Whether you're celebrating a promotion, clinking glasses after getting engaged, or toasting with mimosas in honor of an anniversary, few drinks feel as "special occasion" as a glass of bubbly. But if you don't like the taste, you're planning a dry wedding, or you'd like to serve more a wallet-friendly option, a well-stocked bar offers plenty of alternatives that feel just as festive. "I think celebratory means whatever you want it to mean," says Talmadge Lowe, beverage director at the Hospitality Collaborative and founder of Pharmacie, a cocktail catering company. "Champagne is so culturally ingrained as a means of celebrating—the pop, the foam, the bubbles. I think most people gravitate toward that, even as they tweak it."
If you're looking for an equally bubbly option to replace a tried-and-true Champagne toast, sparkling wines make for a pretty, fizzy substitute. "We have served sparkling shiraz as a toast and that was great," says Lowe. "Still bubbly, but the color—a deep reddish purple—looks incredible in the glass." Wedding planner Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events also likes the eye-catching color accent that comes with using a red Lambrusco or a sparkling rosé.
Couples who want to forego the bubbles entirely can take their pick of anything else in the liquor cabinet, choosing drinks that have sentimental appeal—a favorite mixed drink from their college years (with an upgrade from the well brand of alcohol to a more adult version), the fruity cocktails they loved on their first vacation together, a spiked hot drink that makes an appearance at every ski trip. "Couples should think of the favorite drinks they have had in the course of their relationship, and look back on cocktails from travels or other parties," says Meyer. Then he helps them narrow down a drink menu even further: "I always suggest couples offer two drinks, one lighter and one darker. I encourage couples to pick a base, clear or dark, then pick a taste density, light or heavy," he says. "Then decide on flavor—fruity or not—and then complexity." Also keep in mind the season; lighter drinks are more popular in warmer weather, while darker, richer cocktails make a cold-weather wedding feel cozy and warm.
Beyond that, choose any drink that appeals to you and your partner, from mojitos or mint juleps to sangria or sidecars. "We have had clients toast with mini margaritas, Old Fashioneds, Pimm's Cups, sweet vermouth," says Lowe. "Margaritas, of course, are festive and fun, but I also like the Tom Collins cocktail as a light and effervescent toasting cocktail—Moscow Mules, too."
Non-alcoholic mocktails can also find a place at your party, says Lowe, whether you're adding them to the menu for kids, accommodating family members who prefer not to drink, or choosing not to serve liquor at all. "We have created dozens," says Lowe. "Grown-up takes on the Shirley Temple with hibiscus and ginger beer, light refreshing drinks like a Basil Cucumber Cooler, and more autumnal flavors like a Smoked Maple Lemonade."