In Libations

The Wedding Bar: An Exercise in Patience

At the end of the day, if you have good drinks and good food people are going to have a good time. Booze was a relatively small but crucially important piece of the overall event that was our wedding.

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It helps to have a bunch of dudes in suits

As someone who has worked both woefully understocked or overwhelmingly overstocked wedding bars, I wanted to make sure we hit the right amount of options without having too many options. After much debate, we settled on selecting four signature drinks with supplemental beer and wine, and lots of cheap beer once people didn’t care what they were drinking any more.

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Cheap beer, of course, must be well coozied

I’d highly suggest doing something similar, even if your “signature drinks” end up being something simpler than our menu. The concept worked out great and the bar flowed smoothly. All said and done we spent around $2000 for everything drink and bar related (included bartenders and champagne for toasts) for 80 guests, and had plenty of extra everything left over to take back at the end.

We started serving our drinks about an hour before the ceremony (so around 4 pm) and kept serving until 11 pm or so, when we put away all the liquor and left only the cheap beer out. If your crowd is anything like our crowd some people are going to get plenty toasty regardless. We tried to delay the inevitable sloshy drunk as much as possible by offering mixed drinks that were on the lower-ABV side (I’ve gotten myself in trouble before at weddings by drinking whiskey on the rocks all night).

An exercise in patience.

We briefly looked into going through a bartending service but found it was substantially cheaper to find experienced friends of friends from the area, offer cash for the evening, and plug them into our bar setup.

Our initial iteration of the bar menu was ambitious, with heavily infused liquors and wildly experimental recipes. After realizing that I was both reaching beyond my expertise and potentially testing the limits of our guests’ pallets, I decided to call in the professionals. Specifically, two of my groomsmen, Dan Van and Stephen,  who have worked at high caliber craft cocktail bars and even been flown across the country to guest bartend at swanky establishments.

A couple of classy bastards

With Dan and Stephen on board as Booze Chancellor and Middle Management (respectively), we set about making a menu that would be well-rounded, easily batched, not too alcoholic, and appropriate for Texas fall.

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A lot of sweat and tears went into choosing these drinks and making this sign

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Basil SMASH

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The perfect drink for making a wry observation

 

  • 1.5 oz Bulleit Rye (Old Overhold is a good budget option)
  • 1.25 oz freshly made lemon simple (3 parts lemon juice, 2 part 1:1 simple syrup)
  • 0.25 oz Triple Sec (choose a variety not too cheap and not too pricey)
  • 2 basil leaves
  1. Express basil (smack it) and place in shaker
  2. Add rest of ingredients
  3. Shake and pour into rocks glass
  4. Serve on the rocks, garnish with basil leaf

A wedding bar has to have a whiskey drink. Whiskey has a cultural connotation that is unapologetically masculine, and few things pair as well with a strong cigar. Nearly every wedding I’ve been to or worked has had their whiskey supply run dry. My theory is that you get a bunch of unknown people all trying to assert themselves into a room together and drinks that feel assertive will go quicker. I’m a fan of bourbon, so we went that route.

This had originally started out as an Old Fashioned but changed into this version because we were mildly concerned about serving our quick-sipping guests a drink that’s only a dash of sugar away from being straight bourbon. The balance of the huskier rye and more delicate lemon is all brought together by the basil. Masculine but not blaringly so.

The Shotgunne

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These turned out GREAT
  • 1.5 oz dry gin (Beefeater is great and relatively inexpensive)
  • 1.5 oz cranberry maple shrub (One part unsweetened cranberry juice, one part maple syrup, one part unfiltered apple cider vinegar, handful of whole black peppercorns, let it sit for a week in a cool dark place)
  • Ginger beer (we like White Rock if you can find it, it’s substantially cheaper and super gingery)
  • Frozen cranberries
  • Ground black pepper
  1. Pour gin and shrub into highball glass over ice (for nonalcoholic option nix the gin and go heavy on the shrub.
  2. Top off with ginger beer.
  3. Garnish with black pepper and frozen cranberries

This one was my labor of love. Gin, with its wild botanicals and pleasant dryness, has historically been our liquor of choice, and we knew we had it in us to do a rock solid gin drink. And since Allie went and got pregnant a few months before the wedding (hence the drink name) we also wanted to have a cocktail that could work with or without the liquor.  I’ve been way into shrubs lately,  so a shrub gin drink seemed like the perfect option. I said I wanted a dark, robust, earthy shrub gin cocktail and my professional bartenders told me those adjectives were bartending gibberish so good luck, I could make that one myself.

The drink was a big hit, especially with the nonalcoholic crowd. It’s nice to have the experience of ordering a legitimate drink at a wedding even if you’re not imbibing. If you don’t want to go through the process of making the cranberry shrub, get over it and just make the shrub. It’s super easy. I’m just going to link again to my high-praising blog post on shrubs. And once more for good measure.

One part unsweetened cranberry juice, one part maple syrup, one part unfiltered apple cider vinegar, handful of whole black peppercorns. Throw it all in a large container, let it sit for a week, strain out the peppercorns and you’ve got a shrub.

Paloma

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Somehow there were almost no pictures of the Paloma from the wedding, this is a rare glimpse of one in the wild (on table, right side)
  • 1.5 oz Union mezcal (I’ll begrudgingly admit that blanco tequila can substitute but make sure it’s 100% agave)
  • 0.5 oz Triple Sec
  • 1 oz freshly made lime simple (1 part lime juice, 1 part 1:1 simple syrup) 
  • 1 oz grapefruit juice
  • Splash of soda (Topo Chico if you’re in Texas!)
  1. Batch triple sec, lime simple, and grapefruit juice ahead of time
  2. Combine with mezcal, shake with ice
  3. Pour into highball over rocks
  4. Top off with soda

Mezcal is the scotch of tequila. It’s smoky and peppery and bold and its very presence at a bar makes people notice it. I knew we had a small but passionate crowd of fine scotch drinkers and gave our bartenders explicit instructions to meet their requests for scotch with our south-of-the-border scotch doppleganger. At $50/liter, this was the most expensive thing at the bar but it was definitely worth it. Union was initially recommended, ended up with Banhez instead and it was a big hit.

Although this drink seems aggressive with the mezcal and super-sour grapefruit juice, it all comes together in a very pleasing way, and got a lot of positive feedback from some of our milder sippers. And as the night progressed, the mezcal got its own exuberant crowd of supporters looking for something distinctly interesting to shoot.

Not for the weakhearted…

Kir Royale

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Absurdly elegant
  • 1 oz Creme de Cassis (chambourd will substitute)
  • 4 oz chilled champagne (we used the cheapest Trader Joe’s had to offer and it worked great)
  • Dash of St. Germaine
  • Lemon peel garnish
  1. Pour everything together in a champagne flute.
  2. Enjoy!
This was our classy drink. You’ve got to have a drink you can serve in a champagne flute, seeing champagne flutes everywhere makes people feel like they’re really celebrating something. My mom used to drink and love Kir Royales while she was working in France and hadn’t seen them since. They bring with them the air of special occasion.

Plus they’re delicious. The Creme de Cassis provides a rich base, the champagne brings a dry effervescence, and the St. Germaine and lemon peel top it all off with a zesty, floral bouquet. If you’re only serving one alcoholic drink at your event, serve this one. They work for any season and practically scream wedding.

 

Everything Else

Wine-wise, we got a reasonable white and reasonable red. Beer-wise, we got something dark, something hoppy, something mild, and lots of something cheap (local when possible, all canned). Specifics aren’t important, just start frequenting a well-stocked store in advance and have a fun time buying sample bottles and making choices. We ended up with:

  • Miscellanous <$20 bottles of red and white wine (is it obvious I’m not much of a wine drinker?)
  • Founders All-Day IPA
  • Real Ale Hans Pils
  • Buried Hatchet Stout
  • Lone Star

It was important to us to also have good nonalcoholic options, for those who couldn’t drink for a variety of reasons.

Coffee is a must, we borrowed a percolator for the occasion. You can put out some Bailey’s or Kahlua if you want to give people spiking options, or have the bartender hold onto some if you don’t trust your guests to be sparing with their self-serving.

There are few things as deeply autumnal as mulled cider. We threw a gallon of cider in a crockpot with clove, cinnamon, allspice, star anise, brown sugar, cardamom, and orange slices (all to taste) then transferred to a coffee dispenser and had the bartenders monitor and refill when needed. As a garnish, we bulk ordered cinnamon sticks to put in empty glasses by the cider dispenser.

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The cinnamon sticks were a nice touch

When it comes to water, don’t trust anywhere to have good tap water. Buy a few 5-gallon containers of water, order a cheap large serving vessel to pour them into, and put it in a location where it will get noticed and utilized. Our serving jug had a built-in infuser and we had planned on flavoring the water with citrus or cucumber. But by the time it got to the day itself there was too much going on to be bothered, so if you want to infuse, go for it but if not only you will notice.

For dinner, we had two bottles of nice champagne on each table and had a simultaneous cork-popping at kick off the meal. This champagne sustained us through dinner and was perfect for toasts during post-meal speeches.

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By the fifth or sixth speech, we had a really receptive crowd

By the time we’d gotten through the ceremony, dinner, and speeches without any major upsets, the patience had run its course and the late night could fully take hold.

Just because we wanted to make sure no one went wanting for booze when that transition happened, we bought a handle of Fireball, stuck it in the freezer, and pulled it out around the time everyone started dancing for a shot that anyone can take and enjoy.

Cheers.

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Pictured: Trouble
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