How to Buy Wine and Beer for Your Wedding (or Giant Party)

Figuring out what liquor to serve at your wedding doesn't have to be stressful. Use this guide and you'll have the party starting in no time!

I am officially a newlywed. Married. A WIFE. And it feels great!

We got married May 9th and I am still wondering where all this time went. The whole month was a blur; a great, stressful, chaotic, beautiful blur. And now it is all over, and married life begins. I am so excited to start this new chapter. And, I have my brain back! (It was previously in wedding-planning mode for the last 9 months and my focus on everything else, including this blog, was pretty much shot).

If you are reading this post because you need to buy alcohol for your wedding, congratulations! Not only am I congratulating you for getting married, I am applauding you for choosing a wedding in which you can supply your own alcohol. This is one of the biggest expenses you can drastically cut for your big day--alcohol is a huge moneymaker for venues and caterers, often charging as much as 3x of the original cost of the liquor. Plus, I have been to weddings where the selections are pitiful--and still expensive! I don't necessarily plan to be drunk at most weddings, but I certainly don't expect to leave sober either because of poor selections and high prices. (Is my snobbery showing?)

Wine? Beer? Spirits? What do you Buy?

Andrew and I chose not to have a full bar, or any spirits at all for that matter, at our wedding. Why? First of all, providing a full bar is costly. There are the staples you must buy: rum, vodka, scotch, bourbon, gin...and then you have to get the mixers to go along with them. Then there's hiring a bartender to make these drinks. Providing spirits at your wedding is a very nice gesture for your guests that prefer it over beer and wine, but I'm telling you, its not necessary. On top of that, people tend to get a bit more "sloppy" when hard alcohol is in the picture, rather than just beer and wine. I once went to a wedding that turned into an absolute mess because everyone went overboard on taking fireball shots...as this is a fun thing to do at, say, a backyard bbq, decide on what kind of a wedding you want before providing these options.

How to Please Everyone with just Beer and Wine

Guests really aren't going to think "I can't believe there's no bourbon" at your wedding if you provide them with plenty of beer and wine options. The key to all of this is variety; sure Coors Light might be your cheapest option, but why not spice it up with different flavors for your craft beer drinkers? Depending on how many guests you have and how many cases you need to buy, you might as well provide as much variety as possible: rather than buying 6 cases of the same beer or wine, buy 6 different cases for all different kinds of tastes! Plus, this is a great way to personalize your wedding by expressing what you and your partner like to drink. Your guests will be impressed, I promise.

Different Beers to Supply

In order of importance, in my opinion:

  • American Lager. This can be your Coors Light, PBR, etc. Get a little more of this than other beers just to provide standard "drinking" beer for those guests that really don't care what they're drinking.
  • Amber Ale/Brown Ale
  • IPA or Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada is always an easy one)
  • Wheat/Fruit Beer. I supplied New Belgium's "Snapshot Wheat" ale which has some great fruity notes in it, but if you aren't feeling as adventurous, Pyramid Apricot Ale or even Blue Moon or Shock Top will be safe choices.
  • Pilsner. In addition to your standard American Lagers, why not provide some good craft pilsners for guests that want something light, but want to actually taste something in their beer? hehe. A good example of this would be North Coast Brewery's Scrimshaw Pilsner.
  • Porter. I served Anchor Porter at my wedding for the dark beer drinkers. Its my favorite porter out there.

**Worried about seeing bottles and cans of beer at your wedding? We provided mason jars for everyone to pour their beer and wine into (we had a backyard wedding so this was appropriate). If you are really worried, make a sign near the bar area asking guests to pour their beers into their personal glasses. But don't worry, you will be so busy at the wedding that you won't notice any bottles out anyway.

Different Wines to Supply

In order of importance, in my opinion:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • Bubbles--Prosecco and Cava are great values
  • Malbec or Zinfandel

**You don't have to break the bank when buying your wine options, but don't be too cheap, either. You can find decent wines in the $8-$12 price points (and even a little lower for pinot grigio and malbec sometimes) that will work well for your wedding. Remember to shop at a liquor store, not a grocery store, to get the best selection and pricing. Plus, places like Total Wine & More and BevMo will usually offer case discounts, great for buying in bulk for parties like your wedding.

Bubbly for the Toast

Don't forget about the toast! If you are serving everyone full champagne-glass portions of bubbly, average about 4 glasses per bottle (each champagne flute holds 6 ounces). Therefore, for 45 people, I would purchase 1 case (12 bottles) for the toast. By the way, you don't need champagne for this toast. We poured prosecco for our toast, each bottle costing around $11. There are cheaper options, such as Cava, but don't go too cheap if you don't need to--it is your wedding after all.

Non-Champagne Options to Pour for your Toast:

  • Prosecco: good value, usually $10-$18 a bottle
  • Cava: another good value, some are as low-priced as $6-$10 a bottle
  • Domestic Sparkling: a little pricier, but incredible. My favorite producers are Schramsberg, Roederer Estate, and Iron Horse. $25-$45 range

How Much to Buy

We had a guest count of 45 people. I purchased 11 cases (24 bottles each) of beer and 5 cases (12 bottles each) of wine, and we came back with about 3 cases of beer and 3 cases of wine. Did I order too much? I don't think so, as now we can drink the leftovers and didn't run out of anything at the wedding. Your calculations might be different than mine depending on what kind of drinkers your guests are, so just use your best judgement.

This was my theory behind what to buy--knowing our guests, I knew more beer would be drank than wine. I averaged 5 bottles of beer for each person (knowing some would drink more and some would drink less over the course of the 8 hours of our party). For 45 people, that would be 225 bottles, or approximately 9.5 cases total. I rounded up to 11 just to be safe. If you have a shorter reception, I would average more like 3 or 4 bottles per person.

For wine, I averaged about a bottle of wine per person. I know this is more than everyone would actually drink, but about 3 glasses per person amounts to more than a half a bottle. If your party doesn't have many wine-drinkers or if the reception is fairly short, planning for half a bottle per person is adequate. For wine, however, you also need to factor in spillage. Without a bartender, more bottles than needed will be opened and glass pours will probably be heavier.

I know all these calculations seem way over what you actually need, but remember that it is always better to have more than enough than having to make someone run to the store to get more alcohol in the middle of the reception...there's nothing worse than having a party end because the booze is gone!

I hope this post was helpful to all you soon-to-be-married couples out there! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. And remember that this is a fun part of the planning for your wedding; choose drinks that reflect you as a couple, while picking up a few other things for guests who may not have the same tastes as you. And on a last note, have a great time at your wedding; it truly can be the best day of your life if you let it be.