Working in a specialty beer shop means consulting about beer: providing guidance to get people into beers they’ll like, talking about the styles and flavors, directing to where a beer lives in the store; discussing availability, taking and advising on special orders…
The majority of special orders: Kegs.
May thru September I answer a lot of questions about draft beer for weddings.
Kegs are an interesting thing to advise on. Some of the strangest questions can come across as customer demands; how much beer to order is one of their biggest challenges.
The most repeated advice, “Don’t think of your reception as a kegger.”
How much beer do I need?
A lot of men think their wedding reception is going to be a keg party. Their eyes widen as they think about keg-stands. They think about the camaraderie around the keg, how people gather around a keg like they do a campfire. Bright red and blue cups, friends bonding and celebrating over brew.
To these men, I want to ask, “How does your wife envision the reception?”
Men, your wedding is your wife’s day. Likely she’s been thinking about it since a child. Most girls have wedding dreams. Did she dream of cups n kegs? More likely she dreamed of something… more civilized. A bartender serving glasses of delicious beer. A beer to quench the thirst of guests, promote conversation; she wants party memories to cherish.
Sure, once in a while there’s also a gal on board for a reception kegger. But are your guests expecting a wild keg party or just a good time while sharing in your day? Most likely the latter.
Guys, if you’re wanting a kegger and you know that’s not her dream, consider getting the massive keg for a holiday party (think: Halloween, Christmas Party, SuperBowl, Independence Day, Summer BBQ); have that awesome keg party when celebrating with friends as a married couple.
You don’t want to run out of beer until the end of the reception, or you only want a little leftover. And if you don’t over-order you could be saving yourself a couple hundred dollars that could be put into your honeymoon fund. I see a lot of wasted money each week, as keg shells are returned after the reception, nearly half we sell are returned still half full! A waste of money, a waste of beer. Delicious beer. Poor beer, now to flow down the drain. Money better spent elsewhere.
Who’s drinking beer?
The first question I ask, “How many guests do you have?”
A common number, 100–125. So, for sake of this note, let’s go with:
How much beer for 100 guests?
I counter-ask, “How many of those guests are kids?”
Funny how people don’t think about parsing the kids out of the equation when calculating alcohol. They’re already planning for delectable punch, that perfect blend of sherbert and soda. Or perhaps a Kool-Aid® in the reception colors. (Yes, guys, every wedding has its colors.)
So you rule out the underage, maybe about 20 guests are kids.
That’s 80 guests.
I probe further, “Will you also be serving wine? Hard liquor: spirits, shots, mixed drinks?”
Wine, yes. Wine and martinis. A red wine and a white wine, plus a margarita bar. One wine. A selection of wines. Wine and… Scotch. Rum. Gin. Bourbon. Vodka. Tequila. Champagne.
I continue, “How many of those 80 are wine drinkers?” … “How many drink spirits?”
We pull out the calculator and begin to subtract. The number of beer drinkers now far from 100.
This is where the answers go all over the board; sometimes the 60+% majority drink beer, other times we’re down to just 30–40% of the guests. If the number of beer drinkers is so few, I may ask if they’d consider cases instead of a keg, if their venue allows bottles.
I may see a panicky look on the face of the twenty-something groom-to-be. He thinks of his wedding reception as a kegger party, celebrating with his buddies. He wants a keg. He NEEDS a keg. This is his party too, dammit.
Calculating how much beer to get
Party planners say, “3 drinks per person.” So if 50 of your guests are beer drinkers, 50 × 3 = 150 drinks. If some of your beer folks sway into wine or spirits, likely another beer lover will have that fourth, so it generally works out in the end.
So, for 50 beer-drinking guests, that’s 150 glasses of beer.
Most American beers come in three sizes kegs, but not all breweries package in all three sizes. There are 1/2 barrels (full size), 1/4 barrel (pony keg), and 1/6 barrel (sixers, sixlets).
1/2 BBL = 165 glasses
1/4 BBL = 87 glasses
1/6 BBL = 55 glasses
So to get to 150, you could do:
- One half barrel
- One quarter barrel, one sixer
- Two quarter barrels
- Three sixers
Some folks choose two sixers or one quarter and have enough beer. It all depends on your friends. Your glass size. If you have a bartender serving. If folks can serve themselves. If there’s 21-patrol on a self-serve keg. Half-drank glasses abandoned on the table when your friends hit the dancefloor. A glass of punch. Or wine. That margarita. The champagne!! Coffee with a slice of wedding cake. The more beverage choices, the more distraction from the beer.
Unless the beer is the distraction…
What beer should I get?
A handful of craft beer drinking guys think about their preference, not so much their guests. A big, bold hoppy IPA or a rich, deep stout may be too extreme for the majority of their guests. If the grooms and his men enjoy a fuller flavored beer, consider getting a few bottles of crazy-bold craft beer for the main table and doing a crowd-pleaser as the other.
Lots of folks order American macro (e.g., Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Coors, Rainier, Blue Moon, Shock Top) or go hipster (e.g., Rainier, Olympia, PBR).
Others go with craft crowd-pleasing beers: Deschutes, Georgetown, Leavenworth, New Belgium, Samuel Adams, …
If you’re not hellbent on a keg for your reception and your venue allows bottles, this is where your bartender could really shine. A few varieties of beer, a mix case. A coffee beer to pair with the cake. A light and crisp lager for dance-floor or sunny afternoon refreshment. A caramelly-flavored ale or German-style doppelbock, something fruity, something bright with hops, and something dark… perhaps a few more daring, fun: imperials, seasonals, novelty. Taster sized. Full pours available.
My dream reception: A variety of craft beer; a special beer for every adult.
This dream reception, far from keg party.
But the bottom line, you need to do what’s right for your wedding celebration, whether keg, kegs, or cases. The consulting part of running a beer store is just to provide a little advice now and then. CHEERS!