Confession: when it comes to cocktails, this reluctant bride is a purist.

One of the more interesting trends out there in wedding planning is serving a “signature cocktail” at the reception.  Usually this seems to be a fruity concoction that reflects something about the event–the color scheme, the theme, or even where they may be going on a honeymoon.  While I applaud the notion of adding this extra flourish, I must admit that I cannot stand most modern mixed drinks.  Anything mixed with vodka and dumped into a martini glass is automatically dubbed a “martini,” and utilize so much syrup and sugar that you’re guaranteed to wake up with a bad headache the next morning (all that high-fructose corn syrup is very dehydrating). 

Having befriended a bartender (well, now he’s the beverage manager at The Prime Rib in downtown Philadelphia) in college who was obsessedwith old cocktails (he would make his own absinthe and it tasted…interesting), I developed a taste for Manhattans much faster than I did for Appletinis, but all too often today’s bartenders are much more familiar with the latter than the former.

Given that they are featured so infrequently in many restaurants and bars outside of a super-WASPy country club lounge, why not make a classic-but-ignored cocktail your signature drink?  This works especially well if you’re having a vintage theme, or a literary theme (you know all of those authors were big lushes!  There’s a New York City bar crawl devoted to all of the popular hangouts, for Pete’s sake!), or any number of themes, really.  So why not try some of these on for size and tie one on?

The Martini

Yes, the martini.  Not the vodka martini, but the martini.  As in, three ounces of gin (yes, gin) to a half ounce of dry white vermouth (or any ratio you prefer).  Stirred please, or shaken in a Boston shaker.  To make it dirty, add in some olive brine, or to turn it into a Gibson, replace the olive or lemon garnish with a cocktail onion.  Always appropriate year-round.

The Manhattan

My personal drink of choice, especially when made with Knob Creek bourbon.  The real Manhattan, however, is made with Rye or Canadian whiskey–one shot of it, in fact, along with a half shot of sweet red vermouth, some splashes of Angostura bitters and a cherry garnish.  Whiskey in general always seems to go well with the fall and winter months–the warm spiciness goes well with indulgent, comfort foods that always taste better when it’s cold outside.

The Vesper

The alternative to the tired vodka martini, this is perfect on a hot summer day or for a James-Bond theme soiree–most importantly because Ian Fleming invented the drink in his novel Casino Royale.  Three measures of gin, one of vodka, a splash of Lillet (a French, lemony fortified wine that’s very much like vermouth, but French), shaken (or stirred), served ice-cold and garnished with a lemon peel.  Specific brands recommended:  Tanqueray gin and Stoli 100-proof vodka.  While we’re not going to have a featured drink at our wedding, one of these will be in my hands in the last hour of the reception.

Brandy Alexander

Another cold-weather drink, this is a chic, vintage alternative to the chocolate martini.  As with any drinks combining dairy with booze, however, tread slowly with this one–I’ve had many friends down too many and then be sick for the rest of the night.  Combine 1 1/2 oz brandy, 1 oz dark Crème de Cacao and 1 oz half-and-half or heavy cream into a shaker, and garnish the drink with grated nutmeg.  Make sure that Feist’s song “Brandy Alexander” is featured during cocktail hour to continue the theme.


The first time I encountered this cocktail I was in my college French class, watching this faux-drama that was meant to make learning French easier (though it was no Destinos, that’s for sure), and the jeune fille who was the heroine ordered one while in an outdoor cafe in Paris.  The great thing is, the only constant in this drink is the creme de cassis; any white wine or sparkling wine will make it delicious.  A Kir Royale is made with champagne, and when it’s with any other sparkling wine it’s known as a Kir Pétillant.  It also goes well with any French Chablis.  It turns into a gorgeous violet that is a natural match for any bride whose color scheme includes this color.  It also works well for any francophile out there who wants to add in an authentic drink without necessarily breaking the bank.

Rob Roy/Rusty Nail:

Scotch cocktails!  The Rob Roy is essentially the scotch version of the Manhattan mentioned above–just substitute the scotch for the rye/Canadian/bourbon.  The Rusty Nail is a bit more complicated, however, because it invovles Drambuie which is a cordial that is usually available at any bar, but is expensive if you have to provide your own alcohol.  It is, however, easy to make–nine parts (4.5 centilitres) of scotch to five parts (2.5 centilitres) Drambuie.  Very much an old-man cocktail.


One of the reluctant groom’s favorite drinks to get when we go out.  It’s sweet and comes out in a bright yellow, and is delicious at any time of year but especially the spring and summer.  Combine equal parts brandy or Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, and garnish by surgaring the rim of the cocktail glass.

B&B (Brandy & Benedictine)

This is a nifty drink when it’s made correctly, because the brandy and Benedictine are layered on top of each other.  You can also buy it already pre-mixed these days because it can be hard to find Benedictine, but if you choose to go this route, try to get the separate bottles.  It looks much, much cooler this way.  Layer equal parts of each liqueur into a martini glass.  That’s it.  Takes a steady hand, but that’s it.

What are some of your favorite cocktails?


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