The Barkeep’s guide to wedding bar stocking (and drinking from it)

The summer solstice has come and gone, and with that strawberry moon beaming through the thick Louisville humidity, the bridezillas have begun running rampant through our town. Love is in the air, mason jar sales are at an all-time high and the Vistaprint wedding invites are covering every surface of your refrigerator. Yup, it’s wedding season in Derby City, which means loads of RSVPs, registries and, if we’re lucky, open bars. I was fortunate enough to have been asked to become ordained, and to officiate my dear friends’ wedding this past weekend — a Dude-ist Priestess, if you will. And, this beautiful wedding of epic proportions got me thinking about the process of stocking a wedding bar, and then, of course, the guests who drink from it.

While my friends’ wedding, a same-sex ceremony that took place on their 20th anniversary (!), was liberally stocked with libations, and guests were even greeted by servers holding trays of Bellinis upon arrival, it’s true that a nuptial bar can be successful on a range of budgets, and it can be crafted based on the ambitions of the marrying pair and their friends and families. I’ve got some pointers for the betrothed, and their loved ones, to keep everyone feeling warm and buzzy.

There are several different kinds of bars at weddings, and if you’re planning your espousal, these mostly pertain to your budget. First, there’s the ever-coveted open bar. If you’re living under a rock, that means that all beverages are available to guests, and the couple has placed no limit on the bar tab. If you fall into this category (lucky you, 1-percenters), a unique touch would be to have the bartender create a specialty cocktail for the evening. Or, you and your fiancé can spend a sexy evening at home prior to your nuptials, experimenting and crafting the featured libation of your special day. Give it a quirky name, and write it on a chalkboard, and you’ve created a boozy capture for your wedding day Instagram hashtag.

Next, there’s the limited bar. These often take place at venues that already have a bar, where you can sit down with your event coordinator beforehand, and establish a ceiling price-point per drink. For this step, evaluate your guests. Would you prefer to offer them one drink of a premium caliber, or four drinks from the well? Do your wedding clientele fall under classy Gatsby-style group, or do they usually maintain epicenter of the dance floor at the Connection? Did your Uncle Jim, who drinks only Glenfiddich 12-year, travel all the way from Phoenix? If so, it’s always nice to include something you know particularly strikes the fancy of those guests. Yes, we all know it’s your day. But no one wants that syrupy moscato you seem to think is an appropriate beverage for all occasions.

It’s not. Ever.

When making wine purchases to stock a bar from scratch, or meeting with your event coordinator to choose the options you’ll have available, it’s always best to steer clear of highly-sweetened whites or overly-bold reds. Old World wines are born from grapes grown in traditional wine-growing areas of Europe (France, Germany, etc.), where the climate is more mild, so they will almost always be easier on the palate. New World wines are produced in areas with hotter climates (Argentina, Chile, South Africa, etc.), so the grapes are often riper, and the wine, bolder. Remember, a person with a developed palate for wine can enjoy a well-chosen, mild, medium-bodied wine, but often those who don’t experiment with wine have trouble stomaching a full-bodied red, or an extremely-oaky chardonnay.

Last, there’s the cash bar (because we aren’t touching on the concept of a dry wedding — Don’t ever do that). Many couples will have a cash bar, or place a cap on their open bar, at which point the open bar switches to a cash bar. Totally acceptable, and a frequent concept when it comes to young love, and ballin’ on a budget. Which brings me to some dos and don’ts: Do not ever come to a wedding without cash. I cannot tell you how many weddings where I’ve tended bar and folks have shown up empty-handed, assuming all drinks were included. Even if that were the case, were you not planning on tipping, fool? Do get out on the dance floor. Many couples feel incredibly awkward after the traditional first dances, and they are dying for friends and family to have fun and join them on the dance floor. Don’t pound shots of bourbon in the parking lot before the ceremony. Hypothetically, it’s frowned upon to show up drunk, give a blubbering, unplanned speech, and then push the groom’s grandmother into cupid shuffle formation. Totally hypothetical situation of course, but don’t do that (sorry, Samara and Blaine, your wedding was great, by the way!).