Wedding Planning

The Craft-Cocktail Queen: Crystal Mills of WanderLush

The party doesn’t start until the bartender walks in. And when the bartender is WanderLush’s Crystal Mills, it’s all but guaranteed to be an unforgettable bash.


Photographs by Jim Brueckner. Hair and makeup by Laura Dillon.

When Crystal Mills decided to launch a pop-up bar service, her plans included serving booze out of the back of a vintage camper van. But after doing some research, she realized what Boston’s private-event scene really needed was something far less, ahem, campy: high-end, curated cocktails as aesthetically pleasing as they are potable. Three years later, Mills and her in-demand bar service, WanderLush, are staples on the local wedding circuit, making the rounds at venues all over New England with 12 craft libations per season as well as local wine and beer options. Why drinks, you ask? “I’m not a great cook!” Mills says with a laugh.

“Nothing symbolizes a party like when you hear a bottle of champagne pop.”

• • •

When it comes to the wedding drink menu, how much variety do couples really need to offer?

I feel like the magic number to please everybody is two beer options—we like to have a domestic, easy-drinking low-ABV beer paired with a craft beer like an IPA or a session IPA—a white and red wine, and two cocktails.

How do you work with brides and grooms to create the perfect lineup?

Most of the people who are interested in our service are naturally a little bit more into food and beverage, so first I just like to see what they’re into drinking. But let’s just say that the bride loves dirty martinis—well, do you really want your guests drinking dirty martinis for five hours? People probably won’t remember the wedding! If the drink is too boozy, we’ll guide them to another option.

What should people keep in mind while searching for a bar service?

One big thing is just making sure that you mesh well together. Even if you have a planner, this vendor is somebody that you’re going to be talking to quite a bit. Then logistically, you need to think, does this vendor actually have the staff to be able to accommodate your requests? Is that staff trained in responsible serving? Does the company hold a good insurance policy? Do they really, truly understand events? So many things can go wrong: You can run out of a liquor; you can run out of ice. So you want to make sure that your vendors really, truly know their resources, too.

How do you create a signature cocktail?

It’s going back to what the clients’ flavors are, and then finding out what’s important to them about personalizing a drink—for example, if there’s a color scheme that they want to keep up, or if they want specific glassware. That’s where we chime in with our expertise and figure out what would make the most sense for their event.

Are there any libations couples should absolutely stay away from?

Shots? [Laughs.] There’s not one specific drink that I would suggest people stay away from. But I would say that the biggest no-no is overserving your guests, so make sure that the staff you hire knows how to recognize that.

So how can you ensure your friends and family have fun without getting too sloppy?

I love the trend of having late-night bites toward the end of the night. You want to be mindful of the duration of your wedding and make sure that your guests are eating appropriately. And obviously having water readily available—we like to have infused waters like a lemon-basil or something like that on the bar. And you can even make it fun to drink nonalcoholic drinks by throwing in some mocktails, too.

What are wedding guests sipping these days?

Last year it was all about Moscow Mules, and people are still really into them because there are so many fun variations you can do. But I feel like those are going out just a little bit, and now it’s really kind of a throwback to classics. Drinks
like Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and also—this was a big trend in the restaurant/bar industry—low-ABV cocktails.

Do couples absolutely need to toast with champagne?

You know, I’m going to say yes! I’m such an advocate of a party, and nothing symbolizes a party like when you hear a bottle of champagne pop. It instantly brings a smile to everybody’s face; it’s just something that is nostalgic.

What are your thoughts on cash versus open bars?

Definitely go for an open bar. There is a time and a place for a cash bar, and I don’t really feel like it’s necessarily at a wedding. If your guests have to pull out their wallets at your wedding, that’s something that people will unfortunately remember. WanderLush even takes it as far as to not allow tip jars at weddings, because I feel that strongly about it!

wanderlushboston.com.


Tips

Whether you’re tying the knot with the sun shining or the snow falling, Crystal Mills has a signature sipper for you.

APRIL WEDDINGS: Lavender Tom Collins
WHAT’S IN IT: Gin, soda, and simple syrup

In the spring we start to introduce a lot more floral cocktails, and we make this great lavender simple syrup.

JUNE WEDDINGS: French 75
WHAT’S IN IT: Champagne and gin

I love champagne cocktails, and a French 75 never disappoints. It’s citrusy, bright, and exactly what I want in a summer beverage.

OCTOBER WEDDINGS: Old Fashioned
WHAT’S IN IT: Bourbon and bitters

There are so many variations to this one because you can play with the bourbon and bitters. (I’m currently loving a walnut variety.)

DECEMBER WEDDINGS: Negroni
WHAT’S IN IT: Campari, vermouth, and gin

This is my kind of drink year round, but it has a great warming quality to it that makes it perfect for winter weddings.

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