You’ve bought booze for a party before, sure. But what about for a hundred people, one of whom is your Nana? No? Well, here’s how to buy alcohol for your wedding. This is the second major post in a series on dealing with food and alcohol at your wedding, so keep your eyes open for more installments, like how to successfully have a food truck wedding and how to deal with all that ice (note: remember to buy ice).
Before we dive in, let’s preface this information with a note that only you know your crowd. If half your guests don’t drink, adjust accordingly. If your loved ones drink beer, but hate wine, well, don’t have a wine-only reception. Also, take your region of the country (or hell, your country) into account. At the end of the day, you know best what your loved ones expect and what you care about. This is a guide to best practices and general wisdom. Adapt as you see fit.
There are three basic types of wedding bars: beer and wine only, full bar, and the something-in-between I’ll call modified full bar. If you are set on doing a true full bar, I do not recommend going our DIY route. Work with a professional bartending service and your venue, unless you want to blow most of your budget on half the stock at your local liquor store. This tutorial is all about the modified full bar and the beer and wine only bar.
On the West Coast, a beer and wine only wedding is usually completely acceptable, especially if you also decide to offer a big batch cocktail or two, a few craft beers, or a selection of wines. On the East Coast, however, the expectation is generally that there will be a full bar, or at least a modified full bar. Here at APW, we’re big fans of the “do what works for you” school of thought, though, so take that generalization with a salted rim.
Stocking your Bar
You don’t need every mixer under the sun, or every booze known to man. Here’s what you want to make sure you have:
When picking alcohol to stock your bar, know your crowd. If your family is definitely going to want to hit the tequila, make sure you have tequila, plenty of limes, and salt on hand. A serious crowd of whiskey drinkers? Great, make sure to have more of that. And then, of course, you’ll need beer and wine for both a modified full bar or for a beer and wine only bar.
Modified Full Bar
Booze: Whiskey, gin, and vodka
Optional BOOze: Rum and tequila
Mixers: Juice (usually orange or cranberry), soda (at least a cola), tonic water, and club soda
Garnishes: Lemons and limes
Beer and Wine Bar (And modified FULL bar)
Beer: It’s nice to select at least two types of beer (one dark or strong, one light) to provide options. You will also need to consider bottles versus a keg. Bottles can be more expensive, and some people feel the beer doesn’t taste as fresh. However, kegs require a tap system (either a pony keg or tap), which you’ll need to rent from the liquor store where you bought the keg. Also, keg leftovers are much harder to deal with and don’t keep for more than a day or two.
Wine: You’ll need at least one red wine and one white, but you don’t need more than one varietal (or blend) of each, unless you want to have them.
Bubbles (Optional): Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, and sparkling wine from other non-Champagne regions are delicious, and they are almost always a better deal than French Champagne. If you’re going to serve bubbles as a toasting-only option, you want about 4–5 ounces per person, per toast. Also, you don’t have to do a bubbly toast, if you don’t want to. People can cheers with anything, and your marriage will still be official. Promise.
Some variations to consider
AGAIN, Know Your Crowd
Do these ratios look off to you? Is your entire extended family comprised of people who exclusively drink beer, forever and always? Adjust for that! These ratios are a starting point, and won’t work for every group gathering. Here’s an example from Lucy’s wedding.
Our friends and family are almost entirely beer or hard liquor drinkers. So for fifty people for two nights of drinking, we bought two kegs of beer, ten-ish bottles of liquor (not including liquor bought and brought by friends and family), and maybe three cases of wine. We had a case of leftover wine from the wedding on Sunday morning. The beer and liquor? Polished off by about 10PM on the second evening, a couple hours after our “official” wedding end time.
Daytime weddings, Sunday weddings, Weekday weddings
Generally, people will probably drink a little less at these weddings, so round down your numbers. Get one case less than the calculations say to.
If your bar is self-serve, be prepared for people to pour large servings. Ditto if your bartender isn’t a pro. Wine glasses can run anywhere from eight to thirteen ounces on average (the estimate of four glasses per bottle in the infographic equals about six ounces per serving). Drinking out of Mason jars? They’re huge and will definitely encourage larger servings.
Time and Location
Think about where you’ll be, when, and what the weather will be like when you are figuring out how much to get of each kind of alcohol. Think about what you would like to drink, and remember to consider your audience. During the summer, people will drink more white wine and bubbly, but in cold weather, more red. Getting married in wine country? People will probably want to drink more wine than beer or cocktails.
If you are doing a signature cocktail, subtract one hour from your calculations. During cocktail hour, assume everyone’s drink will be the signature one, and make sure there’s enough for everyone to have it. Then, proceed with the numbers above. This works with either type of bar. If you’re offering only a signature cocktail (in addition to wine and beer) during your cocktail hour, consider having two signature drinks: one made with brown liquor and one with clear. People can be very particular about these things.
If you’re providing your own alcohol, you’re likely not going to be covered by your caterer’s liquor liability policy. No one likes to think or talk about the potential for alcohol-related incidents, especially not at a wedding. However, if you’re serving people drinks and something awful happens, sadly, you could be on the line. If someone crashes a car, falls off a balcony, or damages the property, or if that underage third cousin sneaks some drinks and gets sick, etc., the hosts could be held liable. It’s terrible to think about it, but even worse to get sued. If the couple or parents are homeowners, they can usually put a rider on their homeowner’s policy for the event. Otherwise, there are tons of insurance companies that specialize in event insurance. (And an APW note: plenty of people… cough… on staff… have served booze at their wedding without insurance. But we’re not saying it’s the best practice.)
Dram Laws and Weird State Liquor Laws
State liquor laws are archaic, and sometimes very strange. For example, it’s illegal to return alcohol in California (I found this out the hard/awesome way and have the cases of bubbly to prove it), and in some states you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays. Dram Laws also vary by state and determine who can be held liable in case of an accident. Because we can’t possibly predict what problems you can run into in each state, here is a website where you can check your state’s Dram Laws and make sure you have the necessary information.