Toasting the bride and groom with Champagne is de rigueur. But recently, couples hip (or is that hops?) to craft beers are shaking up the wedding reception scene by insisting on serving the brews they love on their big day, everything from local ales to home brews concocted by the bride and groom.
It's not unusual for stouts and pilsners to flow at receptions or for rehearsal dinners to feature "beer flight" tastings of different craft brews. The high-end Baltimore caterer Chef's Expressions offers hors d'oeuvres consisting of a shot glass of beer and a burger slider.
One couple even set up tasting stations with beers from around the world, said Anja Winikka, site editor of TheKnot.com. Another couple who met in the Yukon served beer from Yukon Brewing in an ice-packed canoe.
When Julie Ho and Ben Rinn of New York City wed in April, they chose craft beers representing their Texas roots (Shiner Bock) and their college years at Johns Hopkins University (from local brewer Brewer's Art).
"A lot of weddings with beer you have your Coors Lights and your Bud Lights out," said Ho, who hired Chef's Expressions for the wedding at Johns Hopkins' stately Peabody Library. "We definitely wanted to have good beers out because we do enjoy drinking good beer. And then we also wanted to make sure we included what we like."
There's little danger Champagne will get knocked off its bridal throne, but the craft brew buzz running through the wedding scene is yet another sign that beer — once a workingman's beverage sold in pop-top cans — has successfully transformed into a respectable artisanal beverage suitable for nuptial toasts.
Americans have warmed up to hoppier, tangier brews, and the volume of craft beer produced nationwide has jumped 83 per cent since 2005, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group. Crucially, craft beers also have proven more female friendly. Unlike mainstream beer makers — who spend millions on commercials featuring man-children and their improbably hot girlfriends — the small-batch brews offer artisanal overtones and endless flavours.
But while craft beer has been making inroads for years, wedding industry people have really noticed its presence increasing in the last year or two. Winikka explained that the tradition-bound wedding industry tends to be slow to latch on to trends. She also noted that more couples are paying for their own weddings, and thus are less bound to expectations of what others want.
Plus, beer is really fun.
"What you're seeing is that instead of the signature cocktail — like the fruity, weird martini thing that a lot of people were doing five, 10 years ago — couples are saying, 'That's not really our style, so were going to do a beer flight at our cocktail hour,'" Winikka said.
Winikka, who is getting married in May, plans to have a beer flight at her own rehearsal dinner. Like Ho and Rinn, she and her fiance chose local beers that reflect their lives. Beers will represent where she grew up in Arizona, went she met her fiance in Kansas and where the couple lives in Brooklyn.
The brides and grooms demanding local brews are no different from the growing number of Americans scouting farmers market for local corn and grass-fed beef. And just as it has become easier to source food locally, it has become easier to find a local brewery. Jerry Edwards of Chef's Expressions points out that unlike wine, good beer can be made anywhere.
In Chicago, that means couples asking for beverages from hometown brewers like Metropolitan Brewing and Goose Island, said Dan Scheuring, event service manager of Blue Plate catering.
"When talking to the clients they want to bring in that one Chicago 'wow factor' for their out-of-town guests," Scheuring said.
And some craft brewers are starting to take note of the trend.
In Albany, C.H. Evans Brewing Co. has a beer trailer suitable for pulling up to wedding receptions. Brewer's Alley in Maryland offers a "Wedding Alt" (an altbier is a German-style brown ale) in bottles that can be customized with the newlyweds' names.
And last month, the nation's largest craft brewer, the makers of Samuel Adams beer, offered for one day only a "Brewlywed Ale." It was sold in wine-sized bottles with a sparkling wine-style cork.
Can't find the perfect beer to have and to hold on your wedding day? You can always brew your own.
Chris Lehr and his fiancee Robin made five different beers for their wedding in Austin, Texas, last year. This required a marathon 16-hour brewing day and for Lehr to truck in his kegerator (a small refrigerator built to hold a beer keg and fitted with a tap on top) to the reception.
Guests toasted the couple with Champagne while the wedding party toasted with a brown ale from northern California. But otherwise the alcohol choices were all barley-based: pale ale, India pale ale, German-style kolsch and honey hibiscus wit. They also gave away bottles of homemade porter.
"Everyone loved it. We had a few early evening casualties of people peeling off quickly because they over-enjoyed it." Lehr said. "But all in all, we had no complaints."
And the couple saved a growler of the porter to drink on their first anniversary.