R.S.V.P. Cocktail Skinnies

Distillerista-RSVP-SkinniesFeeling a little stuffed after yesterday’s feast? Trying not to completely blow your workout regime/healthy eating lifestyle this holiday season? Or perhaps you’re a DEVOUT vodka soda gal (or guy) desperately looking to spice things up without extra calories and sugar… whatever your reasons for watching your alcohol intake this party season, I have a fun little surprise for you! Enter: R.S.V.P. Cocktail Skinnies.

R.S.V.P. Skinnies are sugar-free, zero-calorie powdered cocktail mixers that you combine with 4 oz. water and 1.5 oz. of liquor. They come in four flavors: Baja Margarita, New York Cosmo, Maui Mai Tai (formerly “Miami Breeze?”) and London Gimlet. The first three of which I’ll be chatting about here. No need for any other ingredients, as long as you have your little packet, h2O and some booze, you’re good to go.

I was sent some samples a looooooong while back and if we’re being honest, wasn’t THAT excited about them. I outgrew my Crystal Light habit back in high school and I’m just not a fan in general of that,uhumm… other “Skinny” brand, cough cough. Nonetheless, I owed these little drink mixes a try and wanted to share my opinions here. Without further ado, scroll down for my thoughts on each flavor.

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Distillerista-RSVP-Skinnies-Baja-Margarita Baja Margarita: As directed, I combined the drink mix with tequila and water before pouring over ice. To put to bluntly, it wasn’t terrible. It tasted similar to that aforementioned “Skinny…” brand Margarita but lighter. The flavors weren’t overly artificial-tasting and the color was obviously not natural but not too far off from other margarita mixes. Would I drink this again? Yes. Verdict: Somewhat Recommended.

Distillerista-RSVP-Skinnies-cocktail-2 Miami Breeze (Now Maui Mai Tai): This one was a bit more confusing… what is a Miami Breeze? Is it trying to be a Bay Breeze? A Sea Breeze? What does it taste like? Well, I couldn’t really tell ya. As it’s (I’m assuming) new name suggests, it seemed like more of a tropical, tiki-style drink so I made it with white rum. Considering the overly saccharine sweetness and the fact that there was no specific flavor mentioned, the color just put me off. What is it trying to be? Perhaps if there was more clarity in regards to the flavor and intention of the final product I’d be more into it. But probably not. Verdict: Not Recommended.

RSVP-Skinnies-Cosmo-DistilleristaNew York Cosmo: This one is a bit of a mixed bag. I can definitely see those in the vodka soda camp liking it but it was a little bland for me. It tasted like a strong vodka water (my go-to drink when I should definitely have been cut off 3 drinks ago, #hah) with a splash of cranberry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think if it was served over ice and mixed with a little less water (maybe 3 oz. as opposed to 4), I’d be into it. Disclaimer: I’d be into it if it was my only option. Verdict: Recommended with reservations, let’s say.

Fall-Inspired Spiced Mango Ginger Punch

img_2497Did you know mangos have two seasons? The first peaks as spring turns to summer and the second as fall gives way to winter, overlapping to provide an almost year-round season for delicious, juicy mangos! I was completely unaware of this delightful fact when searching the interwebs for inspiration regarding two lonely mangos past their prime in the back of my fridge. As soon as I realized mangos weren’t just for summer poolside rum-soaked applications, I couldn’t wait to create a more fall-inspired cocktail.

With Thanksgiving just next week (!!), I also thought it’d be wise to batch this festive cocktail out for all your group drinking needs. Below are recipes for both one drink and ten. Note: the recipes have slight variations in order to make the batched version more hostess-friendly. As I alluded to in Tuesday’s post, I’ve been on the hunt for high-quality mixers for You & Yours‘ debut cocktail program and am #obsessed with East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer at the moment. You can buy a 24-pack here (they will not go to waste, trust me!), but feel free to use your favorite ginger beer.

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Recipe for 1 drink.

Ingredients:

  • 1. 5 oz aged or spiced rum
  • 2 oz. mango juice, puree or nectar (this can be store bought; *recipe for homemade to follow)
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. brown sugar simple syrup, *recipe to follow
  • ginger beer to top
  • 2 T coconut or raw cane sugar for sugar rim, optional
  • mango (fresh, dried or candied!) chunk or slice for garnish, optional

Directions:

  1. Pour brown sugar into a small shallow bowl and use a lemon wedge to wet the rim of a collins/highball glass or other tumbler. Gently dip the rim of the glass in the sugar and fill with fresh ice. Set aside.
  2. Combine rum, mango puree, lemon juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.
  3. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into sugar rimmed glass. Top with ginger beer.
  4. Garnish as desired and enjoy!

Recipe for homemade mango puree: In a blender combine 1 peeled, chopped mango (or 1 cup frozen mango, thawed) and a splash or two of water. Blend on high until completely smooth, 1 minute or more. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate until ready to use, up to one day.

Recipe for brown sugar simple syrup: In a small sauce pan, combine one cup each brown sugar and water and simmer over medium-low heat until completely dissolved. Let cool and store any leftovers in a sealed jar or container for up to one month.

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Recipe & Directions for batched version (10-12 drinks).

In a large drink dispenser or punch bowl, combine 1 750 mL bottle dark or spiced rum, 1 quart (32 oz) mango nectar, 1 cup (16 oz) brown sugar simple syrup, 1 cup lemon juice and 2 cups ginger beer. Give it a good stir and adjust the sugar syrup and lemon juice to taste if needed. Pro tip: If using a punch bowl, freeze lemon slices in water in a bundt pan and use as one giant ice cube! When the ice melts and the lemon slices float it will be beautiful.

Shopping list for batched version:

  • One 750 mL bottle of your favorite aged or spiced rum; San Diegans – check out Malahat or Liberty Call
  • One quart mango juice, nectar or puree; a mango juice blend or mango lemonade would also work just fine!
  • 6-8 lemons or 8 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • One quart of your favorite ginger beer (be sure to use ginger beer, as ginger ale will likely make the drink too sweet)

pantry items: brown sugar, raw sugar or coconut sugar

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{ Photos by Caroline Potter }

My New Favorite Cocktail Ingredient

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With construction at the distillery space well under way (follow me on Snap to see some behind the scenes progress! @laurakj11), we’ve finally begun recipe testing for our debut cocktail menu! Being the Distillerista that I am, I’ve always known that my place of business would never be the type of establishment to serve generic mixers out of a gun.  That in mind, I went to town sourcing specialty tonics and sodas for our cocktail program. Enter East Imperial. East Imperial is a New Zealand-based company specializing in super high quality and super low sugar mixers. I like to think of them as the hipper, southern hemisphere version of Fever Tree.

The guys at East Imperial were kind enough to send us a sampling of each of their products and although my love for their ginger beer knows no bounds, it’s this Yuzu Tonic that has me most excited! If you’re not familiar with yuzu, it’s a north-Asian citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a mandarin and a Meyer lemon. This yuzu-flavored tonic water is both the perfect subtle twist on my usual G&T and a necessary exclamation point to this yuzu-based cocktail I created for a competition recently. The yuzu flavor is true as can be, not at all artificial, and subtle enough to compliment but not overwhelm premium spirits. If you’re looking to delight and impress your holiday guests this season, pick up a twenty-four-pack here (Trust me, they’ll go fast!).

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Spirit Review: Woody Creek Gin

img_2464 { Woody Creek Gin c/o }

Product: Woody Creek Gin

Category: Juniper-forward American gin

Distillery: Woody Creek Distillers of Basalt, CO

ABV: 47% / 94 proof

Price: $36

Tasting Notes: Unabashedly juniper-forward with fleeting notes of citrus and lemongrass. Reminiscent of a London Dry but the use of fresh orange, lemon and lime keeps it modern.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: For London Dry lovers, this will please in just about any application. I prefer masking the overwhelming juniper just a touch by pairing with bolder flavors, such as yuzu, pomegranate or something of the like.

Similar Products: Aviation and Brooklyn are both modern American gins with a strong juniper presence and fresh citrus elements. I would, however, say that neither rival Woody Creek in terms of the level of juniper strength.

Final Thoughts: Although a slightly stronger juniper flavor profile than I prefer, I’ve enjoyed mixing it (equal parts) with Sloe Gin to lighten both the juniper notes and the alcohol content. Just add some tonic, soda or even lemonade! If you don’t have Sloe Gin, try mixing 1 oz Woody Creek Gin with a half oz of your favorite liqueur and top with soda water for a simple and low sugar cocktail. All in all, London Dry lovers will adore this and any gin lover is sure to get a kick out of it’s brash piney-ness. A worthy buy all around.

img_2458 { Try this Yuzu Gin Sour with Woody Creek Gin }

Past Spirit Reviews:

All photos by Caroline Potter.

Yuzu Gin Sour

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This Yuzu Gin Sour is award-winning. Literally. A few months ago our dear friends hosted an “Iron Chef” themed cooking competition. Each “chef” team had to create a dish for 25+ people featuring the secret ingredient: Citrus! Luke and I presented a Meyer lemon crab cake slider with lemon vinaigrette-dressed frisée and preserved lemon aïoli on lemon butter-toasted baby brioche. Oh, and a #casual fried quail egg on top. As if that wasn’t enough to sweep the competition, we also paired the slider with a yuzu gin sour, #GoBigOrGoHome. Spoiler alert… we won!

The yuzu gin sours, in particular, were such a hit that I’ve continued to make them several times since. I finally got around to getting them photographed (by my incredibly talented friend Caroline Potter) and am so excited to share the recipe with you here!

For the night of the competition, I combined some home-infused Meyer lemon London Dry (juniper-forward) gin, yuzu juice, Meyer and conventional lemon juices, and lime honey simple syrup. The combo was absolutely perfect. Not too tart from the yuzu, not too puckery from the lemons and not too limey from the syrup. I’ve since tweaked and tinkered with the recipe, and the ingredients and directions below reflect what I think is the simplest, best way to achieve the perfect, award-winning Yuzu Gin Sour!

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Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. In a cocktail shaker combine the gin, juices, syrup and ice.
  2. Shake for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
  3. Top with a splash of East Imperial’s Yuzu Tonic for an extra punch of Yuzu flavor if desired.
  4. Garnish with an edible flower (such as micro daisies or elderberry blossoms) and enjoy!

img_2458 img_2450 img_2455img_2462 { East Imperial Yuzu Tonic Water c/o }

img_2447 img_2464 { Woody Creek Gin c/o }

A few notes…

  • Thank you to Woody Creek for the gin! You may have heard of Woody Creek Vodka but did you know they produce gin and rye whiskey as well? London Dry lovers will fall hard for their local, hand-picked Colorado juniper-forward gin and the rye whiskey is so good, the bottle barely lasted a week in our house.
  • Thank you to East Imperial for the tonics! East Imperial is a New Zealand-based company offering exceptionally high-quality, low-sugar cocktail mixers. They’re my gold standard for sodas, tonics, etc. Their ginger beer specifically is the only ginger beer on the market I would recommend.
  • I get yuzu juice at my local Asian market but I also see it regularly at Whole Foods and on Amazon.
  • I love stopping by Specialty Produce to pick up micros for complimentary and impactful garnishes – basil (seen here), marigolds (seen here) and elderflower (as seen in this post) especially.

Spirit Review: Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine

img_2481{ Grappa Moonshine, c/o Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery }

Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased/acquired unless stated otherwise.

Product: Grappa Moonshine

Category: unaged grape-based spirit

Distillery: Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery of Bangor, CA

ABV: 80 proof / 40% ABV

Price: $50

Tasting Notes: Fruit-forward and floral. Full-bodied. Pleasantly sweet and smooth.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: I can’t say I have a soft spot for Grappas or Moonshines, so I’m choosing to approach this spirit as a grape-based vodka. I happen to love grape-based vodkas and this spirit would certainly fit well in any vodka cocktail application. A few of my favorites are my pineapple vodka limeades, simple but elegant vodka sodas and hibiscus greyhounds. I also specially created this Grape and Basil Smash to highlight and enhance the flavor profile of this Moonshine, so definitely check that out.

Similar Products: As I mentioned, I would most accurately compare this to a grape-based vodka such as Hangar 1 or Ciroc. You will also find several similarities among this spirit and unaged grape brandies.

Final Thoughts: A well-crafted and enjoyable spirit. It definitely opened my eyes in terms of what assumptions I make internally when I hear “Moonshine,” or “Grappa.” This product has taught me not to judge a spirit by it’s category.

Be sure to check out Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery if you ever happen to be in the Sacramento area!

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{ Basil Grape Smash feat. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine }

Past Spirit Reviews:

All photos by Caroline Potter.

Basil & Grape Smash

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Blogging is weird. You write about stuff you like and hope people enjoy it. But more so, you also kind of hope people start sending you things and maybe you even hope to make a little cash money, #LBH. When the former finally happens and a brand reaches out to you, it’s kind of the coolest thing ever. Now don’t you worry, I am highly aware that Distillerista is VERY small potatoes when it comes to my little corner of the interwebs… but when I received a sample bottle of product for review from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery earlier this year, it felt like my little craft spirits blog was really something! And now that I’m finally sharing some Cobble Ridge content here, it felt like a good time to say thank you! Thank you for reading and thank you for being here! :)

Now that my baby blogger update is complete, let’s get down to what you came for: this gorgeous grape and basil grappa smash! It’s base spirit, Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine, is an interesting product partly because it labels itself a moonshine. Although a trendy product category, in today’s craft spirit world, pretty much any unaged alcohol can be considered a “moonshine.” It’s worth noting though that in the early days of bootleg/bathtub distilling, “moonshine” referred to a very specific mash bill, consisting of mostly corn and other grains. Once the corn-heavy white whiskey came off the still, it was consumed immediately without seeing any oak or age whatsoever. And there you have it – moonshine was born.

This “moonshine” from Cobble Ridge however is made from grapes, making it a grappa-style spirit. Grappa is a traditionally Italian spirit, most often distilled from winemakers’ leftover grape must. The base material of spent grape skins tends to result in an extremely hot and unrefined end product, IMO but there are a few grappas on the market that manage to temper that hot grape-y bite. I would have to say Cobble Ridge is definitely one of them.

When creating a cocktail around this spirit, I knew I wanted to incorporate grapes because I knew they’d naturally play nice with the spirit. I love grape and gorgonzola salads (don’t worry, no blue cheese here) and thought of the garnish I’d pair – basil. I happened to have some basil simple syrup in the fridge and bam – the drink was done. This gorgeous drink is perfect for Halloween celebrations or a more elegant holiday dinner party. I hope you enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine (can substitute with a grape-based vodka like Ciroc)
  • 8 concord grapes
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. basil simple syrup, recipe to follow
  • baby or micro basil for garnish, optional

for the basil simple syrup: combine 1/4 cup superfine sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, one minute. Add a packed cup of basil leaves and turn the heat off. Let basil steep as syrup cools to room temp, about an hour. Strain and discard basil. Store in an air-tight jar or container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Directions:

  1. Muddle grapes in the bottom of a cocktail shaker using a muddler or wooden spoon.
  2. Add lemon juice, Grappa, simple syrup, and ice and shake for 10 seconds.
  3. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a sprig of basil

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{ Photos by the lovely & talented Caroline Potter. }

Summer Drink Diary 2.0

Distillerista-Drink-DiaryWell, it’s a few months since summer left us, but I couldn’t resist rounding up all the delicious things I sipped on this past season! I love scrolling through my camera roll and being transported back to an event, garnish, weekend getaway or combination of flavors that was so arresting I had to stop and snap a photo. I hope you enjoy too!

Drink-Diary-June

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Weekend Brunch // Oddly enough, summer 2016 kicked off just as last year’s did! With weekend brunch and fitting cocktails. I was dying to try The Cheese Store‘s new brunch menu (bagels! quiche! baked eggs!) and their prickly pear mimosa did not disappoint.

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“Working remotely” // My sweet friend and her fam invited me on their annual trip to Mexico and although I had just about a million things to do at the time, I couldn’t pass up a chance to relax a bit and hang with one of my “second” families! There were several margaritas taken down over the course of the trip of course but for our last night we opted for sparkling rosé while we waited for our table at El Farallon.

Drink-Diary-July

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Vegas// We took a short but incredibly fun trip to Las Vegas with friends for the pretty much the sole purpose of eating and drinking all our favorite things! This cocktail above is always my first stop once we’ve checked into our hotel: the Mexican Gin & Tonic from Jose Andres’ China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan. I love the flavors so much, I recreated the drink here for the blog!

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Vegas, cont. // This was an epic Manhattan from one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Vegas, Giada at the Cromwell. Giada’s namesake establishment is one of fewer than five places in the United States to use a custom ice maker that carves her signature “G” inside (INSIDE!) the ice sphere. #Goals.

fullsizerender-15Iron Chef: CITRUS! // When your dear friends throw an Iron Chef battle and you’re competitive as I am, it’s go big or go home. My team’s dish was the crab cake slider & yuzu sour (spoiler alert: we WON!), but this opening cocktail was a total hit. Our friend Eder mixed them up and garnished each with a blistered shishito. P.S. My recipe for the Yuzu Gin Sour is coming to the blog soon so stay tuned!

fullsizerender-12Post-work cocktails on the patio // A long work day and warm evening called for this “Flight to Paradise” from my Speakeasy Co. subscription box. Learn how to make it here! RIP that cute cocktail pick to my garbage disposal.

Drink-Diary-August

fullsizerender-5Family happy hour // My man and I took his (New Zealand-hailing) parents to visit my hometown and meet some of my extended family. The kiwis definitely got the “Texas” experience, as it was 95+ degrees the entire trip. Luckily my mom had plenty of ice, a brand new blender and some mixed berries on their last legs. I just added a bit of lemon juice, some vodka and topped them off with mint and soda water!

fullsizerender-9Brunching again // The summer wound down the same way it started – with some delightful brunch cocktails. A new restaurant I’m loving in San Diego right now is Trust and their mimosa-Aperol spritz hybrid is a thing of beauty. I dare you to have just one!

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Tequila vs. Mezcal // Perhaps the most satisfying event of the summer was the Tequila v. Mezcal summer bash at new Barrio Logon venue, The Goldleaf Project. A Miho Experience stole the show once again with their incredible cocktails (see menu below) and wait for it… a NACHO BAR! Sorry, nachos not pictured but I promise you they were BOMB.

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Watermelon Lavender Agua Fresca

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Fall may be in full force when you check the calendar but temps are climbing to the high eighties here in San Diego this week. Just when we thought we could feel a slight chill in the air, another heat wave has emerged. With the temps soaring and the sunshine going strong, I thought I’d share one last summer-inspired cocktail recipe. I’ve had this one up my sleeve for a while now, waiting for just the right moment! This drink recipe was originally inspired by a cocktail we had at our pool party at the Westgate hotel earlier in the summer.
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I love the combo of lavender with watermelon because it makes something so familiar and nostalgic feel really elegant. The touch of lavender syrup elevates the juiciness of the melon while the soda water float keeps it from being too saccharine. This drink may require a bit of prep but it’s so worth it. Incorporating watermelon into cocktails is ideal because the bright pink flesh happens to be a surprisingly versatile cocktail ingredient. Thanks to it’s high water content, watermelon turns into a thin, manageable liquid when processed and strained. When berries are treated similarly, for instance, there’s so much pulp and not a whole lot of useful liquid left over.
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Ingredients:
  • 2 oz your favorite gin (or vodka)
  • 3 oz fresh watermelon juice, directions to follow
  • .5 oz lavender syrup, recipe to follow
  • .25 oz lemon juice
  • soda water to top, optional
  • lavender sprig to garnish, optional
Directions:
  1. For the syrup, bring 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup superfine sugar and 1 tsp culinary lavender buds to a simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 1 minute. Let steep while the syrup cools to room temp and strain; discard lavender buds.
  2. For the watermelon juice, blend 1/2 cup watermelon chunks in a blender until smooth. Strain and discard pulp.
  3. To finish the drink combine gin, watermelon juice, a squeeze of lemon, lavender syrup and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a glass over fresh ice and top with a splash of soda water if desired. Garnish with a lavender sprig.

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{ photos & styling by Caroline Potter }

Six Tips for Incorporating Cocktails into Your Wedding

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I recently had the honor of contributing to Exquisite Weddings Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2016 issue – I wrote about my favorite ways to incorporate craft spirits and cocktails into your wedding celebrations. Although the finished piece only ended up including a few small blurbs (see article above), I wanted to share the entirety of the tips here. Wedding season might be coming to coming to a close but that can only mean one thing: engagement season is right around the corner! Send these tips to a bride- or groom-to-be and you’ll be one happy guest. 😉

1. Choose a cocktail with significance.

Not surprisingly, I’m a big fan of featuring signature cocktails at your wedding. They provide a little something extra, compared to just beer and wine, and are a great way to placate the liquor-loving crowd without blowing your budget on a full bar. Having said that, I feel strongly that the cocktail(s) chosen should mean something to the bride and groom. Don’t just go with the trend of the moment – I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to where the same tired version of a Moscow Mule was being served, much to my judgy chagrin. If your favorite cocktail truly is a Mule then, by all means, serve them (extra points for then offering the – engraved perhaps?! – copper mugs as favors). But what I really find special is when the bride and groom feature something with a story. Perhaps the drink your fiancé made you when you had dinner at his/her place the first time or, the cocktail you shared on your first weekend away together.

2. Cocktail kits as favors.

Another cocktail-inspired idea I love is putting together or purchasing cocktail kits for your wedding favors. My Youtube crush Claire Thomas (of The Kitchy Kitchen) really set the bar with this idea. She and her now husband made their own bitters (!!!) then included little bottles of them in a mini cocktail kit, along with the rest of the ingredients to mix up an Old Fashioned (her favorite drink) for each guest to take home. Talk about a meaningful, intentional and totally useful wedding favor. If that seems like a bit more effort than you’re willing to put in for wedding favors, bid guests adieu with W&P Design’s Carry-On cocktail kits for the plane ride home!

3. Take Champagne to the next level.

One way to easily incorporate cocktails into your wedding is with a champagne toast. Champagne cocktails are easy and affordable to throw together for a crowd (just sparkling wine and your favorite liqueur or juice) while being elegant and celebratory at the same time. Or perhaps consider greeting guests after the ceremony with a simple champagne cocktail (sugar cube + dash of bitters + bubbles) instead of plain Brut.

4. Feature both light and dark spirits in contrasting applications.

If featuring more than one signature cocktail, try to choose one that calls for a clear liquor and one aged liquor to give all imbibers an option. I.e. my two favorites – a fresh gin gimlet and a Bourbon boulevardier – create a nice contrast. The gimlet is light and refreshing while the boulevardier is more direct and warming.  

5. Call in the experts.

There are some fabulous cocktail-centric caterers out there these days. Work with companies like Barçon or Snake Oil to create a unique, custom cocktail (or two!) and offer hand lettered recipe cards with your names and the date of your wedding for a special touch. Guests can then think of the happy couple when they recreate the drink at home!

6. Add a little touch of home.

Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere – did you know that there’s now a craft distillery in every state? If your wedding celebration is far from home, incorporate spirits from a distillery in your hometown or state as a little nod to your provenance. Some of my favorite California distillers are St. George Spirits in Alameda, Spirit Works in Sebastopol, Green Bar Distillery in LA and Malahat Spirit Co. here in San Diego. Each has a wide range of spirits to choose from. Alternatively, offer an airplane-sized or other small format bottle (250 or 375 mL) of a local spirit as wedding favors if you’re having a destination wedding in a locale where there exist popular local craft distilleries.

 

Looking for more entertaining tips? I shared how to throw a craft spirits-inspired football brunch here