A party-time necessity
July 6, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Our wedding is in two weeks, and we are stocking our own bar. Problem is, we have absolutely no idea what to buy. How much alcohol do we need for 100 people, and what kinds? More details within.

- There will be 100 people, about 90 of whom are drinkers (ranging from "glass of wine with dinner" people to "bottle of wine per hour" people).

- It is an evening wedding. The bar will be open from 5-11 p.m. My guess is that a lot of the older guests will head out around 9 or 9:30.

- About 45-ish of the guests are young people who are likely to mostly drink beer, and to drink a fair amount of it. (Also, we are ordering pizza for dinner, so I suspect that people will be more beer-inclined generally.) We are open to getting a keg but also we don't know anything about that. Bottles are fine too, but we've never thrown a party for 100 people and probably a few cases of PBR won't cut it.

- We would like to have a "full bar" but we don't really know what that entails. What kinds of liquor do we need? What about mixers? Stuff like olives or limes? Do we have to have those things? We are not huge drinkers of hard alcohol, so we just don't have a sense of what kinds of alcohol would comprise a full bar. Hard alcohol drinkers, what would you expect us to have?

- What are some good white or red wines in the $10-15-ish range? Available at Trader Joe's or Binny's is a big plus.

- We can return any unopened bottles to the liquor store after the wedding, but for obvious reasons we'd prefer not to lug tons and tons of stuff back (or spend the money in the first place on lots of alcohol we won't use).

- We have 2 professional bartenders working the event. They bring cocktail shakers and bottle openers and stuff, but that's it.

HALP. This sounded so straight-forward when we decided to do it, but it is suddenly extremely complicated. Thanks in advance for your help.

(I saw this question, but a lot of the answers focused on drink recipes and/or liability insurance, neither of which are issues for us.)
posted by goodbyewaffles to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Beer: 5 to 6 cases
Whiskey: 1 liter
Bourbon: 1 liter
Gin: 2 to 3 liters
Scotch: 2 liters
Light rum: 1 liter
Vodka: 5 liters
Tequila: 1 liter
Champagne: 1 to 1 1/2 cases
Red wine: 2 cases
White wine: 3 1/2 cases
Dry vermouth: 1 bottle
Sweet vermouth: 1 bottle

DIY Reception Ideas: How to Stock the Bar at Your Wedding Reception
posted by quodlibet at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

Kegs will cut down on litter. Cocktail menus will cut down on complexity of what to stock. Can't speak for the numbers.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:09 AM on July 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Would you consider having a few themed cocktails, like maybe 3-4 with set ingredients, and having those be the hard liquor option in addition to beer or wine? That will really cut down on leftover random liquor, as well as reduce complexity for the bartenders, possibly speed service, etc. Plus, it's festive!

Unfortunately I can't speak to amounts, but don't forget to also stock soda (at least Coke or Pepsi, Sprite, club soda, maybe root beer if kids are coming)!
posted by c'mon sea legs at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I did this for my own wedding almost five years ago. It's definitely the way to go as you can save a lot of money by stocking a bar yourself versus hiring a catering company. It sounds like you have some good ideas already, so some of what I say may be repetitive, but here are some initial rules:

1) You can NEVER have too much ice.
2) Buy all alcohol at a store where you can return unopened bottles. Then buy way more then you need. It's an open bar and people will take advantage of it. I was shocked at how little I had to return.
3) Don't forget to get plenty of mixers.
4) Make a deal with the liquor/beer store for 10-15% off your entire purchase.
5) Professional bartenders are a resource -- ask them to assess your needs.

This is what I would get:

Beer: Two different kinds. Something basic like Miller Lite or Bud Lite and something higher quality like Sam Adams. Kegs can be economical, but are also a pain in the butt. I would go bottles with an agreement that you can return any unopened cases.

Wine: A red and a white. Champagne also (if you want it). Ask the liquor store your dealing with to cut you a deal on something. It doesn't really matter what brand just pick something in your price range. I'm sure the store has something they'll cut you a deal on -- just take that.

Liquor: Vodka (Smirnoff, Svedka), Gin (Bombay, Beefeater), Rum (Bacardi, Mount Gay), Scotch (some cheap blend and whatever 10 year old the store will cut you a deal on), Tequila (ask the store for a 100% agave in the $20-$30 range -- no Jose!), Bourbon, and a couple of random bottles that guests may enjoy (spiced rum, flavored vodka etc.)

I know you said you don't want to lay out that much money, but you should really just way overbuy on everything. 6-7 liters of each type of liquor, 7-8 cases of each type of beer, and a case or two of each type wine should do the trick. Buy more if you're concerned about running out -- remember you can always return it.

posted by Mr. X at 8:23 AM on July 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are numerous online calculators that may help you.
Maybe try out a few to see what numbers they give you?
Here is one from evite, real simple, and something called the wedding alcohol calculator.
posted by Snazzy67 at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2013

Summer wedding - people will drink gin & tonic, martinis, vodka/ bourbon/ rum/ scotch/ with Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, club soda, tonic water, lemonade (or sour mix), cranberry juice, maybe orange juice. Lots of limes, lemons, oranges, olives.

We did this at our wedding, and I would also recommend signature cocktails, and the classics. Gin & Tonic, Rum punch, Cape Codder, which can be made in batches and served in pitchers. Then you could stock a more basic bar of Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, club soda, tonic water, along with the variety of liquor, plus sweet and white vermouth for martinis and manhattans. The bartender at our wedding poured very heavy drinks - you might want to talk to the bartenders. A typical recommendation is to start the evening with a slightly heavier pour, then normal to light as the evening progresses. We ran out of most liquor by 9:30 or so, which was fine, the beer, wine and champagne lasted till 11. We had a 20 minute ferry ride back to shore, which was a bit sobering.

Go to Trader Joes or, better, ask around for the best wine store. Ask for help choosing wines that will be widely popular and good, and ask for case pricing. The staff at my Trader Joes are helpful and knowledgeable. Mazel tov.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2013

Take into consideration the wine drinkers who drink dry wine. It's very easy to get sweet white wine and a sweet red wine and leave nothing for those folks to drink. So go with a sweet white and a dry red.
posted by Brent Parker at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2013

Also please take into consideration those who prefer the low-calorie versions of their drinks. While you're stocking up on mixers, grab a bottle or two of diet coke as well!
posted by cgg at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

So go with a sweet white and a dry red.

Where I am white wine drinkers will go mental if you follow this. Come on, it's white wine. A sav blanc offends no-one. Sweet white offends almost everyone.
posted by pompomtom at 9:02 AM on July 6, 2013 [22 favorites]

However much vodka you buy, buy and stash at least two extra bottles for later. Everybody seems to drink it and weddings always run out.

Favorite white wine down here in the eternal summertime is pinot gris/grigio.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2013

I can't help you in any way except to echo pompomtom and say that, whatever you do, don't buy sweet white wine.
posted by mr_silver at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't have a lot of money, and it's a casual "ordering pizza" type of wedding reception (i.e. not a sit down catered multi-course affair), don't go with a full bar. It's expensive, and, seriously, you're having pizza for the food. Only the biggest jerk ever is going to be mad that they couldn't have an appletini with their pizza. Just do beer and wine.

If you have a lot of friends who drink neither beer nor wine, and you want to make them happy, I would do one cocktail that you decide on in advance, and only buy the things to make that cocktail. (You should also do beer and wine in this case.) I have been to weddings that did this, and I didn't hear anyone complaining about how they REALLY needed that appletini with their pizza, but the only cocktail available was a gin & tonic and waaaaaaah. (And anyone who does that is a jerk, anyway.)

Go cheap on the wine, because it's being paired with pizza and this is not a wine tasting, it's a wedding. And don't forget the champagne! (I would pick something different to serve for dinner and bring out champagne when it's time for The Toast.) Go with Cava, Prosecco, or another more accessible sparkling wine instead of really fancy French champagne.

For beer, I'd probably do kegs and get one domestic light beer for the folks who do that, and one more interesting beer that pairs well with the pizza, is available in kegs, and is affordable, for the folks who are more into beer.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2013 [15 favorites]

Best answer: For a gathering like that, I would go with two wines, whatever the most acceptable white and red are. (If it was me, I'd buy something like sauvignon blanc and something like a shiraz).

Three beers. A macrobrew light, a macrobrew full flavor, and something a little more hearty. The places I've been usually have something like Miller Lite, Budweiser and Sam Adams.

As for the full bar and spirits, I wouldn't go full bar, but more like adequate. Vodka, gin, bourbon, tequila. And maybe a blended whiskey like CC or VO. Coke, diet coke, 7 Up, Squirt. Club soda and tonic. Sour mix. Limes and lemons.

Or, maybe even forget about a self service bar and just pre mix some standard cocktails. Margaritas on ice and manhattans (or martinis). Bonus points if you can rent a machine that keeps them chilled and serves them up for people.

Whatever you do, stay within a tight band of "top shelf"-ness. People will devour whatever the most expensive thing is, and leave the junk. So make sure everything is more or less the same level of quality or you will be stuck with it.

And yes, assign someone responsible to be the "bar back" and don't bring everything out at once. You'll end up with three half full bottles of everything that can't be returned. And a bunch of drunk people.

Finally, survey your guests. See what they like and what they will drink. Forget appropriate and go with what works.
posted by gjc at 9:42 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd also agree with cutting the bar and doing a few signature cocktails at most. Honestly I'd cut it altogether. Don't forget plenty of diet sodas. Most people I know drink diet and would LOVE more than one diet option (diet Coke AND diet Dr. Pepper? Awesome!)

For wines I agree with Sara C., keep it inexpensive. A pinot grigio or a sauv blanc for the white, a rioja or a malbec for the red, and definitely do an accessible dry sparkler instead of Champagne.

I disagree with the keg idea. Kegs are great for limiting waste, but they also limit options, which is boring if you're a beer lover. My mom's wedding had Bud, Bud Light, and Fat Tire--I drank wine that night. You also can't return the beer in a keg, nor does it last more than a day or two post-event and there is nothing worse than trying to kill a keg of beer that you don't really like in the first place.

Half of your guests are big beer drinkers and you're serving pizza for dinner, so why not make it fun and get a bunch of microbrews? Then people can try something new, will have something to talk about, and you can use the leftovers or return them (or send people home with custom six packs as a wedding favor).

Sorry, I'm a beer geek.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am with Sara C. on this. Your party sounds cool, but it is not the sort of party where hard liquor is needed or appropriate. No one is going to complain thst they cant have a rum and coke with their pizza. Save yourself a lot of trouble and expense, and stick with beer and wine. That's what I would do on your shoes, and I am into spirits enough that my wedding was literally a cocktail party. If you really want to offer spirits, I would recommend making one gigantic recipe of an old school punch.
posted by slkinsey at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Some good advice above; I've also found this article very helpful in planning.
posted by lovableiago at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2013

Agreed with Sara C, you can TOTALLY skip the hard liquor for this one, or do one or two "signature cocktails" at most. At my wedding we did 4 beers and 6 wines + champagne, and nobody but NOBODY missed the hard alcohol.
posted by KathrynT at 10:25 AM on July 6, 2013

Best answer: I know enough to know it's not really a pairing.

Totally untrue. Pizza and wine is a thing.

Pairing wise, I'd do a simple fruit-forward red, probably on the lighter or spicier side. Pinot noir, grenache/garanacha, zinfandel, maybe shiraz. You might want to offer two or even three reds, depending on the type of pizza you plan to serve. (Meat Lovers' means definitely offer one deeper red option.) For white, yeah, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, especially if there are veggie, chicken, or "white pizza" options.

I could see choosing a chardonnay if you're getting married in California or the Finger Lakes, or a Moscato if you happen to know you have a lot of friends or family who like that. But I don't think either should be the only white you serve.

Guys I just decided to start a business where I make wine lists for people's weddings.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

Another vote for skip the hard liquor -- substitute root beer and lemonade!

Sounds like a yummy wedding.
posted by amanda at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sticking to beer and wine will also cut down on people getting rage-drunk on the hard stuff. An amateur drinker (or a problem one) can do a LOT of damage over the course of a six-hour open full bar. I think removing the hard liquor from the equation will remove a lot of potential drunk-drama.

I would also suggest lots of festive, non-booze liquids that aren't soda pop. It's nice for those of us who don't partake to have a cold bottle of mineral water in hand, or a nice iced tea with a sprig of mint. Maybe quality lemonade (the real stuff) + quality iced tea, so Arnold Palmers are on the menu?

This sounds like a fun, happy, wedding. I love the laid-back pizza approach. Enjoy!
posted by nacho fries at 1:18 PM on July 6, 2013

Some friends did a DIY bar for their wedding (UK), where guests brought along booze as part of the party. I did some serving and it was pretty weird as hardly anyone drank wine, we were throwing loads of hard liqour with mixers acorss the bar, some beer but hardly any wine. In the hour me and my SO were serving (both with professional bar experience) we got through less than 2 bottles of red and 1 white, while serving constantly. Someone told me this is a bit of a wedding thing (though obviously not where wine is served with dinner) (YMMV).

Are you serving the booze free? If so I would strongly advise leaving out the served to order cocktail list, people will be queuing for drinks and the best idea is to be going with a short list that the barkeeps can chuck over the bar as quick as possible (relying on tight measure control to keep the intake down, rather than irritate the consumers by being slow). Premix can help here though, by both making serving quicker, but also, and this is worth not underestimating, having fairly weak but tasty drinks which can be glugged into beakers but which don't lend themselves to people doubling and tripling up on the spirits and getting hammered; you want people to have a good time not spend the time stepping over the hammered and vomiting.

Think about having a chat to your professionals about what approach you want to cutting people off (especially any younger friends).
posted by biffa at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2013

Just piling on that we skipped liquor at my wedding save for a hidden bottle of Turkey for my wife's dad. My friends are drinkers and I assumed that if liquor was around at least some of them would get comically drunk, then drunker still. It can also be a little slow although that might not be an issue if you have two bars/bartenders. I don't think anybody missed it, but YMMV.

We did hire a bartender and her only job was to pour Sam Adams, Sam Summer, Miller Lite, or cheap red or white wine, into clear plastic cups, since our venue didn't allow glass (park). We bought enough beer for everyone - then a few more cases of the Miller Lite as an inexpensive "buffer" just in case everything else ran out so people weren't standing around dry. Toast was with Lindemans Framboise. Mazel tov!
posted by ftm at 1:53 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who dislikes beer and only sorta likes wine, I would definitely encourage you to have some kind of liquor option, but you don't have to go crazy. Some kind of "signature drink" would be great. I went to a wedding recently that has big jugs of pink lemonade that went great with vodka. Drank that all night (out of mason jars, of course)!
posted by radioamy at 2:45 PM on July 6, 2013

I've seen the DIY approach work well, too. I seem to remember a "beer and wine will be served, feel free to bring a flask of your favorite hooch" invite.

But this was among a group of older friends, for a later-life wedding, and was done with guests in mind who drank like goddamn sailors on leave...in other words, a milieu where exactly zero fucks were given about tradition and etiquette. Not sure if this would fly with your group, but it's an option.
posted by nacho fries at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2013

As a serious cocktail hound, I want to second all the various flavors of "you don't need/want to provide a full bar." It's frustrating for me to go up to a bar with obvious liquor bottles, and request something ordinary only to hear, "We can't make a gin and tonic. How about a rum & coke instead?"

A full bar implies choices you won't be able to meet. A drink list implies the opposite, so if you do liquor at all, provide a short list of drinks your tenders can guaranteed make. If something else is possible, yay, but no one's going to be upset if they can't get W when only X, Y, and Z are listed.

Or no liquors at all. Your call.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:24 PM on July 6, 2013

I would consult with your bartenders. It's fine to do "Beer, wine and cocktails:" and then list a couple of basic cocktails, like Gin and Tonic and Jack and Coke, and a swishier cocktail like a cosmo or sidecars. Both cosmos and sidecars can be pre-mixed and then shaken with ice to decant, so that's a win.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:53 AM on July 7, 2013

DarlingBri: Both cosmos and sidecars can be pre-mixed and then shaken with ice to decant, so that's a win.
Cosmos are decidely a past-fad, at this point. They became "a thing" largely due to Sex and the City; the movie after the series ended even went so far as to declare them "over". (Not that I EVER watched that show! No sirree, how about them Mets?)
Cosmopolitan popularity, by Google hits
posted by IAmBroom at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't really do cocktails fads; I mean, I don't think the sidecar has been "in" since Prohibition, but it is still my favourite cocktail. Faddish or not, the cosmo is still delightful. And, critically, with that mix, you have gin, Jack, vodka, triple sec, Cointreau, and cognac behind your bar and you can make a much larger variety of cocktails without additional mixers.

But sure, if cosmos are uncool, make Hollywoods or whatever instead.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2013

Best answer: Congrats on the wedding!! Here is what I would do, below...but that's skewed to my friends and family, who are all average-to-heavier drinkers. I feel like so many people drink vodka, and that between that, gin, and whiskey, you can be covered with hard liquor drinkers. I would also maybe poll 2 people from each demographic group you're inviting to check in. Also better to buy too much!!
Light Beer - 4 cases
Local microbrews - 4 cases
Mid-range Vodka - 6 bottles
Mid-range Whiskey - 3 bottles
Mid-range Gin - 3 bottles
Club soda - 5 liters
Tonic water - 5 liters
Diet coke - 4 two-liters
Coke - 4 two-liters
Citrus- 20 limes? 20 lemons? I have no clue here I guess 4 drinks/1 lime...
Cheap red wine - Malbec? - 15 bottles
Cheap white wine - Pinot?- 12 bottles

I think this would be "over ordering" but I think it would be the worst thing to run out of booze at your wedding.
posted by manicure12 at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all! I'll update after the wedding and let you/posterity know what we bought and if we ran out ;) HOPEFULLY NOT. That would be a disaster.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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