How to Create Instagrammable Cocktails for Your Event

Author: Curt Wagner       

cocktail tips

Kathy Casey’s Toki Capri, served in a drink bag, was a hit at last fall’s Hospitality Executive Exchange in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photos courtesy Liquid Kitchen)

According to research published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing and cited in The Cut, the act of taking a photo of your meal before eating it can actually make your food taste better. Can the same be said for cocktails? Chef and mixologist Kathy Casey would no doubt say yes.

beverage service

Kathy Casey

“Everybody is looking for that wow factor, for that Instagrammable cocktail,” Casey told Convene. “They want to create an experience.”

Casey has created many photo-worthy cocktails in her time. The Seattle-based author and entrepreneur owns Kathy Casey Food Studios & Liquid Kitchen, an international agency specializing in food, beverage, and restaurant/hospitality concept consulting, product and menu development.

Casey spoke to Convene about some beverage trends that will help event strategists create a wow factor with their drinks. “It’s just thinking outside the box,” she said. And into a bag?

Drinks in a Bag

Nothing turns heads more than the unexpected, and few people at an event expect to be drinking cocktails from a bag. That’s why Casey showcased the “fantastic” bags at the Oct. 29-30, 2018, Hospitality Executive Exchange in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I had to put out 120 cocktails very quickly for this group, because it was the cocktail [to drink] when they sat down,” she told Convene. She mixed Beam Suntory’s Toki Whisky, Aperol, her own spiced ginger syrup, Monin Yuzu Puree, and fresh lemon juice. She called it the Toki Capri.

cocktail tips

Advanced planning and prep makes serving the Toki Capri, other drinks-in-a-bag, a breeze.

The bagged drinks not only spurred excited conversations and photo opps among the guests, but sped up preparation, preventing the drinks from being watered down as the ice melted.

Earlier in the day, Casey and her team put ice into the bags, which were in sheet pans on speed carts in the freezer. With everything already in the freezer, the ice doesn’t melt as fast as it does when added to a glass at room temperature.

They pre-batched the Toki Capri cocktail and when the time came to prepare the finished product, the team created an assembly line of sorts. The cocktail was added, then different team members inserted the different garnishes — mint sprig, one-half wheels of orange and lemon, and edible flowers. The drink branding was for Beam Suntory, so Casey created a branded ribbon wrist band that was then tied neatly around the top of the bag with a recyclable straw and “boom,” she said, “out to the guests,” who went “insane” with all of the garnishes. “But that was kind of the point,” Casey said. “Thinking smart about how can you execute this quickly will make [the drinks] 99-percent perfect when they get to the guest.”

If you don’t want to go with drink bags, you want to find the perfect glassware for the occasion. “Presentation is extremely important,” Casey said. “It makes a difference. I think investing in that is really worth it.”

Glassware with interesting patterns and shapes can be just as sharable as what’s inside the glass. And if you find the right pieces, they can do double duty as both a cocktail glass and to serve a food item like a dessert.

cocktail tips

Kathy Casey mixes Monin carrot and blood orange purées with Hornitos Cristalino tequila, mezcal, lime, and agave to create her Peace and Carrots cocktail.

Garden to Glass

For years, Casey has been creating drinks that bring the influences of the kitchen into the bar. She said vegetable juices are becoming even more trendy in cocktails in 2019, especially carrot and beet juices. “They have extremely beautiful, vibrant flavors,” she told Convene.

Casey mixed Monin carrot and blood orange purées with Hornitos Cristalino tequila, mezcal, lime, and agave to create her Peace and Carrots cocktail. She garnished it with a za’atar/silver salt rim and blood orange crisp — which “dazzled” the crowd at the Flavor Experience 2018 show in Newport Beach, California, Flavor & The Menu reported.

Another drink she created for the conference, Crimson Garden, mixed beet puree with Sipsmith Gin, Monin rose syrup, Q Indian Tonic, fresh lemon, lemon verbena, and a garnish that Casey says will deliver some wow to your drinks — flowers.

“We’re seeing a lot of beautiful flowers and fresh herbs these days as garnishes for cocktails,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more unique garnishes.”

Tiny vegetables, like carrots and beets, also make for interesting looks in the glass, she said. Edible flowers, microgreens, fruits, cubes of candied ginger, dried pineapple rings, or coconut chips all work well, too, if they mix well with the flavors of your cocktail.

beverage tips

Mini flower petals adds a wow factor to Kathy Casey’s Monin Crimson Garden cocktail.

One Last Tip

You can work with your caterer to try to source many of these items locally, but if they need help, one of Casey’s go-to’s is a California-based outfit called Fresh Origins that offers the options mentioned above and more.

Fresh Origins, along with companies like Monin, who offers interesting syrups, flavor concentrates, and purees, are “cool for people in hospitality,” Casey said. “But a lot of people haven’t seen them. You’re working your [rear] off all the time and you can’t search these things out.”

The other option for time-strapped operators is to search on Amazon, she said, where she has found many of the items mentioned in this story.

More Tips from Kathy Casey

#TokiCapri

Makes 1 Drink

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Suntory Toki Whisky
  • 1/4 oz Aperol
  • 1/4 oz Spiced Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 oz Monin Yuzu Puree
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish: mint sprig, orange & lemon 1/2 wheels, edible flowers
Measure the Toki, Spiced Ginger Syrup, Aperol, yuzu puree and lemon juice into a pint glass. Fill with ice, cap and shake. Pour into clear drink bag and top with additional ice if needed. Drop in the garnish, insert compostable straw and seal bag.

Spiced Ginger Syrup

Makes: About 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup HOT water
To Make Syrup: Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Fine strain. Cool. Refrigerate for up to 30 days. Recipe © Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen®

Curt Wagner is a Convene associate editor.