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.