How To Find Your Signature Cocktail

There's something to be said about finding a signature cocktail — whether it's something special you have to celebrate swanky occasions like a wedding, or just a go-to drink you order at the bar. Not sure what your drink of choice is? Food52 is here to help you pick the best one.

Today: Matthew Latkiewicz, author of You Suck at Drinking, walks us through the five steps of creating a signature cocktail (your spirit cocktail, if you will). Good news: It's a lot easier than we thought.

As wedding season approaches, many brides and grooms will consider what their “signature cocktail” should be — the drink that best represents the event and themselves, and is hopefully strong enough to get even the crotchetiest relatives on the dance floor. That’s the thing about finding the perfect drink: Booze plays an essential role at a party and, whether it's a drink for your big day or just a normal night out, its job isn't just for decoration. With such a central role to play, your signature drink should be chosen with care, thoughtfulness, and research — tons and tons of research.

Lucky for us all, I have performed much “research” myself (often accidental, mostly shameful, and now collected in hopefully legitimizing book form), and happily offer a few shortcuts and tips. Here, then, is a strategy for finding your signature cocktail:

1. It must have the right look

First, and most importantly, you have to look cool drinking your drink. I am not joking. A ginormous blueberry margarita may taste delicious, but nobody wants to be seen walking around with a glass of something that looks like it was bought from a 7-11 at 3 in the morning.

A drink is an accessory just like a necklace or your mustache: It has to fit with and enhance your look. Is your look more Champagne flute or rocks glass? Coupe or ancient Viking goblet? Starting with glassware and working backwards will help narrow your options. (For example, if you are going with Viking goblet, the only appropriate drink for that is THE BLOOD OF YOUR ENEMIES.)

2. You should be able to drink more than one

A signature drink shouldn’t be so strong that you (or your guests) can only get through one. A gin martini, for instance, is a great signature drink if you are a varsity player — like mid-century crooner Dean Martin — but three ounces of gin will knock most people on the ground. Instead, pick something appropriate for your drinking level. Those who need more can always spike it with the whiskey they smuggled in via their monogrammed groomsmen flasks.

And it goes without saying that you should enjoy the taste enough to want a second one.

3. It shouldn’t be a total hassle to make

Choosing an elaborate drink is a mistake many people make when picking their signature cocktail. They want it to look amazing, and therefore want mint and strawberries muddled up, or a special sugared rim, or extra garnishes to add more “texture.” It will indeed look and taste gorgeous, but it will be a total pain in the ass to make. You should spend time drinking your signature cocktail, not waiting in a long line at the bar. So try to keep your flourishes to a minimum.

Pick one accent to anchor your drink. If you really want muddled mint, for instance, go for a drink that has a simpler construction — like a mint julep — rather than one that requires lots of ingredients and shaking, like a mojito. Or just do what I do, and make your signature cheap whiskey.

4. Make it weather-appropriate.

Change up your signature drink about the same time you change out your wardrobe. Make sure you have a warm weather signature and a cold weather signature for different seasons. You may love Sazeracs, but they don’t make sense if you're drinking outside in the summer sun.

5. It should come with a story, even if it’s simple

A good signature drink has your energy in it. Review your preferred cocktail book (mine is Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book), make your shortlist of drinks, and then identify those that simply feel right to you. This is a bit touchy-feely, I know, but drink recipes (like all recipes) are little vessels of history, culture, and our connection to the stuff inside. It could be something as specific as family history or as indistinct as the way the name sounds, but find a reason to connect to your drink. And if you can’t find one, then it’s time to go out and make some new memories with a specific cocktail. After all, it is your signature.

First and fourth photos by James Ransom, all the rest by Mark Weinberg.