7 tips for Brewing for 100 Beer Loving Friends and Family

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It's about time I share with you all the insane brewing schedule I put myself through over the last 9 months. I got married earlier this month (yay!), and from the moment I proposed to my then fiance I knew I was going to brew all the beer for our wedding, but how much? What kinds? How much time did I need to allot? To say you're going to brew everything for your wedding is one thing; to actually pull it off is a whole other monster.
Because I'm an engineer I started by developing a spreadsheet, and because I love my family and friends, I am never going to let them see it. We entered the names of likely guests and then estimated how much beer, wine, and liquor each of them would consume over the day. Apparently, we consider most of our friends and family to be raging drunkards. Our estimates put us at about 35 gallons of beer, 3 cases of wine, and 10 handles of liquor. The wine and liquor we would buy, but the beer was mine, all mine. So, again, because I'm an engineer, I added a safety factor and decided to make 45 gallons (9 batches on my system), just to make sure I didn't run out.
Besides just trying to show off my brewing skills, there was another reason for me to brew all the beer for the wedding: frugality. My wife and I paid for the wedding ourselves, and hosting 100 people at an open bar is the equivalent of throwing your credit cards into a grain mill, so we had to cut corners where we could. I invested in bulk grains, emphasized yeast reuse, and tweaked my brewhouse efficiency prior to starting this project. The end result was that the raw material cost (not including propane, water, electricity, equipment, etc.) of 45 gallons of beer was just under $200 that's an average of $0.42 per beer. If you want craft beer at your wedding and you're on a budget, you can't get a better deal than making it yourself.
For packaging, I did a mixture of bottles and kegged beer. I have five kegs and wound up filling them all, so four batches went in bottles. As anyone who has hand-labeled beer bottles will tell you, it's a pain in the butt to label one batch, and I was not about to cut out and label nearly 200 bottles by hand. Instead I went to BottleMark and ordered a bunch of custom bottle caps, each with our wedding symbol against a solid color background. Each cap stood for a different beer, and was a handy way to help the bartenders differentiate them.

My next challenge was how to space out the varying beers I had decided to make. I decided to ferment and bottle the higher alcohol beers first, in order to let them age prior to the June 2014 wedding day. Here was my brew schedule:
October 2013: Bourbon Barrel Porter
I cribbed this recipe from Northern Brewer, using my own bulk ingredients to keep costs low. It was recommended to let it age for a several months prior to serving in order to let the bourbon mellow. If I make this again, I think I will use higher-quality bourbon (I used W.L. Weller, which isn't awful, but not very nuanced) and less than the recipe prescribes. It could use a little more balance, and perhaps a little more oak, too.
November 2013: Krullsplitter Wee Heavy
This is my own recipe, which won silver in its category at the 2012 Sunshine Challenge, so I was confident it would do well. Fairly high alcohol content (8.2% ABV) meant that some age would benefit it before serving it. This one was fairly popular among my malt-loving friends and family.
November 2013: Brother Ruckus Belgian Tripel
My own recipe, tweaked a little from a version I made for my little sister's wedding. At 10% ABV, it also needed some time in the bottle to chill out. This one did very well with folks who like "lighter" flavored beers, surprisingly, and many didn't notice just how alcoholic it was.
February 2014: Wedding Party Dubbel
I realized sometime earlier this year it would be a good idea to make a beer for the wedding party to drink while getting ready. Knowing that a lot of them have varying taste preferences, I settled on a tried and true Belgian dubbel recipe of mine. It's got a little character going on, but not so much that it would freak out a novice beer drinker, and not so little that a craft beer aficionado would turn their nose up at it. Plus at 7.8% ABV, it got the party good and loose before the ceremony.
April 2014: Wedding Steer Cream Ale
This is my own recipe, a take on New Glarus' Spotted Cow. This one was kegged and placed into a rustic barrel to be self-serve just prior to the ceremony. Everyone loved it as it gave them an excuse to mingle while waiting for the wedding party to show. They loved it so much they killed the keg, which I didn't see coming. Oops.

April 2014: Sweet, Sweet Blackout Milk Stout
My own recipe, based on Left Hand Milk Stout. This is a good style to introduce to family who claim to be afraid of stouts. It's also surprisingly drinkable for its heavy body and mouthfeel.
April 2014: Proprioceptive Tongue Habanero Mango Cream Ale
My pepper beer. This one has got some heat, but I have no idea if it's too much or too little, as the reactions invariably fell into one of two camps: 1) "Paul, that tasted great! But the heat was a little low I think you could kick it up a notch!" or 2) "Paul, that was a great-tasting beer, but wow! I could barely get through the glass without my eyes watering!" So I think I'll leave the recipe as is.
May 2014: Uncle Yarbles' Nut Butter Peanut Butter Porter
This was an absolute standout. Everyone was talking about it. This recipe will be appearing in BYO magazine later this year, so keep your eyes peeled. Like the name says, it tastes like a peanut butter cup, and people tore through that keg like it was water.
May 2014: Intelligenti Pauca Alcohol IPA
My IPA uses handfuls of hops in the last 7 minutes of the boil to really give the aroma a hoppy punch. I brewed this three weeks before the wedding to make sure it was the freshest IPA any of my guests had tasted. The keg went dry, so I'm pretty sure they approved of my methods.
In all, it was a fantastic wedding, and an amazingly fun reception. I estimate that about 80% of the beer was consumed, which is fine by me as I could use a little around the house while I brew up more for my own consumption. If I could offer some advice to anyone who has similar aspirations for their own wedding, it would be as follows:
1.Plan ahead. Plan your menu and your ingredients, and buy as much in bulk as you can. Learn how to reuse yeast, and plan your brew schedule accordingly. You will save money and have some peace of mind.
2.Not to be harsh, but make sure your brewing is up to snuff, especially if you will serve no commercial beers. I have been brewing for over 7 years, and if I knew my beers had flaws, I would never have attempted this. Before you begin, have your friends be honest with you. Do they really enjoy your beer? Would they hate you if you made them drink nothing but your stuff all night? Make sure you're not just showing off your talents, but also treating your guests right.
3.Unless you know otherwise, lean your menu to the malty side. I took a big risk not having any commercial brews available, so I knew I had to have something for everyone. People who tend to go for macrobrews tend to like craft beer that's a little maltier, but use your best judgment.
4.Make sure you brew everything at least once before the event. Hindsight is 20/20, but it doesn't taste good in a beer.
5.Make sure you have enough vessels and means of dispensing them. Like I said, I have five kegs and a bunch of bottles, but I had a three-tap tower and a portable tap unit, which meant only four of my kegs could be dispensed at once.
6.If you can, hire bartenders. Friends are great, but the pros know their way around kegs and bottles, and you're paying them for their experience.
7.Anoint someone as your Beer Proxy. You know your dispensing equipment, and you know how your beer should be poured, but you're going to be busy getting married, so make sure you have someone on hand to take care of everything for you. You can't be running around tightening gas lines and messing with the regulator. Give someone else the knowledge, then sit back and relax (and while you're at it, assign someone to make sure your glass is never empty, just for kicks).
I learned a lot from brewing all the beer for my wedding, and really enjoyed the ego boost of seeing my friends and family go gaga over something I made. I already have requests to brew for other people's weddings, but I'll likely never undertake something this ambitious again. Like my own day, this kind of a brew effort is a once in a lifetime experience.
"Wow, 45 gallons for 100 people. Let's see now, that would be...a little more than two gallons per person! And variety too? I want to come to your party. Well done. And, congrats on getting married."
You super suck at math. but yea non the less a growler per guest is pretty sweet.
I'll be doing this in the semi near future. Good thing I can brew 15 gallon batches and ferment well over 60 gallons at a time. This is one more reason to get my electric bcs controlled system done ASAP.
I'll stick to two styles on tap one perm (and that will be cream of three since it's good, appeals to everyone and extremely cheap) the other will rotate.
I plan on kegging in 3 gallon kegs (I have 15 of them, so there's enough) And serving from a portable kegerator. I'll need to build one more, so I can have 4 taps total.
For the other two I'll include graff cider and hard lemonade Instead of hard alcohol. (maybe offer mashed fruits like strawberry, blueberry, mango..etc to change the flavors of the lemonade?) And of course wine since her family is obsessed with wine. Good thing her dad will handle that. He has like 350 bottles in the basement and knows how to get amazing deals on spectacular wines.
Let me ask this... Would it be a bad idea to allow self serve if I had the draft system set up to simply pour? I can get someone to swap kegs out pretty easy.
**** and with that math logic above, it seems as if you just left his party wasted as hell haha
"Impressive. For my wedding I was learning to tie a tie."
"You super suck at math. but yea non the less a growler per guest is pretty sweet."
HAHAHA,,, I work in a cubical farm, this made me bust out loud, too funny...
@insanim8er I would never allow self serve. It is amazing how many people have no idea how to pour a beer, much less use a tap. There are ALWAYS people who will only open the tap half-way and get a glass with nothing but foam.
I have done events like this with my brewing friends, it is very gratifying when your brewing obsession elicits both a great product and makes a special event all the more special. Good for you! As mentioned above, the need for qualified (and sober) beer proxy cannot be overstated. I have had guests leave taps open and walk away, and turn up the CO2 to 20 psi ("cause I like it bubblier"). The blonde or cream ale and the IPA always seem to kick first, then people "discover" that they like the vanilla porter, the oatmeal stout, the dubbel. We leave comment cards at each tap and also sometimes have people vote on favorite beer, this friendly competition is an added level of fun for us brewers and gives us endless "boring beer talk" topics that the wives hate:)
@poptarts LOL!!! Easy mistake to make I guess, a simple transposition error. [45 gallons / 100 guests = .45 gal/guest] is the correct math, not [100/45=2.22].
You guys bring up valid points and re-confirm that I have too much faith in the general population.
This article is good and has some good insight, but I want to keep it simple as I can.
Showcasing my abilities and doing a huge selection is not high priority. I understand at the end of the day, they just want to get drunk. Most of the people drink crap anyway. They will praise your efforts, but only a handful would actually appreciate the beers. Easy drinking that appeals to the BMC crowd is most important.
For example: My GF's softball team only drinks pabst. I brought a 5 gal corny keg of commercial mirror pond to a game. They still drank the pabst until it was gone then emptied the keg. Then sent someone out to get more pabst. They were thankful, but no one cared what was in the keg.
OP here. Wow, thanks for the feedback everyone! I would say that overall all the beers were well-received, and I didn't hear anyone consider any of them flops. The most controversial was the habanero beer, but then I kind of knew it would be.
On the whole, I think not having commercial beer around is a good idea if you're going to do something this ambitious. As insanim8er points out, if a macrobrew is available, it will be drunk up. For me, the goal was to get people to drink my beer and taste new things; I would have hated it if everyone was standing around worrying about how much PBR was left.
I would call 45 gallons divided by 100 people 0.45 gallons per person. That's just the way I do it, though :)
Ughh, where's my coffee. I got the numerator and denominator reversed.
Wow, half a gallon per person? Awesome!
Are there links for the recipes? Specifically looking for the nut peanut butter porter to try my hand out!
Sounds like an amazing experience and impressive pull off! Nice work!
Nice job. I have done this as well - for my wedding back in 2007. I brewed 7 batches (for 50 people), had them all kegged, carbed and chilled in tall garbage cans of ice-water when the reception started. Went through 5 kegs that night. I cannot imagine bottling all those beers. The kegging made it doable for me.
Nothing like serving your own beer at your wedding, man!
The PB porter recipe will be making an appearance in BYO later this year, so I'm going to hold off posting that here until then. If anyone is curious about any of the other recipes I'd be happy to share them.
@brrman, yeah, bottling that many beers was a pain, and it reminded me why I don't do it that often. Good job on getting seven batches brewed up! My favorite reaction to my nine beers came from one of my groomsmen talking to a brewer in Asheville. He told the brewer about all the beers I made, and the brewer kinda looked down, shuffled his feet, and said glumly "I only brewed six beers for my wedding..."
I do beers for our friends events fairly frequently and the biggest to date was for a summer wedding of 80 people. It was just my homebrew and wine. I was told that the split of wine drinkers to beer drinkers was 50/50. We floated 6 out of 8 kegs and 1/2 the wine got returned.
I had 7 months notice. I did 3 styles 10 gallon each that they chose and the last 10 were my choosing. I brew 5 gallons batches and I had a 2 tap kegerator at the time so I essentially carbed all of the kegs naturally. I literally spent most weekends brewing. This was fun but also very taxing. I wish I knew about no Chill brewing then. It would have saved me loads of time and aggravation. having a bigger kettle and mash tun would have been nice too :0).
Because it was to be 10 gallons of 3 styles and two of my choosing I made 15 of the first 3 and 10 of the other two in the event one went south for some reason or another. I had one that did not carb all the way. SO CCC replaced the Pilsners I initially planned on making. They are Pilsner ish.
I did 10 gallons of my version of Yoopers House Pale,Abbey Weiss and Cream of the Three Crop. I did a triple somewhere between Delirum Tremens and Dragonmead Final Absolution and an Irish Red.
The venue only allowed Keg beer so I built a 4 tap jockey box and got a #20 CO2 tank. This way all three styles could be hooked up to their respective tap. I also provided a keg of StarSan. A bartender had to do all of the pouring so I made up a manual on how to operate the jockey box with pic of all the fittings and connections.We rushed to the facility from the hotel so I could give the bartender a tutorial. I brought my Brewers Toolbox ( extra fittings tools, tubing and regulator)for the bartender to use. They wound up losing my manual :0(. I made up a menu and put it in a picture frame for the guests to order.
It was frustrating and fun as the same time. People still talk about the beer. Friends we made via the wedding did not really remember SWMBO at first but they remembered the guy that made the beer. :0)
Good practice for my own wedding if we do not go the Destination route.
I'm just starting to brew for my friends wedding, thinking 30 gallons for 200 people.
Blonde, cream ale, pale ale, belgian dubbel, brown, porter, and a stout.
Suggestions? Advise? Which beers went well at your reception?
I brewed my own beer for my 40th last year and learnt a lot as well as getting my ego boosted.
What I learnt is brew enough beer that is true to style. I think this point is largely covered by #2,#3 and #4. I did an amber ale that was a true AAA and everyone loved and all of it was drunk. I also did a dark english ale but confused Munich with Vienna so have something that some people really liked, but the majority didn't.
So I would say be a bit edgy, but make sure there is enough 'regular' stuff.
...and 45 gallons for 100 people. Wow - I want to come to your child's christening please!
@lostcheesehead and I go way back (drinking Weissbier from bottles in Germany in 2001 when we didnt know any better), I created this login just to comment on his fun to read, well written and informative piece.
This article seems to be so well received that I think you could have a future writing about brewing beer for your wedding, to keep the content pipeline open I see numerous marriages in your future. (don't mention this post to your [current] wife)
I'd love to see the recipes for all of your creations, but as I am really keen on doing a pepper beer, that one intrigues me the most.
@webmosher: Your wish is my command. Pepper beer has been posted.
And yes, @jaxackerman, those days of drinking Paulaner from the bottle are long behind me, thank goodness. I had to stop a lot of people from drinking my beer from the bottle by saying "I wouldn't eat your handmade meal with my fingers from the pan, so don't you drink my beer from the bottle!"
Great article, really looking forward to that PB beer. Getting married in November myself, but since it will be in Mexico we'll be without homebrew. But you have inspired me to do something similar for the stateside reception afterwards, much appreciated!
This was an inspiration! We had good beer at our wedding, but alas, we were married 5 years before I started brewing. There's always my kids' weddings though...
btw, the "Beer Proxy" had to be the best advice on here. You obsess about the wedding, let someone else obsess about the beer (if only for a night).
@pricelessbrewing: "Blonde, cream ale, pale ale, belgian dubbel, brown, porter, and a stout. Suggestions? Advise?"
Okay, this is going to come from my experience both from brewing for the wedding and for brewing for small competitions for my company gatherings. When in doubt, don't brew stout. If you don't know your audience, go light. Fortunately, I had a good idea of what tastes I was brewing toward, so I was able to do a wide variety of styles with little backlash. If you don't have this knowledge, go light, and vary as much as you can. I've heard of a lot of success being garnered from blonde coffee and blonde peanut butter beers, so anything is possible.
The benefits I had were that I knew my family and friends pretty well, and I knew that a mountaintop wedding afforded the climate leniency to do whatever I wanted. You may not have that. So, as I said, if in doubt, don't brew stout. Go light, but go nuts. People will appreciate the innovation and the drinkability. Good luck, and let us know what happens!
@Spanfil: Appointing a beer proxy was the last idea I came up with, but by far the best. I realized that I have too many pictures of me from other peoples' weddings messing with beer stuff - it's about time I gave someone else the chance to be immortalized while being strangled with beer lines.
I would love to get your Uncle Yarbles PB Stout recipe. When will it be in the magazine? I just brewed a PB Stout and it was pretty meh. As a stout it was rich and creamy, though a little too sweet for my taste, but I got no PB flavor or aroma in the bottle.
Wow! Thank you! I constantly wanted to write on my site something like that. Can I take a portion of your post to my website?