People drink more at weddings than at any other social occasion. But couples planning weddings rarely take the time to ensure their guests have an awesome experience with those wedding beverages. Often, couples merely opt for whatever their venue has in stock.
WHY YOUR WEDDING BEVERAGES MATTER
If you spend so much time and money meticulously planning out details like decor, cake, food, attire, and flowers, shouldn’t you put at least as much effort into the drinks you’re serving? After all, what do friends ask when they’re headed to a wedding? “Will there be an open bar?”
If you’re planning a wedding, here’s the question you can ask that will lead to an amazing beverage experience:
“Will the drinks we serve tell a story?”
After all, the wedding itself will tell a story about you as a couple (that’s one reason why people spend so much money planning the occasion). Every interaction your guests have with you, the other guests, and the environment of your event reflect back on you. The location, the clothing of the wedding party, the lighting, the textures and fabrics on the tables, the centerpieces, the decorations, and everything else color your story.
I know couples who spend hours and hours preparing centerpieces and tiny gifts to send home with their guests. But food and drink influence an experience far more than any gift. Meals engage all the senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and even sound. How many of these couples focused as much on their drink menu as they do on their centerpieces?
The drinks tell a story about you, too. What do you want your drinks to say about you?
That you’re elegant?
You get the idea!
We recommend that, at minimum, weddings serve beer or cider, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages. Beer or cider for those who don’t drink wine, wine to pair with the food and compliment the wedding’s formality, and any number of sodas, waters, and non-alcoholic ciders for those guests who don’t wish to imbibe. Once you cover these bases, step it up a notch with mixed drinks and cocktails.
BEER: THE FOUR CATEGORIES TO SERVE
Think for a moment about when you or your friends drink beer, and which beers pair with which occasions. What are some common characteristics about these moments? Slightly more on the casual side? How are people dressed? Probably not in formal wear. If you’re out at a pub or micro-brewery, you’re probably drinking something unique. If you’re playing pool in the garage, you’re probably drinking something cheap.
The beers you serve at your weddings will remind your guests of these times. And your guests will unconsciously associate the moods and memories of these events with you and your wedding. In other words, the beers you serve will add to your story.
If you serve mass-market lite beers, your guests will think about playing horseshoe in a backyard and watching a football game. If you serve something more exotic or local, they’ll think of a night out on the town or a more sophisticated culinary adventure. For weddings, we’d highly recommend choosing something specific and unique; avoid the cheap lite stuff. You want your guests to feel special and notice attention to detail.
With the proliferation of the micro-brewery, there’s simply no reason to serve shitty, mass-produced beer. As much as possible, try to serve something local. Run the gamut of flavours and colours by selecting beers from these categories:
- Lager → Keep it simple and clean. Your guests will probably consume more lager than any other beer.
- Pale ale → A good amount of flavour without palate-shredding hoppiness.
- IPA (or lambic) → That said, many people love hoppiness, so keep an IPA on hand. Just as IPAs caught the market by storm in the late 00s, sours look like they’re going to be the beer-nerd’s next favourite thing. Consider adding a lambic (sour) beer to your arsenal, too.
- Dark → There’s always a surprisingly high demand for dark beer. When recommending a dark beer, we’ll make an exception to our ‘always choose local’ rule: choose Guinness. It’s the classic crowd-pleaser.
When you serve beer, consider cleanup and consider environmental impact. Always try to use cans over bottles; they’re almost always easier on the environment.
Another efficiency tip: keep the beer on ice in a giant cooler. Your guests can just grab from it and go. A self-serve cooler allows the bartender to focus on making cocktails and engaging guests in other ways.
WINE: HOW TO PAIR TO YOUR CUISINE
For better or worse, people perceive wine to be more sophisticated and cultured than beer. Since we’re talking weddings here and weddings are more formal than barbeques, serve your guests some wine. Your wines will tell your guests that you know how to class it up, and that you have great taste.
Don’t worry, though. You don’t need to choose wines that’ll break the bank. Research studies suggest that after a certain price point, there’s not really an increase in enjoyment of a wine. The bottle the wine is served from actually plays a huge role in the drinking experience. What does this mean? Don’t serve wine out of boxes, and stay away from notoriously cheap labels (unless that’s your comedy schtick). But you don’t need to go crazy with $40 bottles, either.
Choosing your wine is simple. Why? The food and the season will determine which grape varietal to use. Just pick labels you like that are appropriate for your food and season and are also within your price range.
Here are some examples of classic dishes and their perfect wine pairings:
|Safe Choice||Adventurous Choice|
|Roast, Steaks, Game meat||Syrah, Cab, Merlot||Zinfandel, Sangiovese|
|Herbed Chicken, Pork Belly||Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling||Crisp dry Apple Cider|
|Sablefish, Ling Cod, Halibut||Chardonnay||Viognier, Albariño|
|Salmon, Roasted Vegetables||Light Pinot Noir||Heavy NZ Pinot Noir, Provence Rosé|
|Cheese||Port, Sauternes||California Chardonnay, Champagne|
|Fruits||Shiraz, Grenache||Gamay, Chenin Blanc|
|Shellfish||Sauvignon Blanc||Torrontes, Sancerre|
- Big reds need to breathe; uncork 30-40 minutes before dinner service on the tables.
- Offer red/whites that compliment/contrast the food depending on your menu
- Port/Sauternes w/dessert & coffee is a lovely touch that doesn’t cost much if you already have servers/caterers
SPIRITS: CREATE A SPIRITED ADVENTURE
By now you’ve got the gist of how drinks tell a story. Their quality and selection reflect on your taste, sophistication, sense of fun, sense of humor, easy-going-ness, and any number of other qualities.
Your choice of spirits can truly give your guests unforgettable experiences. More guests drink beer and wine on a regular basis than drink spirits. At your wedding, you can offer them something special and, through simple displays and stories, enhance memories they’ll share for years to come.
When it comes to spirits, take your guests on a unique adventure through time and space. Serve spirits from different parts of the world with unique origin stories. Choose liquors from different ages, too. Your bartender or your display can share these unique stories. Such diversions give guests something to do when they aren’t dancing or eating, and give them something very special to remember.
When we offer spirits, we usually serve the following:
- 4 whiskies — Japanese, American, Scotch, Canadian.
- Calvados — The French apple brandy.
- Mezcal — The far-smokier version of tequila from Oaxaca. Made from agave (the plant).
- Genever — a matlier spirit and the ancestor of modern gin.
- Sherry — the under-appreciated Spanish fortified wine.
Set up an entire table dedicated to this adventure of spirits. Include a large map of the world. Place the bottles on the map to show the spirits’ geographic origins.
COCKTAILS: WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
With cocktails, you can really let your personalities shine. You can express yourself through ingredients, colours, garnishes, and names. You can pick names that reflect your sense of humor, your hope for the future, your memories of your guests, and your hopes for your marriage. Choose flavor profiles that run the gamut of tastes, and tell stories with your cocktail menu.
For example, I’m an eternal optimist. So I made the ‘Faulty Optimist’ cocktail and garnished it with this cartoon, printed on edible paper, from Cyanide and Happiness.
Executing Your Cocktails: How to Make Them Efficiently, with Style
This step, like choosing a wine varietal, can be simple. To ensure a great experience, you MUST vet quality bartenders to find someone who can deliver drinks with excellence and panache.
Go to your favourite cocktail bars in town and note your favourite bartenders. Once you’ve created a short-list your three favourites, reach out to them at their bar and offer them the gig.
Because you’re offering an elevated experience to your guests, think of this bartender as more of a consultant than a mere drink-slinger. Bartenders have evolved a great deal from the 70s, 80s, and 90s — they have become true professionals. They’re going to work with you to make sure your drinks are delicious and reflect your personalities.
Your bartender should help you craft a balanced menu and should also be able to help you to name your drinks, source ingredients, and prepare for the night.
Non-Alcoholic Options: A Little Temperance Goes a Long Way
When we make non-alcoholic cocktails, we’re trying to emulate the complexity inherent in spirits. There are a number of ways to do this.
First, consider your soda. 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola and Sprite are unacceptable. Always try to use artisanal soda pops such as Fentiman’s and New Theatre.
You’ll use syrups that feature fresh ingredients, of course, but don’t forget about shrubs and vinegars. For example, experiment with fruit-flavoured vinegars like pomegranate and grapefruit balsamic, and try cilantro shrubs.
And don’t forget about sparkling and still waters to cover all your bases.
Bringing It All Together: Designing a Sexy Menu
Once you’ve decided on your cocktails, spirits, beer, and wine, it’s time for the funnest part of all — building the menu! Your drink menu gives you the opportunity to create something highly visual that literally tells stories through text. The colors you use, the names you choose for your drinks, and the descriptions you provide all reflect on you. And they give your introverted guests something to read.
While designing a menu may feel overwhelming to some, (I know others of you can’t wait to jump into this) it doesn’t have to. If you’re having trouble creating unique descriptions, use standard text from online searches. Or enlist the help of a clever friend.
No design skills? No problem! Check out www.getstencil.com. The site has tons of free and beautiful templates that you can use to easily make your menus.
Alternatively, if you’d like to leave the menu design to a pro, Fiverr.com is chalk full of them.
Conclusion: You Can Do This
(Or We Can Do It For You)
Hopefully, you’ve now got a good understanding of not only why drinks matter but also how you can create an awesome beverage experience. We’ve got a number of other guides that might help you further in our blog.
If you’d like some one-on-one planning help, additional guidance, or someone to simply take care of things for you, we can help with that, too.