers, you don’t want to offer a ton of options. It should either be one drink or a choice between two. And by “keep it light”, remember that it’s early, and if someone grabs two, you don’t want them starting down the wrong path.

You can’t go wrong with wine, champagne/prosecco, or a beer. But if you want something special, consider a low-alcohol refreshing, pre-batched cocktail. A fun take on a hard seltzer, like I mentioned earlier, is a great option here. Something like a limoncello + soda with a rosemary or mint sprig for an afternoon wedding is wonderful. Or a mimosa would also go over really well.

And if you’re really worried about someone getting too drunk too early, don’t be afraid to serve a half-pour.

A big thank you to Brian for taking the time to chat with us. For more information about Pour My Party’s services, visit www.pourmyparty.com and follow along at @pourmypartyus

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