How to Find Your Signature Cocktail

September  1, 2017

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:

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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 their ass. 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 has your energy in it. Review your preferred cocktail book (mine is Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book) and make your shortlist of drinks, 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.

Have you found your signature cocktail? Tell us what it is in the comments below!

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

This post originally ran May 2015.

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Raquel M. June 4, 2015
Fitzgerald.. gin, fresh lemon juice, 2 dashes bitters, smidge of simple syrup to taste, shaken, flamed lemon peel garnish.. love it in coupe glass
Debra May 23, 2015
NEGRONI..classic drink with one large ice cube, castelvetrano olives and an orange slice. Equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica
Sharon Q. May 18, 2015
Sharon's twist: 1 part Deep Eddie Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, 2 parts fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, 1/2 part St. Germain. Shake with ice. Pour into a martini glass. Top with a splash of champagne.
Lauri May 16, 2015
I have several. Spring and summer is summer beer. Fall is apple pie slice and winter is cinnamon toast crunch.
karen951 May 16, 2015
One thanksgiving we served Champagne flutes that had a little (white) Curacao and a dash of cranberry bitters, with a few cranberries in each glass. Light, not too sweet. We called them Pilgrim's Progress.
Jenn2323 May 16, 2015
Meant to type, The blood orange is more pronounced by the addition of Lillet while complimenting the herbaceous gin, the St. Germain adds a floral note (Elderflower),
Jenn2323 May 16, 2015
When blood oranges are in season (Winter), I add to shaker with ice, 1oz vodka, 1oz gin, splash of lillet, splash of St. Germain, squeeze 1/2 of Blood orange. Shake and serve in cocktail glass. The blood orange is proud ex by the addition of Lillet while complimenting the herbaceous gin, the St. Germain adds a floral note (Elderflower),
Green-eyed L. May 16, 2015
One very large Thanksgiving, as a Signature Cocktail, my husband and I served cosmopolitans in beautiful large brown martini glasses, each garnished with a few frozen cranberries. We dubbed them "Turkeytini's" and they were a huge success.
Camille May 14, 2015
What are the drinks on the pictures?
Ali S. May 15, 2015
Click the photos and they'll lead you to the recipes
Lara May 14, 2015
One a friend made up, doesn't have a name, a take on the Kir Royale - prosecco with a Woodford Reserve cherry and a spoonful of the cherry syrup.
Lara May 14, 2015
And a couple dashes of Woodford Reserve Cherry Bitters!!!
Sarah T. May 14, 2015
I'm usually a beer and wine girl, but I love a gin and tonic during the summer!
alexia S. May 14, 2015
DItto on the Manhattan, but for me, that's mostly in the fall/winter. In the summer, I really enjoy a gin-based Martinez.
MK May 13, 2015
I haven't found mine, but I have narrowed it down! First, NOT a Mai Tai.
rebecca May 13, 2015
I'll all about the sweet Manhattan. Love the look of the elegant glass, but knowing it has a real kick inside it, with the slight sweetness of a brandied cherry at the end. I make it with rye and a blend of vermouths so it's a little more on the bitter side (punt e mes to punch it up) and then both angostura and orange bitters. Classic, elegant and delicious. It's my little black dress of cocktails!
Robin W. May 13, 2015
I'm a Scotch girl...on the rocks with a splash of water and a twist. I've recently re-discovered the Rusty Nail however. I could be persuaded to change. :)
gerrware May 13, 2015
It'll always be the gin and tonic for me, in a rocks glass. Beefeater preferred.

It has an awesome backstory: British sailors travelling to India needed quinine to prevent malaria, had limes to prevent scurvy, and gin because... they're sailors? And you can keep the lime wedges in the glass to keep track of how many you've had. On many nights, "how many" = how many entire limes.

Also, you'll always find it available at weddings and parties, no need to be "that guy" asking for something obscure.