This article is from the February 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
By Torrence R. O’Haire
As someone who started his career as the same bored, black-tied bartender watching fathers of the bride get blackout drunk on nonalcoholic beer that they didn’t realize was nonalcoholic (yes, this really happened), I’m happy we’re starting to find value in smaller, more personal DIY wedding parties. With this shift, I love to share some tips and ideas for downsizing and upscaling your wedding bar!
As with any party, it’s important to keep consumption in mind. The idea of a self-service bar helps save in effort and expense, but I recommend against putting out bottles and mixers — it’s far too easy for guests to accidentally drain your stock and end up passed out in the bushes. My favorite ideas involve portioning drinks out to both ensure people feel welcome and well provided but also can regulate their drinking well.
A visit to a homebrewing store and $50 can buy you a case or two of empty glass soda bottles, crown caps and a cap applicator. These make really fun options for cocktails; pre-fill them with a punch, cap them and provide an ice tub full of homemade sips. Some homemade label stickers will personalize it further.
Don’t have a homebrew store nearby? Try Mason jars. Divide a large batch of punch between a few dozen jars, screw on the lids and keep them chilled until service.
A classic punch bowl is a great sight, but depending on the size of your party, it can be drained pretty quickly and requires regular upkeep (and if it’s an outdoor wedding, it might require you picking leaves out of the punch). Instead, save a bunch of pretty bottles, wash them and fill them with your mix. Keep them on ice for guests to pour into glasses as needed.
The best thing about these ideas is the convenience of time. As long as you’re not adding a carbonated mixer, these batches can be made a week in advance and will last at least a week after your party. With this, you can knock an item off your to-do list when you can get to it, and you don’t have to risk a lot of waste if you make extra; just save them for the next day’s cleanup crew or a relaxing movie night the following weekend.
A final reminder: make your punch ahead of time in its full volume and taste it for balance. Too sweet, and guests will get sick of drinking it very quickly. Too strong, and everyone will be trashed by dinner. Make sure there’s a balance of acid and enough water to dilute it to something “sessionable” — you want your guests to comfortably enjoy two (or three).
Here’s a recipe that will fill 25 7-ounce bottles (approximately 3 liters). It’s simple, and best of all, it’s easily changeable with flavors and spirits you like. Citric acid is available online or at a homebrew store; you can use lemon juice instead of the water, but if you use the acid, it makes the cocktail last weeks longer in storage. Play around on the “small scale” to get the flavors you want and then increase the volume for your event. Cheers!
— Torrence R. O’Haire, of The Starving Artist, is a chef, entrepreneur and restaurant consultant specializing in wine, spirits and cocktails. He also founded the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild.
The Destination Wedding
40 ounces Long Road Distillers aquavit
10 ounces Lazzaroni amaretto
9 ounces Mandarine Napoléon liqueur
1 ounce Angostura bitters
5 ounces demerara sugar syrup
35 ounces water
28 grams citric acid
Combine all ingredients into a large vessel and stir well. Decant into bottles and chill completely before serving. This can be served as is, poured over ice or topped with sparkling water (or even Champagne). If the plan is to serve it over ice or topped with sparkling water, reduce the water content in the cocktail recipe to 25 ounces.
Photos: Courtesy Thinkstock