When it comes to personalizing wedding drinks, more couples are going well beyond the signature cocktail.
Home-brewed beers, which are made and bottled mostly by amateurs, have been finding a place at weddings, where they are being served to guests during cocktail hours or given out as favors.
For some couples, home-brewing is a good way to showcase a shared hobby and passion.
The love of beer initially brought Mandy Naglich and Wesley Carmichael together. The two met in 2012 at a friend’s party in Austin, Texas. Naglich, now 28 and a freelance food and beer writer, had brought Shiner Light Blonde, a pale, lager-style craft beer, to the gathering.
“I didn’t want to drink the swill!” she recalled.
Carmichael, 29, was immediately impressed, and on their subsequent first date, he brought a six-pack of the same beer to share.
The couple began brewing their own beer over the course of their relationship and even entered, and won, home-brew competitions. When they moved to New York, Carmichael, an equity research analyst, fashioned a kegerator — a small refrigerator redesigned to store and distribute kegged beer — to fit into a closet in their small apartment in Manhattan’s financial district.
So after getting engaged in November 2016 in Bruges, Belgium (on a beer-tasting trip, of course), it was a given that they would brew beer for their wedding guests.
Together, they crafted 20 gallons for 140 friends and family members at their March 24 wedding at Vineyards at Chappel Lodge in Manchaca, Texas. The brews included their award-winning French saison renamed “Wedding Saison,” and an IPA called “Hoppily Ever After.”
In addition to providing something that friends and family can enjoy, home-brewing gives couples a chance to show off their creativity.
Lauren Johansen Sheppard, 32, a theater teacher at STAR Education, a nonprofit, after-school enrichment program in the Los Angeles school district, and Jason Sheppard, 43, the technical director at the theater arts department at Loyola Marymount University, brewed five different beers for their 2014 wedding in Los Olivos, California. Each had a wedding-themed name, with a custom label featuring a photo of the couple. Their brews included a Scottish ale called “Tie The Knot Scot” and a porter called “For Richer or Porter.”
Most couples who take on a wedding home-brew project will have some brewing experience, though usually on a small scale. Home-brew setups depend on the couple’s space (and commitment), but tend to fall into the 5- to 10-gallon range. (It’s even possible to brew beer on a stovetop with little more than a large pot and a vessel for storing the fermenting concoction.)
Ro Guenzel, the head of brewing at Bluejacket Brewery in Washington, says scaling up shouldn’t be too difficult. What’s important, he said, is keeping batches consistent. “Blending is your best friend,” he said.
“If you’re making a number of small batches, blend all those batches together to get an aggregate of what you’re making,” Guenzel said, noting that many professional breweries use this technique.
Bennett Buchanan, 33, a founder of Old Bus Tavern in San Francisco, made the transition from brewing at home to brewing professionally three years ago. He agreed that consistency is key, adding that, “Record keeping is really important, for home brewing and professional brewing.”
“The most important thing about serving home brew is putting your personal touch on the wedding,” he said. “That will come through more than anything.”
But Buchanan warns that “things can go wrong.”
Carmichael found that he had accidentally overcarbonated his IPA. “When I checked on it, beer spewed everywhere,” he said. “I had accidentally turned the pressure up way too high.” He released the pressure and within a few days, all was well. “There’s always some small problem, but they’re rarely big enough to ruin the beer.”
Risks aside, both Guenzel and Buchanan encourage beer lovers to take the home-brew leap. Both men also brewed beers for their weddings — Guenzel’s was in 2008; Bennett’s was last September.
Johansen Sheppard says that friends are still texting her photos of themselves with their wedding beers.
Most couples will save bottles for themselves to drink on anniversaries. Naglich said that she and Carmichael set aside some “Wedding Saison” in lieu of cake, noting that it’s a style that ages particularly well. Unlike cake.