Three Easy Summer Cocktails for Weddings

No blood, sweat, or tears required

I have to start with a confession: I hate the term “signature cocktail,” and if I could figure out who invented it I would write them a strongly worded letter. As I mentioned when I wrote about buying alcohol for your wedding, if you personally don’t have a “signature” cocktail in your real life, you shouldn’t feel pressured to come up with one for your wedding. Like everything else about your wedding, the drinks you serve should be things you like, but they don’t need to symbolize you or your relationship. I mean, let’s be real—that’s a lot of pressure for a drink. That said, cocktails are delicious! And maybe you want some at your wedding! Rad. I also like cocktails, and if I’m a guest at your wedding I will definitely drink some (though like all reasonable people, I will also be fine with just wine and beer, so no worries).

If you’re really into cocktails, you may choose to focus a portion of your budget on that, and hire great bartenders who can mix up whatever you want. (Or, maybe your venue or catering company is providing them. Again—rad.) But maybe you’re DITing your bar, and you’ve hired your college-aged sister’s friend to serve the drinks, instead of springing for an experienced bartender. In that case, this post is for you. When brainstorming tutorials on cocktails, I briefly considered bringing in some of the amazing pros I know to help, and then realized that pinterest the internet is already full of complicated, multi-step cocktails. So instead, I decided to pull in my clients-turned-friends Stephanie and Woody, who are not professional bartenders (just people who like to make drinks) and put together some recipes that could be made by people with no bartending skills and could be made completely or almost completely ahead of time. So, I’m happy to bring you Three Easy Signature Cocktails for Summer (weddings or otherwise):

The great thing about sangria is that you can make it with almost any fruit, plus it’s actually better to make it with cheap wine. (Sangria just wastes expensive wine). So, feel free to experiment, but this recipe is a good base. Makes approximately 30 servings:


  1. The day before your wedding, cut up all the fruit into approximately bite sized pieces
  2. Cover the fruit with the wine and Cointreau
  3. Refrigerate
  4. Immediately before serving, add sparkling water and soda
  5. Serve with a ladle instead of out of a dispenser, because half the fun is eating the boozy fruit.

Warning: These are boozy. They are also really, really delicious. A traditional French 75 is made with sugar and lemon juice, but I learned this twist years ago from a friend. Makes approximately 16 servings:


  1. The day before your wedding, make a simple syrup by heating the honey and the water together on the stove top
  2. Mix one part honey simple syrup, one part lime juice, and one part gin together
  3. When serving, put two ounces (shots) of the pre-mixed ingredients into a champagne flute, top with approximately 3.5 ounces of chilled champagne (to the reasonable top of the glass)

You can make this drink even simpler by pre-buying agua fresca, or just pre-buying flavored lemonade. However, I like the pulp from the watermelon, and sometimes it’s… nice to make something partially from scratch? (You can also make it entirely from scratch by making your own lemonade.) Makes approximately 30 servings:


  1. The day before your wedding, cut up the watermelon into chunks, place in blender with some of the lemonade (you’ll have to do this in batches)
  2. When all of the watermelon and lemonade are blended, mix in the tequila
  3. When serving, pour over ice (you’ll have to mix it up as the watermelon will separate after a while)

Pro tip: These make amazing popsicles if you have any left over.


It’s crazy that something this simple can be this delicious, but, let me tell you, it’s my new go-to brunch drink. I’m including it as a bonus, fourth recipe, because it requires a minor amount of skill during prep time (the lemon peel steeping). That said—don’t try to skip that step; it’s what makes it. Makes approximately 16 servings:


  1. The day before your wedding, peel the lemons (just the yellow part!) muddle with the sugar, and put into a zip-top bag, squeezing as much air as possible out; refrigerate.
  2. Juice the lemons, put into a jar. Refrigerate.
  3. Before the reception starts, mix lemon juice, lemon-sugar bag contents, and whiskey together; stir until sugar dissolves; add water
  4. Add ice
  5. Serve

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  • Well, traditional Sangria uses red wine, hence the color and the name. I normally add orange + lemon juice and leave them macerating with the rest of the fruit in dices, as per this recipe, the wine, and a bit of sugar.
    When replaced by cava or another sparkly it’s called “agua de valencia”. I think when it’s made with white wine it’s called “Sangria rubia” (Blonde sangria) or “Sangria blanca” (White sangria). Grapefruit (Squirt) or Lemon Soda (Schweppes lemon) is what has worked best for me in years and years of making it.

    Oh, and you know what other cocktail is delicious and summery? Spritz, from the Veneto region in Italy:

    Ice Cubes (approximately 3 or 4 ice cubes)
    2 to 3 ounces Prosecco or any sparkling wine
    1 1/2 ounces Aperol*
    Splash of soda water, sparkling water, mineral water, or Club Soda
    Orange wedge or slice

    * Aperol is an Italian orange liqueur. It has become Italy’s most popular light spirit. Aperol Spritz is one of the lightest cocktails in the world having only 7 to 8% alcohol by volume


    Fill a glass (highball glass or white wine glass) 1/4 full with ice cubes (you want to chill the drink and not water it down). Pour in the Prosecco and then top with Aperol. Add the soda water. Stir gently until mixed.

    Garnish with an orange slice (either add slice of orange, twisting to release some juice and placing in the glass or simply use orange slice as garnish).

    • anon

      Amanda beat me to it, but I’d also add that whatever wine you use, please don’t use really crappy wine, that’s not true about the crappier the wine the better the sangria. Honestly, I’m not being a snob here, but wine out of a crappy cask isn’t the way to go. From what I understand some two buck chuck or whatever the equivalent is will do nicely, but don’t think that all the other ingredients will somehow mask a crappy wine.

      The point is that if you can’t drink it by itself it won’t taste any better with the alcoholic fruit, I guarantee you.

      Having said that, this sangria recipe looks terrific.

      • anon

        I just said crappy a lot. Ah crappy well.

      • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Two buck chuck is definitely my go to wine for this, but I’ll say – I actually don’t really drink the stuff on its own (although, I certainly used to and the white in particular is… fine!) you’re gonna have a hard time convincing me to put fruit in even a nice-ish (lets say, over $15) bottle of wine, the same way you’d have a hard time convincing me to put sugar in good coffee. It may make the best ever sangria/wine punch/whatever, but I just made a nice bottle of wine taste like soda and fruit!

        • anon

          I get that, but what’s the point of making something already tasting unpleasant taste worse?

          Depends how much you want the cocktail, I guess :)

          I live in Australia and if you bought a case or two of white wine that worked out at about $12 a bottle, you’d be making some really good white sangria. I’ve no idea what would be comparable, I’m afraid.

          I do think it’s a lot easier to find a good white than a good red, and decent sauv blanc especially isn’t difficult to find cheaply, although that could just be my neck of the woods.

          I feel strongly about it given that I mixed up batches of both every night at different jobs over the years, and sangria made with shitty wine wine is terrible.

          • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

            See, in my opinion – a 2 buck chuck level wine is… Fine on its own, and MUCH BETTER when made into sangria/wine punch because now it tastes like wine with boozy fruit and soda! And is great.

      • meg

        I think we’re just crossing wires. I’m pretty sure the APW team considers two buck chuck to be sort of crappy wine ;) and we would NEVER suggest you use anything cheaper. Elizabeth is saying (and I’d agree), that you don’t necessarily need a $12-$18 wine in this, which is where I’d start to consider wine pretty nice. Mind you, you CAN use $12 wine, and I’m sure it would taste good, but any more expensive than that and you’re just wasting good wine.

      • april

        I basically came of age on my family’s white wine sangria recipe (seriously, my aunt wrote out the recipe when I went to college with the instruction to “make friends with it”). Our go-to wine is Rene Barbier Mediterranean white. It’s only about $5 a bottle, and I haven’t yet found a better base for sangria!

        Ingredients in the family recipe (for anyone who’s interested):
        white wine
        fresh squeezed orange juice
        bottled orange juice
        sugar muddled with orange zest
        triple sec liquer
        whatever fruits happen to be in season!

        • Your aunt sounds rad.

        • JEM

          This is pretty much awesome (and I will be on the lookout for the Rene Barbier next time I make white sangria!)

    • Anna

      We drink a lot of spritz in my house (we have a champagne Thursday tradition) – but we make it even simpler:

      1 part aperol
      2 parts prosecco

      Warning: Aperol is a little bitter, so I like the 2:1 ratio – my husband is cool with equal parts. Also, aperol is as boozy as wine, so our version gets you tipsy pretty quickly. But it is the prettiest bright orange color, which is very festive. We use it all the time for dinner parties, and random Thursdays!

      (It was the pre-dinner cocktail at our wedding – as we only had 17 guests, my husband was our bartender!)

      Also, we had afterdinner drinks of limoncello and grappa – no mixing, and a little goes a long way! Grappa is clear, but limoncello also has a beautiful color.

      **In the spirit of responsible drinking (as our wedding also featured a champagne toast and as much wine as people), I should clarify that we were all staying at the reception venue – no unsafe driving for us!**

      • CCC

        Love this!

        “As we only had 17 guests, my husband was our bartender!”

        Sounds like so much fun!

    • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

      Thanks for the lesson! I’m clearly not a purist (when it comes to drink names or… Anything else in the world.)I should probably just calling this “wine punch” which I think is what most Americans actually mean when they say sangria.

    • meg

      I think these are all pretty… modified… cocktails and names. Yummy, but modified. I love a proper Sangria and a proper French 75, but these are fun twists.

      IN OTHER NEWS, SPRIZ. Helllloooo happening. And yeah, Italy is all Aperol all the time.

    • On the topic of wine drinks, my favorite comes from Spain: Tinto de Verano.

      Usually served in a tall skinny glass, it’s just half red wine, half white Fanta. yummmm

      • Oh yes, Tinto de Verano all the way. And “Clara’s” which are basically a mix of beer + lemon soda (half and half). Cold and refreshing… it’s summer yaaay!

  • Teresa


  • Emmy

    So, a question for the masses: We’re expecting ~80 guests and we’re setting up a DIY bar. We’ll have bottles of beer, wine, gin, tonic, dark rum, and ginger beer (dark’n’stormies FTW), and some sangria (plus plenty of non-alcoholic options!). People can just put their own drinks together, right? Or do we need to hire a bartender or friend to watch everything? I figured we could just kind of keep an eye on it and it will be fine. We’re having a pretty casual BBQ reception with lawn games. Essentially, your average summer party, just with flowers and tablecloths. And more people.

    • Kat

      To cover your butts in case ANYTHING should happen, get yourself the licensed bartender/bartender friend. In the long it will be cheaper.

      • Emmy

        I did a little googling and my state (Pennsylvania) doesn’t have a law that holds social hosts legally liable for the actions of intoxicated guests, as long as they’re over 21. So we’re in the clear regarding liability.

    • anon

      I think it depends. If you want it to be your average garden party, then sure, you can check up on stuff as you go.

      But it’s your wedding, so you can pay a responsible teenager to make sure the drinks are all going on the table and stashing the empties in bins and such, you don’t need anything fancy, but paying them $100 will save you or a guest that you’ve asked to watch that sort of thing having to do it and allowing you all to have a good time. They can also wander around and grab rubbish and just help out. Alternatively if you have a DOC that’s who I’d be asking.

      If it’s your instinct to just let it be, though, then go for it. You know what you’ll want to do and who your crowd is.

      • I agree with this. Before our catering folks offered to have someone man the bar, we were going to pay a friend to check up on the bar table – not bartend, but just make sure everything was still stocked and relatively tidy. We also stashed some of the booze elsewhere, so we had a reserve for the later hours in case folks refused to pace themselves and cleaned us out early. ;)

      • Cleo

        I would like to add the caveat that you shouldn’t be paying a teen/anyone under drinking age to man the bar if there’s alcohol involved. You are just asking for a lawsuit there.

        • In PA, you can legally serve alcohol when you’re 18. I was a waitress there for a few months- the liability for servers/bartenders is ridiculous, so as long as the host of the party can’t be held responsible, it should be fine. (vs. a licensed bartender who COULD be held liable for serving visibly intoxicated patrons, or even for patrons who are later caught driving drunk)

        • rys

          Depends on the state. My (very clever) brother managed to get a job TAing the wine/beer class at his university every year of college, from age 18 forward. It’s a good, if absurd, story, but the point is while I wouldn’t recommend using underage bartenders, it can be ok for 18-21 year-olds to serve alcohol in some states.

      • meg

        Now, I donno about whatever the problems might be with a pour your own drink bar (I’m not saying some states don’t have laws like that, just that I have no idea what they are). But I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you NOT hire teenagers to have anything to do with booze. While I doubt anyone would actually sue you, that is for SURE illegal.

        • anon

          An 18 or 19 year old teenager who’s legal and possibly works in the bar? I’d trust them, if they were responsible.

        • anon

          An 18 or 19 year old teenager who’s legal and possibly works in the bar? I’d trust them, if they were responsible.

          I didn’t mean a 13 year old.

    • E

      We had a backyard wedding at my in-laws with about 130 people (it was a big backyard), and we just put drinks out on a table with no bartender. It was fine. We checked the laws, and the only thing my in-laws would have gotten in trouble for would have been if minors were served. Fortunately, everybody at our wedding was either over 21 or under 10 (thus not likely to be sneaking drinks), so that wasn’t a problem. If we had a lot of 17-20 year olds, we probably would have hired a bartender. We also just had wine, beer and pre-made sangria, so people could help themselves easily.

      • anon

        You’ll probably be fine, just make sure you put lots of bins out and stock it to the hilt first!

      • rowany

        We’re also not planning to have a bartender, but we’re also having teens at the wedding. We’re having beer, wine, and maybe a cocktail in one area, and all non-alcoholic drinks (juice, soda and water) in a separate section, both in full view of the party. That way we won’t really need to keep too much of an eye out on things when it’d be so obvious if someone was trying to sneak alcohol.

    • Breck

      Ummm can I come to your wedding?? BBQ AND DARK’N’STORMIES?!

    • meg

      Look, as long as you check your liability (because this is in no way even vaguely legally related advice, and hadn’t even heard about liability related issues till… this thread… soo… not an expert) I’m going to swim against the current here and say it’ll be FINE. Remember the iPhone/Instagram wedding? That’s what they did. Drinks in coolers, and at some point when they found the tequila a blender came out and guests started making margaritas behind the bar (I’m only mad that I never got one). It was fine by…. everyone there. It was just that kind of party with that kind of guests.

      It wasn’t the first wedding I’ve been to where we’ve been in charge of our own drinks, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

      • Audrey

        I definitely went to a wedding with a DIY bar (with a little whiteboard with drink recipes and suggestions) and it went fine. Probably around the same number of people?

      • Emmy

        Yeah, I’m thinking it’ll be fine. We’ll have plenty of self-sufficient adults there who will have no problem finding the extra booze and restocking a bit if needed, plus a helpful little sign that says how to make dark’n’stormies and where to find the extras. Thanks all!

  • Frances

    Just a tip from a *Watermellon Cocktail Lover* – Remove the pips before you blend! If you don’t the whole concoction will taste bitter. (I learnt the hard way).
    And if you cut the watermellon into 1-inch cubes and freeze them, then blend, it makes Awesome frozen cocktails.

  • Favorite thing about this post:

    Elizabeth’s threat to write a “strongly worded letter.”

    (Close second is a new twist on the French 75, one of my favorite drinks!)

  • Lauren

    How have I never heard of the French 75? It’s everything I love in one cocktail!

    We’re having a cheapy beer-and-wine gig, but this is going in my (limited) cocktail ordering dossier.

    • meg

      How HAVE you not heard of the French 75. We sometimes keep champagne splits around so we can make individual ones. GOOD STUFF.

      • French 75s are one of my favorites! Speaking of which, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Art in the Age, but they make my all-time favorite gin (called Sage- I swear it’s one of the best discoveries of my life.

    • Emily

      Someone orders one in Casablanca. I remember not being able to wait until I was old enough to try it. Turns out gin and champagne are two of my favorite things!

  • These all look DELICIOUS, and I can’t wait to try them! I think this means I need to throw a party!

  • Kelsey

    I totally made watermelon margaritas last night- wooooo cocktails!!

  • Megan

    These all sound summery and delicious! I can’t wait to try every single one.

    As an October bride, does anyone have any suggestions for Autumny cocktails? Anything we could mix ahead would be marvelous!

    • Eenie

      Sometimes it’s still warm in October depending on location. I think sangria is an all weather drink but you can use red wine to make it less “summery”. If you really liked any of these drinks serve them! No one is going to know you got them from a summer drink list.

    • Julie

      Unfortunately, I don’t have any ideas for the fall, which is why I second the motion for autumny drinks ideas!

      I’d also love to see a follow up this article with drinks each season.

    • Molly

      I think whisky is really nice for autumn — you can do whiskey + ginger ale if you want an easy mixer, or Old Fashioneds or Manhattans if you have a bartender. Or a Corpse Reviver (which is especially fantastic if the wedding is around Halloween time)–bourbon, Curacao, lemon, and Lillet Blanc.
      If you have a space that is amenable to doing hot drinks, hot cider is lovely and can be served as-is or with alcohol. Mulled wine is also a great way to make cheap wine taste fancier.

      • rys

        This is a great list. I’d also add cranberry G&Ts.

    • CCC

      Loved this article! Third the motion (or other suggestions) for autumny cocktails as a fall bride (in a place where it will not be warm in October). We’re thinking red sangria, a punch, and one easy “mix it yourself” option (rum & coke, bourbon & ginger, etc) Anyone have a favorite punch option?

      My experience from having general get-togethers in the past is that sangria / punch is great. booze / wine + citrus + club soda / cava + fruit in giant bowl = win!

      We’ve also had good luck in the past with “making” spiced apple cider (“making” = buying, then adding lemon and spices), and putting out brandy and/or rum for optional spiking. That’s been really popular – the one logistical issue there is making sure you have enough giant vats / burners / crockpots to keep enough of it warm at one time

    • Breck

      Whiskey and apple cider! Add a cinnamon swizzle stick for fancifying.

    • Rachel

      This margarita recipe is so, so good!!

      • Breck

        Does Jessica not make the most amazing cocktails? Her blueberry mint julep is also delicious.

        • Rachel

          She really does! I’m a huge fan of her grown-up hot chocolate, we make it every fall/winter when we go to Wichita for the holidays!

      • Ooooh, that blog has some delicious-sounding recipes on there! I wandering into a rabbit hole of donut recipes. Looks like I have some donut-making experimenting in my future now. :) And also the coconut hot cocoa sounds amazing.

    • meg

      I think we’ll be back with more, in one form or another :)

    • Amy

      Bourbon, good apple cider, cinnamon, and if you like it especially sweet, maple syrup. Yum!

    • my go-to autumn cocktail is a jean harlow – equal parts light rum and vermouth. so simple, oh so good, and quintessentially autumnal in my book. (my personal choice for toeing the line between cheap and good rum is cruzan.)

      also, bourbon. anything with bourbon (not that i limit my bourbon drinking to autumn – or at all – but it is very seasonally appropriate there).

    • Caroline

      Not a cocktail, but how about hard cider? It’s perfect for fall.

    • Ashley

      We got married June 1, but we live in Seattle so it may as well have been October. We did have a signature cocktail that my husband had made for friends on vacation together a couple of years back. It is called the Beach house and we’ve not seen it elsewhere but I’m sure it exists. It isn’t really mix ahead, but super easy. One shot Jameson, 1/4 shot Chambord, over ice in a old fashioned glass, topped with ginger beer (not ginger ale – still a non-alcoholic beverage bit a little spicier). If you want to get fancy, have toothpicks pre-loaded with two fresh blackberries for garnish. Have a great wedding!

  • Eenie

    Best post ever. Alcohol, simplicity, and pretty pictures. APW classic.

  • CCC

    ALSO, I am super excited to try a French 75 with honey instead of sugar. What a great twist on a classic!

  • Rachel

    Awww the “signature cocktail” is one of those WIC-sanctioned things I totally love! I didn’t realize it was supposed to represent you as a couple, maybe because I really like the idea of having two of them (one for each person getting married). I just thought it was a chic way to save money on having a full bar and to think of a fun drink you want your friends to try!

    We’re having a full bar but we’re going to do signature cocktails on passed trays at the start of our brunch and I’m honestly so, so excited to choose what they should be.

    PS These recipes look amazing and I can’t wait to try them!

  • SRN

    Elizabeth, I loved your post on buying your own beer and wine for your wedding–particularly the breakdown of how much wine and beer to buy! I have a question about adding a cocktail that I think might apply to other folks too. We’re buying our own beer and wine, and we’re thinking of having a “signature cocktail” too (despite the annoying WIC-ness of it)–on our first date we went out for greyhounds with freshly-squeezed grapefruit, and that just sounds delicious (and simple), right? My question is, if you’re having beer, wine, and one cocktail, how do you do the drinks breakdown? If a beer-and-wine-only bar is 20% beer and 80% wine, would a beer, wine, and greyhound bar be something like 10% greyhound, 72% wine, and 18% beer? This is a summer evening wedding…thanks so much for all your planning advice!

    • I say have enough greyhounds for everyone to have one during cocktail hour (not everyone will, so some people will have more than one/they’ll last into the start of dinner) and then adjust your quantities for beer and wine down by that many drinks total (so, say you have 100 people and a 5 hour reception, you’re going to want 500 drinks total, and for 100 of those to be greyhounds, the remaining 400 should be 80% wine, 20% beer)
      Fresh grapefruit greyhounds sound fantastic!

      • SRN

        This is awesome–thanks, Elizabeth!

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  • My fave summer cocktail has to be the Dark and Stormy. Goslings dark rum, ginger beer, and a dash of lime-yum!

  • Caroline

    I don’t know if my favorite summer cocktail has a name (I found it online somewhere a while ago), but I love it. Peel and put and purée a peach (or purée a frozen peach). Add as much or little bourbon as you like. It’s so delicious.

  • Martha

    Though the 4th of July is not mentioned here and this is a wedding/marriage/awesomeness blog, these would all be fabulous cocktails for America’s Birthday!

  • Erin

    As a professional drinker of French 75s for which I am not paid money (WHY), I would recommend using Hendricks gin for your French 75 or your French 75.5. Bombay Sapphire has a distinct taste that seems to distract from the delightful citrus-sugar that makes a good French 75. (I spent the better part of 6 months delightfully perfecting the recipe in my own kitchen, and Hendricks was the best gin for the money.)

    Also, way to make this last hour of work seem even longer, jerks. (Just kidding, I love y’all!)

    • Jen

      it’s so funny that you say Bombay has a distinct taste, because I find that Hendrick’s has a very distinct flowery taste (which I absolutely can’t stand in my martini!!) …however I’ve never had a French 75, and I’m super excited to try one!! So thanks for the tip – maybe I will find a way that I like Hendricks… :)

  • Caroline

    This post inspired me to make up some simple summer cocktails for some guests tonight. I riffed on the spiked watermelon lemonade here and it came out great: A very sweet seedless yellow watermelon pureed in the blender, with about a lime’s juice (for half a watermelon) spiked with bourbon to taste in the glass. It came out really well. In fact, I will probably make more with the other half a melon tomorrow night.

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  • Court

    So I saw the servings for each of the signature drinks and they look delicious! I also read your post about amount of alcohol to serve at a wedding. I plan on doing beer and wine and also some “signature drinks”. I saw in your other article to plan for 20% hard liquor. How does that work with signature drinks? If you have 100 guests and a five hour wedding, how much hard liquor would you advise buying for the signature drinks?

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