As fall 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.

Words by Matthew Latkiewicz for Food52

[Photo via @hendricksgin]