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Spirits set wedding guests on a romantic journey

by The New York Times | November 14, 2021 at 2:55 a.m.

Josh Rosenthal is an owner of the Grand Bevy Corp., a mixology and creative beverage company in Los Angeles that he started 10 years ago. Run by Rosenthal and his wife, Priscilla Sommer, who works as a managing partner and chief financial officer, the company now employs 130 bartenders across the country at about 150 weddings a year, among other events.

"Over the past five years, there has been a shift from food being the main attraction at a wedding to the social elixirs: drinks," said Rosenthal, 46, whose favorite libations are champagne and single malt scotch. Pricing for his services varies, but generally, he charges by the station, which start at $3,800.

For Rosenthal, visuals play a tremendous role in making cocktails. "I get a big buzz from forward thinking cocktails that exude color and movement, are presented uniformly, including the garnish, and presented on a tray," he said, adding that it takes "months of planning, creation and teamwork" to pull off a single event.

Thanks to technology, ingredients and skill from the mixologist, he said, the cocktail has gone from something to drink to a viral Instagram moment. "We rarely do just a bar because anyone can make a nice cocktail," Rosenthal said. "We create a liquid adventure that we are taking you on. That's what the cocktail has become."

Q: What questions should couples be asking a mixologist?

A: What is the guest-to-bar ratio, and how many support staff will there be? Usually it's two staff members and one bartender to 50 guests, or two staff members and one bartender for every 6 feet of bar. Do they do tray passing, and will that be set up in the back of house station? Because where they set up ensures you will not have lines at the bar. Will the signature cocktail be passed upon guests entering the reception? That speaks to how quickly a drink gets into someone's hand before they get to the bar.

Q: Why serve different drinks at different times?

A: You want the guest to go on a drinkable journey. That's why cocktails change as the wedding progresses. At 6 p.m. when you arrive, your drink is light and celebratory because you're at the start of an uplifting, joyful event.

The cocktail served in the middle is about creating a palate cleanser because you're pairing it with food. The cocktail served at 2 a.m. -- those are heavier and more boozy, and should evoke an entirely different emotion. We might add CBD oils or caffeine because you want to stay awake. You're in party mode. There's dancing and jubilation.

We have protocols and procedures in place to cut people off. We also don't overpour or serve shots. People tend to self-monitor and not overdo it when the quality of the product is higher. You're not slamming drinks. You're experiencing them.

Q: What makes for a successful cocktail?

A: A drink should be a surprising, unique experience with ingredients that don't overpower each other. Alcohol is only one of many components. It should appeal to all the senses. It has to be visually stimulating, appealing and have an interesting look, offered in handsome or classic glassware.

Smell or aroma, which usually comes from the garnish, like lavender or ginger, is next because you're going to lift the drink. Taste is a balanced and complex combination of sweetness and savory; of acid and alkaline. Then it's about feel. Creating an experience should be part of the cocktail's job as well.

Q: How do you create a distinctive drink for each couple?

A: Couples fill out a detailed questionnaire that address their palate preferences, their romantic story, and cocktails they drank while dating. Then we design a drink to include those elements. For a couple who met in Thailand, we added regional tastes and visuals like lemon grass bitters; coconut foam; and the sweet smelling, tropical flower frangipani as garnish to re-create their memories and tastes.

Q: What do you suggest for nondrinkers?

A: We have a mocktail program and dry bars: an heirloom tomato Bloody Mary station, a do-it-yourself spritzer bar that uses different flavored sodas and fruits, and a garden bar, complete with 40 to 50 different vegetables that we cold press into juices.

Q: What advice can you offer couples who are doing something on their own?

A: Don't spend your budget on booze. Serve Champagne and three drinks -- one for her, one for him, and one for the guest -- because you can cover anyone's palate with three different cocktails.

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