Melissa and Ray’s Handmade Brewfest Wedding

I’m not even sure what to say to say to introduce Melissa, except, um, BREWFEST WEDDING. I think, somehow that says it all. Except, oh right, Melissa threw in a birthday surprise for her best friend in the middle of her wedding. Clearly she is my kind of person. So with that, I’m going to let the sage Melissa take it….My husband Ray and I are homebrewers, and in general, great lovers of craft beer. We live right outside of Philly, which is an excellent beer town, so when we began to talk about getting married and where we would hold the wedding, we came to a quick conclusion: We needed to find a brewery.

Luckily for us, there’s Stoudts Brewery, in the heart of Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. It’s a family-owned, German-style brewery and restaurant, with a biergarten-style banquet hall chock full of wild-looking antiques like carousel horses, taxidermied coyotes and moose, vintage posters, instruments, etc. It was perfect for us in every way.We didn’t have a large budget, but careful planning and creativity helped us stretch every dollar. Ray also participated as much in the planning process as I did; this was not “my” wedding but “our” wedding. While he designed the invitations and Save the Dates, I wrote the ceremony and hand-sewed corsages; while he was the point person for all phone calls (I hate being on the phone) and made all the playlists, I sculpted flowers for the bouquets and boutineres and built cake stands for the centerpieces. It was a creative collaboration that I think was a great exercise for what would come after the wedding: marriage.For organization, Google docs was my best friend. It was a great tool I could access from almost anywhere and I was able to share it with Ray and my MOH. It kept us on track and minimized anxiety, because when it came down to it, it was all written down.

I can be a bit of a high-strung person (working in publishing can do that to you), so everyone around me was prepared to deal with some stress-induced freakouts on the wedding day. Surprisingly, it never happened. Instead, I focused on the fact that Ray and I were going to share our commitment with some of the most important people in our lives and then party hardy. That’s it. It wasn’t a theatre production—if something went slightly not as planned (like me getting so choked up and emotional that I could barely squeak out the vows I had written) it wasn’t the end of the world. It just wasn’t. And no one said a word otherwise.Case in point: our cake. We hired a local baker to make cupcakes for the guests and then a small cake for us. However, when I saw our cupcakes for the first time I was horrified: They looked like something Aunt Mabel and Aunt Effie could have whipped up in a pinch. They looked nothing like what I asked for and the top cake was covered in fondant, something I had clearly said I did not want. I saw the cake right after our photos and proceeded with “What the f**! What the f**! What the … oooh, look there’s Rach and Dave!” Essentially I took 30 seconds to swear at that awful cake (which was also dry …we have NO IDEA what happened here, what we had at the tasting session was divine) and then saw my best friend from college and all was well. I got over it.
What ended up being one of the most important things to me was the ceremony. I wrote it, piecing together some of the most fantastic things I had come across—A quote from Albert Einstein (Ray is very science-oriented), a passage about how a wedding is not magic—along with parts of the traditional Filipino wedding rituals of the coins, veil and cord. Though the majority of it was not completely original content, it was carefully and lovingly edited together; and it was complimented time and again throughout the reception.Our venue was a No. 1 priority from the beginning as well. We love craft beer, and Stoudts is one of the best brewers on the East Coast. Stoudts helped set the tone for the entire reception: essentially a brewfest with some fancy clothes! But not only was it a brewfest; I also turned a portion of the reception into a surprise birthday for Rach, whose birthday was the exact day of the wedding. All four years of college I threw her a surprise party, even after she transferred to a different college. But then I moved to Philly, and it got harder. So
I made up for those missed years—some might think it was weird to turn the spotlight off of ourselves, but I loved it.The photography was also immensely important to us. We discovered Georgi Anastasov through a posting I placed on craigslist. After seeing his website, I thought there was no way in the world we could afford him—the man is an ARTIST! But we met with him in a tiny tea shop in Philly and discovered that he was in our price range and that he is one of the loveliest people ever. Seriously. He’s also an independent photographer, which was important to us—we wanted to focus on supporting small and/or family-run businesses as much as possible.We asked Georgi to tell the story of the day through his photos, and he did just that. Now we have a collection of beautiful photos—not just of us—but of cousins and aunts and parents and friends. Of laughter and dancing and even a few snaps of a Pink Floyd sing along (I told you Ray created the playlists).I stressed about many things … sometimes too many things that were often superficial. At times I went a little too far, thinking I needed to be more indie and funky. After seeing so many candy-colored ballet flats, I was convinced I could custom paint a pair I got at Payless—easy right? Luckily I got over that obsession.I stressed about having jewelry that made a statement, but in the end I wore my grandmother’s necklace, a ring from my aunt, my mom’s diamond studs and a few pieces of my own. Was it a jeweled bib collar? No. But that day I wore pieces given or borrowed from important women in my life.

I think many indie brides stress themselves to death trying to be 100% unique, and honestly, it’s not worth it. It’s a day. Focus on making the rest of your life unique and exciting with your partner instead.My advice? Try not to lose yourself in the wedding blogs or in other people’s expectations. Do not do something because it is expected or because you think you HAVE to do it to keep your indie cred. Remember, those who would judge you are not important.

When it comes to purchases and project decisions, try to take a moment to step back and ask yourself “Does [the item or project] truly add anything to our ceremony or reception? Will guests even remember it if I asked them about it halfway through dinner?” If the answer is no, put the item/idea down and go about your business. I can tell you that this exercise possibly saved my sanity.Also, though it might go against the idea of having the “big reveal”, I think it’s a great idea to mingle before the wedding. I did it, and it was possibly one of the best decisions I made that day. I got to welcome in friends and family I hadn’t seen in months, chat, and relax. Any nervousness that I may have had earlier had been completely washed away by the time I walked down the aisle with my parents. And that, my friends, is priceless.Pictures by Georgi Anastasov

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Best advice ever: "Try not to lose yourself in the wedding blogs or in other people's expectations. Do not do something because it is expected or because you think you HAVE to do it to keep your indie cred. Remember, those who would judge you are not important."

    Thank you!!!

    The wedding looks so lovely. I love the tulle and lights, and the last photo with the beer. So adorable.

  • I'm siding with April Elizabeth on this one, that is by far the best wedding advice ever. It's simple and true, yet most of us seem to forget it somewhere along the way to our big day. This is why I love wedding graduates, it really puts everything into perspective for those of us who have yet to come out on the other side. Great post! Congrats to the happy couple!

  • I love the part about google docs, which I also began using while planning for our wedding, and about deciding on details based on if anyone would remember it half way through dinner. But the best part is probably the advice not to stress too much about making this one day unique, but instead focus on living a unique life. Refreshing! :)

  • What a fantastic post! Thanks for the sage advice. I was wondering if you might share the Einstein quote with us? Both my fiance and I are scientists, and we'd love to incorporate something like that into our ceremony (and we're having a really hard time finding secular readings!). I did a google search, but no luck…Thank you!

  • I would like to second a request for the readings…I would love to see them both!

  • Posts like this one are why I love wedding graduates! Thank you for the great advice, and congratulations!

    I've taken note of the idea of deciding on details based on whether anyone would remember them half way through dinner. I think that will be very useful, as I tend to convince myself that X thing would be so cool, even if it takes up lots of time and is ultimately unnecessary.

  • Beautiful. And I'm Filipino, so seeing those traditions was kinda cool.

  • The more we talk about the wedding, and the closer the date comes, the more and more I'm loving these Graduate posts! I'm not a real "grad" of anything but high school yet (did my 2 years of community college and am now saving for Culinary School) so I'm looking forward to being a member of a group that is filled with such wonderful and wise couples!

    This wedding is wonderful and I think you mirror my sentiments perfectly when you said that you only make a purchase if it will ADD something to the wedding and if your guests will actually REMEMBER it.


  • How amazing that you threw that surprise in for your friend! That is a perfect example of how it is more than just "your" day. You're awesome…plus you had a brewfest wedding. LOVE. Can I be your friend too?

    And I LOVE your dress. I'm a huge shrug fan, so classy that you paired one with your dress.

  • I just love every single thing about this wedding. LOVE.

  • MWK

    The wedding, and you two, seem totally awesome. And can I just say Hells yea to Einstein quotes in weddings!

  • AHHH1 My hubby and I LOVE Stoudts! We go up there every year for October fest with about 30 friends and tent cam at Shady Grove for the weekend! I never thought about weddings there. This post was amazing! Melissa & Ray are AWESOME!!!!

  • emma discovery

    Gorgeous wedding, Melissa and Ray! And Melissa, you have the most beautiful hair/hairdo! Thank you so much for your wise words… My current version of the ballet-flats-variety of insanity is long tables vs. circles (I want long, but just don't think they'll work in the space). I keep thinking about it, but it's silly, isn't it? NO one will care about the tables. Thank you!

  • gotta say…I really love the wedding graduate posts….we are closing in on 4 months to our wedding and it's SO good to get occasional injections of sanity and perspective from these graduates about what really did and didn't matter….

  • we are (wait let me check weddingwire..) 16 days away from our wedding and I am really enjoying these graduate posts more than usual. well part of me is like, gahhhhh why didn't I think to look at brewpubs for a venue???? but ultimately it's just a big sigh of happiness that even though she could barely get through her vows, someone royally screwed up the cake, etc, she's frickin married. and from the photos she had an amazing time. and that's what I'm looking forward to.

    and thank you Melissa for that reminder to not let the pressure to be unique and amazing make you do really silly things. we are gonna have a really great wedding, and a photo booth where there's no space for a photo booth is not going to make it better. and it's gonna be ok if I can't find anyone who knows how to use the super8 camera I found on eBay for $15..

  • I love that you threw your friend a surprise birthday party. I love the advice about letting some projects go. It is so easy to take on too much when it comes to planning a wedding.

  • I am so happy Meg gave me an opportunity to share with all of you, and it makes me immensely happy to know that I've been able to give back to the APW community with a little of my experiences, my advice, etc.

    At the same time, I have to give so much credit to Ray. He helped me come to the realization that a lot of the stuff I was stressing over just weren't worth it. He was (and still is!) a true partner and creative genius (the tulle and lights? totally his idea!)

    As for the Einstein quote, here it is:

    Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.

    And lastly, my 2 non-secular readings were an excerpt from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Bernières (Google this and you'll find the excerpt…it's popular)and the second was the poem Sound of Silence by Raymond J. Baughan.

    If anyone else has any ceremony questions, fire away and I'll answer them here or through e-mail!

  • Thank you, everyone, for the kind words. I'm glad our experience is proving to live on as lessons to future couples!

    I don't have anything to add. Just wanted to pop on and say thank you to everyone, and to my wonderful wife, just for being her.

  • This is my favorite wedding on this site in a long time! Way to go, it looks like it was a blast.

  • Isn't it super cute how Melissa is all, "Oh, Ray did so much and he's just the best!" and then Ray comes in and gushes about his rad wife?


    It really says a lot about a wedding when one of the main things they focused on was being true to themselves and thinking forward to their actual marriage.

    Beautiful pictures as well. :) Congrats to you both. Such a lovely feature. :)

  • Nina

    Like others already said – THANK YOU for reminding us that our wedding doesn't need to be 100% unique! I cannot tell you how many times I have been lying in bed trying to think of a cooler way to do escort cards, or table layouts or something else. It's great to bring your personality and uniqueness to certain meaningful aspects of a wedding and make them your own, but I have to remember I don't have to do that for EVERYTHING!
    I'm at the 4 month mark and suddenly feeling the pressure build up, I needed to hear this.

  • Beautiful wedding Melissa & Ray! Thanks for sharing your story and your wise words. :)

  • Amy

    Beautiful, fun wedding, Melissa! Love your apple centerpieces.

    Might I ask you where you got your dress? Or who the designer is? It is lovely and in a very similar vein to what I hope to find. I am just starting out on my dress search, and I want/need one with straps. The ladies are a little too large to look acceptable in a strapless, haha, and I'm sure you know how strapless dresses dominate the scene. I grew up just outside Philly (Bucks County, plus I've been to Lancaster about a million times), so I know the area if you found it around there.

    Thanks so much, I appreciate it! Congrats!

  • MWK

    Yea, so…the Einstein quote coupled with Ray popping on to say hello and Thank you? Totally just made me get teary (while sitting in my husband's office in the Physics department of a large Uni, no less).

  • Amy:

    I can make your life pretty easy I think :)

    My dress is a bridesmaid dress from the Eden Maids collection, style 7236. Quite lovely, with true-to-street-size measurements. The color I selected was champagne.

    From experience, if you're well-endowed and you buy this dress, have a seamstress remove the boning in the bustline (no idea why they put it there). Much more flattering. I also customized my dress by removing the matching corset lacing and replacing it with black satin ribbon that I cut and hemmed. Pulled together my whole champagne and black look.

    You can most likely find this line anywhere, but I specifically got my dress from Belle of the Ball bridal in Norristown, PA—a cute shop owned by 2 bestfriends! They didn't bat an eyelash when I said I planned on wearing a bridesmaid dress and not a traditional wedding dress. Good people.

  • SO HAPPY Philly is being represented here! My boo and I had our fingers crossed for the Philadelphia Brewing Company's gorgeous tasting room as a venue, but alas, they don't do private events…yet. Thanks for a great post!

  • Love this wedding. What a beautiful bride – they both look so so happy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Eliina

    Revisiting this post, and still love it. :)

  • Nicole

    Your cakestand centerpices were beautiful. You mentioned that you made them. How??

    • mel


      I’d say the project was easy, but it was a bit demanding of time and space. I purchased plates and glasses from thrift stores, looking for interesting silhouettes. Then I epoxyed the base of the glass to the bottom of the plate, slapped on a coat of brown paint, then spray painted them with a textured spray paint. I carefully let them dry, and then I packed them in 2 giant Rubbermaid tubs (wrapped in bubble wrap and newspaper) to the brewery the day before the wedding. I had Ray purchase roughly 8 5-lb bags of granny smith apples, and voila!

  • Alexandra

    So much awesome, congrats!!! ;D

  • Pingback: Wedding cupcakes: A lesson | Cupcake Friday Project()