Bring on the pretty drinks, we’re ready to party! (Photo: Stocksy)
It’s no secret: When some of your friends and family are sitting through your tasteful, romantic wedding ceremony, they’re really just hoping to be rewarded with a party. While you don’t necessarily want them getting falling-down drunk, it’s a good idea to give your guests the option of a little social lubrication to celebrate your big day. But is there a way to do that without blowing your whole budget on top-shelf liquor? If your immediate answer was “cash bar,” we have a few other options.
“You wouldn’t think of asking someone to pay for a cocktail in your home, so don’t have a cash bar at your reception,” write Anna and Lizzie Post in Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, and most wedding vendors agree. That said, there are quite a few Post-approved options for keeping costs down.
“Of course, you can save so much money by limiting it to beer and wine and soft beverages,” Amanda Braddock, event director of Purslane Catering in New York, told Yahoo Style. “But people have come to connect weddings to open bars, so I find guests tend to be disappointed if they don’t have them, and I am honest with couples about that. Of course, it’s up to you; you know your friends.”
What Braddock and other vendors offer as a middle ground is a limited bar, and the trend of making specialty cocktails with a displayed, Pinterest-worthy drinks menu (complete with hashtag) comes in handy for this. “It also plays into that whole personalized trend with weddings: ‘The groom suggests this cocktail,’ and, 'The bride suggests this cocktail,’” she said.
Photo courtesy Drink Slingers
“If you have specialty cocktails, you can name them after the bride and groom, or you can design them specifically to go with the meal or certain colors,” said Nannette Taft, co-owner of Drink Slingers in Austin, Texas. They can also be a big hit with locavores who want to offer something from local distilleries.
Taft said specialty cocktails can be almost as inexpensive as just offering beer and wine, because they can be mixed into a batch ahead of time, using large 59.2-ounce handles of liquor, which costs less than bottles. This also means the whole serving process is streamlined for guests.
“If we’re there with all these different alcohols and mixers [at a full open bar], service is slower, and people don’t know what to choose,” Taft said, adding that she also prefers to keep her specialty cocktails on the simple but fresh side (see her recipe for strawberry margaritas below). “You can’t choose a cocktail that has six ingredients that you need somebody to sit there and craft, because that would be way to slow a service. The key is a cocktail with three or four ingredients at the most. Fresh ingredients that are seasonal are ideal.”
Another personalized touch Braddock recommends is a satellite bar, where guests can order the specialty cocktails or martinis or do a whiskey tasting.
It’s also considerate to take into account that not all your guests are craft beer or whiskey connoisseurs. Taft likes to include mocktails alongside her specialty cocktails — sometimes they’re the same recipe minus the liquor; sometimes they’re tasty offerings featuring fresh juices and the popular Mexican sparkling water Topo Chico. You might also want to offer a light or mainstream beer brand alongside that super-hoppy local brew.
For those stocking their own wedding bar, here’s Taft’s basic calculation for how much to order: “A moderate to heavy drinking crowd is going to drink two drinks the first hour and one drink for every hour thereafter.” An ounce and a half of liquor is considered one drink, and Taft estimates that typically 40 percent of guests will choose a specialty cocktail if they’re offered one.
Even the pros know that those calculations can fail, however, so follow their lead in this too: Always make sure someone knows where the nearest liquor store is, what their hours are, and whether they deliver.
In the end, you can also get by on a tight budget by fully embracing that college party vibe. “If you need to get really cheep, do a keg,” Taft said. “I’ve seen people do boxed wine, and it worked out just fine. Go for it. Why not? If you don’t care, the guests aren’t going to care.”
5 cups honey syrup (2.5 cups honey and 2.5 cups of water)
7 lbs. fresh or frozen strawberries (blended and strained for seeds and large pulp), plus fresh for garnish (sliced)
10 fresh jalapeños (sliced), plus garnish (sliced)
75 oz. (2.25 liters or 2.3 qt.) fresh-squeezed lime juice
4.5 liters tequila (three “handles” reposado, or 3.5 liters blanco and 1 liter mescal)
1.5 liters triple sec (two 750 ml bottles)
1. Into a 2 qt. saucepan add 2.5 cups of honey and 2.5 cups of water. Set over a low flame and heat to a low boil. Remove immediately from heat, stirring to incorporate honey. Transfer into a heat safe container and reserve in refrigerator.
2. Blend strawberries (fresh or thawed frozen), pressing juice through a colander to collect seeds. Discard seeds.
3. Pour juice into larger serving carafe.
4. Remove caps of jalapeños and slice into rounds. Add to strawberry juice.
5. Add lime juice (local fresh-pressed preferred)
6. Add tequila and triple sec to juice mixture. (This should rest together for about an hour; if time is not available, all ingredients may be combined and orders may be shaken vigorously, strained over ice, and garnished).
7. When honey mixture has cooled, incorporate into mixture.
8. Taste, add sweetener, lime, or tequila as desired.
9. Strain and serve over ice, with fresh strawberry, jalapeño, and lime garnish.