Take a Sip!

In a city that’s constantly celebrating, a wedding is no small occasion. There are countless details to plan – the budget, the band, the location, the guest list, the dress. And there’s one guest who’s no longer hanging out in the background. The Wedding Cocktail is now approaching center stage, no longer the understated, polite fellow at the back table.

“Eating and drinking are intimate experiences,” says Ann Tuennerman (née Rogers), founder of the nonprofit Tales of the Cocktail (and a recent bride). “And these experiences mean a lot to New Orleanians. They can bring back memories that will stay with you.” Ben Gersh of New Orleans Rum echoes this sentiment. He says that while the food has always been a topic of discussion, now too is the booze.

 “Most people talk about the bar as much as any of the food nowadays,” he notes. The bar has evolved, he says. “You see featured mojitos and featured martinis.” The specialty bar? Just as important, perhaps, as the carving station or the dessert. Says Gersh, “Mixologists are becoming chefs in their own right, maybe not as big of names but, for example, behind big restaurants you have great bartenders that might be behind the scenes.” That means that behind a great wedding could be a creative couple and a talented bartender. “You hear about people who fly in special wines and champagnes – cocktails are now a featured item,” he says. “Regarding spirits in general, people are becoming just as knowledgeable [as they are about wines]. They want a quality product, they look around for a while and take the time to find the right one,” he notes.

 “Ten years ago you had a bar. Now you’re having a vodka bar or featured cocktails,” he says. In other words, the drinks are more specialized. That means that the couple should choose quality ingredients. He adds that when someone walks into a store, he or she won’t carelessly go for a “red wine;” rather the individual will be specific, searching for a Cabernet or other specialized wine.

Perhaps the three most popular signature cocktails are made of rum, vodka and champagne – all easily accessible in this city, and there’s a huge number of creative, fun and festive drinks that can be made with these as the core ingredients.

Jennie Keller, a professional wedding planner who co-founded the Wedding Professionals Guild with Paulette Mendler, believes that the number of options can throw people off.  She recommends keeping the number of signature cocktails at just one or two, as serving too many defeats the purpose of a “signature” drink. “Maybe orient one for the males and one for the females,” she says. Tuennermann adds that having just a few signature drinks available may also save on cost. It’s the quality of the drink – not necessarily the number of options available – that matters the most to the guests and the wedding party.

A quality product, of course, will be linked directly to he or she who creates it!

Tuennerman says that a good rule of thumb is to have at least one bartender per 50 guests. That way, guests can spend more time socializing and dancing and less time waiting in line. (It also makes the evening less stressful for the bartenders!) Another hint to avoid waiting: Some drinks can be created in bulk, which saves money as well. Tuennerman adds, “Don’t make the drinks too strong. It’s a wedding, it shouldn’t turn into a bachelor party.”

Tipping is a personal decision; guests of the wedding should be able to tip if they want. At the end of the day, though, the bride and groom need to make sure that this is covered as a cost of the evening. The bartender is an important character in the story of a wedding and a little extra cash in the pocket ensures that everyone will be happy – sober or otherwise.

Tuennerman says that some couples create a signature cocktail that can be consumed on other special occasions, allowing the couple and their families to “relive the moment” in years to come. Perhaps the best thing is the creativity that can go into creating a signature cocktail. (Hers was champagne based while her husband chose Hemingway daquiris.)

“Cocktails can really express the character of the special couple,” she says. “It’s the ultimate special occasion when two people are getting married. This attribute also makes cocktails great for other celebratory events.”

“Use a personal touch,” she continues, whether that means using creative garnishes, creative service, favors or a drink that’s been custom designed by the couple and a mixologist.

The cocktail itself should be suitable for the wedding and the reception style, says Tuennerman. The drinks should follow the cuisine, lifestyle, heritage and history of the region you live in.

Keller believes the specialty cocktail is also important as it enhances the theme and décor of the wedding. “Brides like the idea of incorporating a cocktail to go with the bridesmaids dress, or with the table linens, for example,” she says.

Keller, who has planned a number of fashionable and high-end weddings, says that the trend in signature cocktails isn’t exactly new but it has caught on in terms of popularity with all sorts of weddings in the past few years. “It used to just be a high-profile thing to do,” she says. “Now there are many brides who are wanting to create the perfect signature cocktail to go with their wedding.”

The season of the wedding is also important. “You should always make use of seasonal fruit and flavors as well as local fruits and flavors,” says Tuennerman. “This guarantees the best experience of all flavors that Mother Nature intended.” Temperature, style and presentation should also suit the season in the same manner of the food, fashion and décor.

For New Orleans weddings, some classics include the Sazerac (arguably the “first cocktail” in New Orleans), the Ramos Gin Fizz, Brandy Milk Punch, mint juleps and of course, “anything with a French twist,” says Tuennerman.  Keller adds that the Hurricane is always a popular choice for an especially Big Easy wedding. It’s always nice to update the classics. Gersh says New Orleans Rum has created a new kind of mojito that features spiced rum. Then there’s the “Frenchmen” cosmopolitan that that’s made up of New Orleans Rum’s signature crystal rum and Peach Schnapps, among other goodies.

Of course, packaging is everything. Keller notes that brides often choose a martini glass or similarly structured, tall and slender glass to serve a signature drink, giving it a sophisticated appeal. She also suggests serving the cocktails off silver trays, immediately accessible for arriving guests. “I think it looks best and really sets the tone,” she says.

Tuennerman notes that, like the perfect accessory, the perfect garnish can really kick up the cocktail a notch. Some fun garnishes include edible flowers (bonus points if they match the bouquet) along with other quirky trinkets that can range in theme from plastic golf balls to cinnamon sticks. Another detail that allows for creativity is the notion of party favors. “Favors are popular,” notes Tuennerman. For her wedding, she and her husband gave away custom muddlers engraved with the words “Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail” – a lighthearted tribute to her career at Tales of the Cocktail. Glassware is also a good gift. (The ever popular fleur-de-lis motif is sure to please guests, especially those who may be coming from out of town and want to take a taste of New Orleans back with them.)

 Have fun. Weddings are celebrations and though planning can be stressful it’s important to remember the final product will be a fabulous party for family and friends, celebrating love.

“This is something that you should be excited about. Cocktails are another way to personalize your wedding,” says Gersh. “It’s a fun way to include everyone and the couple can have fun with it.”
No one wants an empty glass
Be careful with your budget: Tales of the Cocktail’s Ann Tuennerman says that the wedding reception will most likely take up about 45 to 50 percent of the budget. And one faux pas to avoid is running out of alcohol – it’s always better to have some leftovers.

Though it depends on the duration of the wedding and the reception, you should probably imagine that each guest will be consuming four cocktails, given that wine and champagne might also be offered.

 “Have a little backup,” says Tuennerman, “Make sure that the bartenders and servers are flexible enough to steer away from an overwhelmingly popular choice in order to avoid running out of stock.” It is also wise to offer a “mocktail” or nonalcoholic choice for guests who will not be consuming alcohol. 

Rose 75 Welcome Cocktail Recipe
1 ounce Hendrick’s Gin
4-5 ounces Prosecco
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 fresh raspberries, muddled
2 dashes Peychaud Bitters
Top with Moet White Star
Assemble the ingredients (except the Prosecco) and shake, strain into a champagne flute and top with Prosecco
– Courtesy of Ann Tuennerman

Creole Champagne Punch
3/4 ounces cognac
1/2 ounces orange Curacao
1/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounces fresh pineapple juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
4-5 ounces champagne
       (depending on size of flute)
Assemble the ingredients (except the champagne) and shake, strain into a coupe and fill with champagne.
– Courtesy of Ann Tuennerman

Sippin’ Sazerac
1 sugar cube, muddled
4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1/2 tsp. of water.
2 1/2 ounces of Sazerac straight rye whisky.
Several small ice cubes
1 tsp. of absinthe or absinthe substitute Herbsaint
Top with lemon peel twist

Put an Old-Fashioned glass in the freezer. In another, muddle the sugar cube with Peychaud’s bitters and water. Add ice, and Sazerac whiskey, stir and removed chilled glass from freezer. Pour the absinthe or Herbsaint into the glass, swirl to coat the sides and spill out excess. Strain the chilled drink into this glass, twist the lemon peel over the top.
Courtesy of Ann Tuennerman and The 2008 Cocktailian Calendar: Series 1: Mixologists & Cocktailians, Illustrated by Jill DeGroff