Welcome to Imbibe Magazine's between-issues look at liquid culture with drink recipes, news and more. From coffee to cocktails, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Champagne Wishes and (Bottled) Cocktail Dreams


It started in December, when Katie Burnett, Imbibe’s Marketing Director, came back from the Christmas holiday engaged. Then, about a month later, editors Tracy Howard and Miranda Rake both came to the office sporting new engagement rings of their own. Over the past six months, all three have been in wedding-planning mode and have found three different ways to answer the age-old question: what drinks to serve to guests? Anyone looking for ideas and tips for their own wedding planning should look no further—we’ve got you covered.

Imbibe:  How would you describe the style of your weddings?  

Tracy: I’m having the outdoorsy farm wedding—complete with bluegrass band, lawn games and lots of local beer and wine.

Miranda: We’re having a black-tie, winter wedding. The ceremony will be at a church in downtown Portland, and our reception will be at a private club. I wanted it to feel really classic, and hopefully timeless.

Katie: We’re approaching the wedding like we’re throwing the party of the year for our friends and family. Think rock band over cover band. Cocktail menu over open bar. I wouldn’t call us very traditional, so we’re throwing all wedding conventions out the door and moving forward with something that reflects who we are as a couple and something our friends and family will love—even if they don’t know it yet … eek!


Is there anything you knew you wanted to serve, drinks-wise, right off the bat?  

TH: My fiancé and I want things that feel authentic to us, so we knew right away we wanted to serve lots of Oregon Pinot Noir, beer from a favorite local brewery and then Fernet-Branca with dessert!

MR: Good bubbly! I had dreams of serving excellent Champagne all night long and devoting as much of my budget to that as was necessary, but reality set in pretty quickly once we started to plan the wedding. That said, we will still be serving something very lovely, just probably not grower Champagne—at least not all night long.

KB: Palomas, Negronis and Boulevardiers. These are our go-to’s all year long. Yes, I do drink Palomas in the winter!


How did you figure out how much to plan for, drinks-wise—how much to order, to serve or to budget for? 

TH: We definitely allotted a big part of our budget to booze. Our friends like to drink (a lot), and we definitely don’t want the well to run dry! We’re serving drinks from cocktail hour through the end of the night (not during the ceremony) and for 125 guests basically figured one case each of white wine and rosé and 10 cases of red (case=12 bottles), since we figure people will switch to red for dinner. We’re also ordering two full kegs since whatever is leftover will come on the bus with us to the after party. Which brings up an important detail—transportation! We want our friends to cut loose and have a good time, so we’re springing for school bus transportation to and from the farm. I’d definitely recommend carving room in your budget to get friends to and fro.

MR: It’s such a guessing game. Our reception site is a club that houses a restaurant and a couple of bars, so running out of booze isn’t a concern. However, I wanted to know what to plan on for budgeting purposes, so I went with the one-drink-per-person-per-hour formula, and I am guessing that 40% of people will have a cocktail, while the rest will stick to wine and beer. We’ll see how accurate it was when all is said and done!

KB: We are not having an open bar, but are instead curating a cocktail menu for our guests. This makes it somewhat easier, because we can better calculate the amount of product needed and don’t have to guess how many people will order a gin martini vs. vodka martini. We’re doing a family-style supper, which could pose a problem for wine. The trick here is not to place another bottle on the table until the other is finished. Otherwise, you could wind up with five half-open bottles of red.


Hard alcohol: To serve or not to serve? Was this a tough choice for you? How did you decide? 

TH: It was a tough choice, but for reasons you might not think! The quality of the cocktails we’d serve is paramount, and I was nervous about bartenders maintaining consistency while having to churn out dozens and dozens of drinks. The other concern was trying to keep guests from getting too schnockered early on.

MR: There’s always the fear that people will abuse an open, full bar, but now that most of our friends are in their 30s, we’re trusting that they can handle it! That said, five hours of a full, open bar might be a bit much, so we’re going to offer hard alcohol during the cocktail hour and switch to just wine and beer when people move upstairs. I’m also planning to talk with the bartender before the wedding and encourage them to feel very free to cut people off at any sign of trouble.

KB: Serve away! We’re a cocktail-loving couple. It just wouldn’t feel right to not have cocktails be a big part of our wedding. Like I said, we decided to create a cocktail menu, rather than open bar, to provide a point of view and to make it a bit more personal. We’re picking four drinks we love and that can be tweaked to please any palate.


What cocktails will you serve and why?

TH: We have a Friday-night tradition in our house of making pizza and Negronis every week, so we knew if we were going to serve a cocktail it would be a Negroni. Issue is, it’s a somewhat strong drink. But our solution to maintain consistency while keeping the proof in check was to dilute, carbonate and bottle them! We tested different dilution levels and opted for adding in 25% water prior to carbonating. Now it tastes like a Negroni soda, which is super refreshing.

MR: People can order anything they’d like, though I think the bartender will mostly be mixing up the classics! We’ve got some devoted Martini and Manhattan lovers in both of our families, which was a big part of why we decided to offer hard alcohol.

KB: We are doing Palomas, Negronis and Boulevardiers at our main bar during cocktail hour. We’re also doing a Highball bar (this was Merit Badge’s brilliant idea) where we’ll have a vodka and gin + soda water. Then guests can pick their own fruit or herb syrup to customize the drink. We’re going to work with our friends at The Commissary for these. They do incredible seasonal syrups. We’ll also have a whiskey room that opens later in the evening, plus a welcome bottled cocktail aperitif available upon arrival before the ceremony.


Any tips for DIY-ing drinks? 

TH: Our original plan was to prebatch everything out for the bartenders, but we opted to bottle individual cocktails instead. And after several rounds of testing we got it dialed in! A few tips: Refrigerate the whole batch before carbonating; and after carbonating, funnel into individual bottles with a small siphon hose attached to the bottom of the funnel to direct the cocktail right to the bottom of the glass—this will help hold the carbonation. Also, cap right away to hold in as much of the carbonation as possible!

KB: Yes and yes. Batch, batch, batch! I’ve been to so many weddings with the dreaded drink line, so we’re being very mindful of this. Again, hiring a cocktail catering company like Merit Badge means having a clear plan of action to address this in advance.


How and why did you pick your bartender? 

KB: Our venue allows for outside caterers of our choice, so I immediately called Merit Badge. They’re an incredible cocktail catering duo based in Portland, Oregon. Cocktail caterers are a godsend. Seriously. My belief: You should not have to batch all your cocktails for your own wedding! Sure, the awesomely crafty DIY-ers will (ahem, Tracy), but I loved the idea of checking this off the list and putting it in the hands of someone I trust! Luckily, there are incredibly talented bartenders who now offer these services around the country. Dear friends of mine run a similar company in Los Angeles, Cocktail Academy, and they’re going to be curating the cocktails for our rehearsal dinner. My advice: do your research and delegate to the right team!

TH: Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to pick our own, so are trusting that the two provided by our caterer will get the job done!

MR: I’m in the same boat as Tracy—we’re trusting the venue to do a great job of picking someone!


What about wine and beer—what will you be pouring?  

TH: We wanted to marry what we love to drink with things we knew our guests would also enjoy. The Whoa Nelly Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was an easy choice (seriously the best budget-friendly Pinot out there), but the white was a bit trickier. We tasted several varieties, and while I was really struck by a Pinot Blanc, we opted for Pinot Gris, since we thought it was something our older family members would enjoy more. As for the beer, you really can’t go wrong in the Pacific Northwest, but we went with the Double Mountain red, since we frequent the brewery often (including stopping in for celebratory pints right after we got engaged!).

MR: We originally wanted to bring our own wine in and pay the corkage fee because we have friends and family who work for importers and we thought we’d be able to serve better wine for the money that way. But over time, I realized that (as much as possible) I wanted to simplify the wedding-planning process for myself, and serving the wines and beers that are already available at our venue was one way to do that. I’ve started talking with the sommelier and quickly realized that, with enough notice, they’re able to bring in almost any wines we’d like, which I think is a great thing for brides to realize! There’s no need to feel penned in by a venue that already has a wine list set for you to choose from. As long as you’ve got a good amount of time (a few months at least), there’s no reason that you can’t engage the venue in a conversation about bringing in other wines. Ask which importer they typically buy from, and ask to see the entire catalogue. Chances are good you’ll see at least a few wines within the catalogue(s) that you’re excited about. For our wedding, we’re going to offer two whites, two reds, and a bubbly. For the whites, we’ll serve a Chardonnay (many Chardonnay lovers in both of our families) and something light and easy, like a Pinot Gris. This being Oregon, it’s probably sacrilege to not serve a Pinot Noir but considering that it’ll be midwinter, we’re opting for bigger, heavier wines. My fiancé loves chewy, big, tobacco-y Italian bottles and I am partial to herbaceous, earth French goodness, so we’ll probably veer in that direction for the reds.

KB: We’re pouring local wines and getting a ½ keg of beer.


What will you be toasting with? Will you be drinking the same thing as your guests?  

TH: While I love the idea of treating everyone to a big Champagne toast, we’ll be raising glasses with whatever people already have in-hand. That way, we can save the fancy bubbly for just the two of us once we’re out of our wedding cloud and back to real life!

KB: We’re letting people toast with whatever is in their glass.

MR: We’ll probably serve a crémant for the toast. My fiancé and I will be drinking something special that is also yet-to-be-chosen—it’s really important to me that we toast with something wedding-day special on our actual wedding day, and unfortunately, we can’t afford vintage Champagne for everyone at the wedding. I’ve been to a few friends’ weddings where the bride and groom sipped Krug while the rest of us toasted with prosecco, and I didn’t feel anything but excited for them, so I am hoping that no one really minds. Plus, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t really care, which is hard for me to wrap my head around, but I know is true. I’d like to have enough good Champagne on hand to share with those who do care, and something good but budget-friendly for those just want half a glass for the toasts.