So You Want to Have Craft Beer at Your Wedding

Craft-Beer-Wedding-Couple-Emily-Sauter

Illustrations provided by M Sauter, creator of Pints and Panels. See below.

Any beer lover knows, or will find out, that their wedding is going to be the most stressful beer-related activity of their life.  At a typical party or casual beer-tasting people bring six-packs and share. You want to avoid mistakes, like trying some really obscure beer from Niger at a bar that ends up tasting like instant hangover (Biere Niger).  At a wedding you are the sole host and it’s your responsibility.

Think about it.  All your friends who love beer are going to judge your selections and cast an opinion.  “A keg of Supplication?  Awesome!”  On top of this, you have non-beer drinkers and they’ll constitute a huge percentage of the wedding population.  “I like Fat Tire but not much else,” you might hear them say.  Or maybe even “All beer tastes the same to me, I can’t tell the difference.”  I got that one recently and just about shat myself.

So there you go; beer lovers on one hand, potential beer lovers on the other.  What you decide might bring people over to the beer loving side or drive them away forever.  Remember when you had that really crappy IPA as your first IPA and you believed you didn’t like hoppy beers?  Their fate lies in your hands.  Don’t.  Screw.  This.  Up.

What to Choose

I did a pretty extensive beer set-up at my wedding and get asked for selection advice all the time. No matter the weather, I always come up with the same suggestion: get something hoppy and refreshing. For example, a Pale Ale or Lager would be a good choice for the uninitiated and then buy something special for the serious beer drinkers.  Note: That something special shouldn’t be too extreme. The goal is to get the Pale Ale drinkers to try out the other beer and like it.

At my own wedding I had three kegs from Lagunitas Brewing: the Pale Ale, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Extra and Censored.  I was only serving beer and wine and due to the relatively young age of the 170 attendees, Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was my high-alcohol backup for when the other kegs got drained.  There’s nothing like an 8.8% beer to slow people down a bit.  Oh, and people were camping on site or within a block of the hotel. I don’t recommend this setup for all weddings.

So a nice crisp beer along with a stronger amber beer does the trick.  There’s a reason you don’t see Stouts and Lambics at weddings too much.  The beer has to taste good, but you want to be able to drink at least six of them no problem. If you plan on dancing pretty hard, make it ten. The beer also needs to go with whatever dish you’re serving, so don’t get too crazy or else you’ll end up with half a keg of beer that will probably go to waste.

If you’re on a tight budget, my best advice is to get some coolers, ice, and hit up the local Costco for some cases of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Lagunitas IPA. They’re cheap and bottles can be self-distributed at the wedding. Guests can just reach in and grab one, but you do have a waste issue with all the necessary recycling. Caterers might charge you extra for hauling everything away.

Setup a Draft System

My catering company of choice was going to charge me so I decided to spend half that cost on a tap system in the interest of saving money and the environment. Here’s the setup I built. I bought a CO2 tank (20lb), two taps, all the hoses and regulators, and built my own bar.  The catering company brought beer glasses instead of champagne and it all worked out great.  The person bartending only had to pour wine while everyone gleefully poured his or her own beer right out of the tap.  “Just like at the bar!” some would yell.  It gives your wedding something unique people will remember.

Caution:  Most people don’t know how to pour from a tap. They’ll screw it up and get foam everywhere.  If I could have changed anything I would’ve posted a simple diagram showing how to pour a pint.

I spent about $400 on the whole bar system and kept in the end. When comparing the cost of hiring a bartender, beer, and renting equipment, buying the draft system made more sense. You might as well just buy it yourself.  I mean come on. You were going to get it at some point, right? Right? I purchased everything from Micro Matic.

A Few Parting Words

So remember, get Pale Ale or Lager and something a little stronger for the wedding.  If you go with a Hefeweizen you run the risk people not liking it because it tastes like bananas.  You could go with a cider, but who can really drink more than a few pints of that, especially non-cider drinkers.  Don’t bring out the big guns, but don’t give up and just get Anchor and Trumer. You can do this.  I have faith in you.

If you’re already married and served craft beer, share your selections and advice in the comment area below.

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Illustrations for this post were graciously provided by M Sauter, creator of the website Pints and Panels, where she uses her skills as a cartoonist to review beer. Check it out!

Q&A with Bay Area Ex-Pat and Homebrew Competitor Dwight Mulcahy

Dwight-Mulcahy-Portrait

In his nearly five years in the Bay Area Dwight Mulcahy discovered homebrewing, entered dozens of brewing competitions and brought home quite a few ribbons for his collection. In December, however, this “intensely competitive” homebrewer left the Bay for San Antonio, Texas. Now, nearly 6 months away from the place where he learned to love brewing and competing, Mulcahy talked to BACB about the Bay Area homebrew community, competitions and how he’s come to further appreciate the Bay Area beer scene after being away.

How long have you been brewing?

I’ve been brewing for 6 years now thankfully most of it in the Bay Area so I learned a lot.  I find myself brewing about every 2 weeks now.  I give away more beer then I drink!

What is the benefit for a homebrewer to compete?

Several.  If you are new to homebrewing it gives you an idea of how well you are able to brew the style in question.  If you are a seasoned homebrewer it gives you a measurement against your fellow peers, especially in the Bay Area.  The level of competition in the Bay Area is world class.

Why do you compete?

In the beginning I had challenged myself to create and design recipes that would win medals.  It has also been great to get the kudos from some of the county’s top BJCP Master level judges. I originally started because my club was having a “HomeBrewer of the Year” competition, which I won. I’m increadibly competitive, and it has since become an addiction.

Could you say a little about the culture of craft beer and homebrewing in the area?

The amount of world-class craft beer available in the Bay Area is only topped by a couple of areas in the country.  The availability of craft beer from Russian River, Moylan’s, Firehouse, Anchor, and many more help drive the creativity of homebrewing in the Bay Area.

The level of competitors in the Bay Area is unheard of: Jamil, Tasty McDole, Mike Riddle, Nathan Smith, Aryln Jones, etc.  You have to bring out your best to get any ribbons against these guys.  Although the level of competition is fierce, the respect, sharing and help any competitor will anyone is one of the driving forces in giving more people “the competition bug.”

What is one of your favorite homebrewing competitions in the area?

World Cup is fun because it is one of the first competitions of the year, and everyone comes out beers a blazing!  They have a party over at Trumer Pils after the judging with food and music on site.  They announce the awards there and give out a lot of swag for the winners.  It’s a great way to spend a day with your homebrew friends.

The CA State Competition is also close to my heart. The competition is tough here since this is one of the last comps of the year and everyone has fine-tuned their beers.  The final judging is done at Stern Grove in San Francisco, so again the best of the best get together to party, talk beer and congratulate the winners.  They also give mugs if you get a first in your category.  I love all the ones I have.

What’s one of the most useful things you’ve learned about brewing from going to competitions?

How to make better beer.  Not from the competitions itself, but from discussing with my competitors on how to brew better beer.  I would typically get in touch with winners of the styles that I’m interested in and discuss how they did it. More often then not they would be forthcoming with suggestions on what they believe helped them win.  I mean really, as a homebrewer all we really want to do is talk about beer while drinking a well-made beer.

How does San Antonio’s beer scene compare to the Bay Area?

In San Antonio there are only three breweries/brewpubs within city limits:  Blue Star, Ranger Creek and FreeTail.

Blue Star has been around since 1996.

Ranger Creek is the only Brewery in San Antonio, but they are doing some exciting things.  They also are doing distilling on site.

FreeTail has recently opened in the past two years, and their flavor and charm comes from their Head Brewer Jason Davis.  He worked as a brewer for Celis till they closed.  You can see the influence in the experimental beers they brew.

Also, there are only two BJCP certified judges here in San Antonio (you read that right).  Luckily when an event needs judging there are some more in Austin and Houston area but they still typically only have one BJCP judge per table, it makes for interesting score sheets.

There are only about eight competitions during the year it doesn’t give you the same level of competition.  I have only personally entered four competitions this year, at this point last year I was probably at about 10-12.

How do you handle the big change?

Lucky for me, the Bay Area’s beers are just one shipment away (don’t tell!).

Bay Area Brewers Win U.S. Open Beer Championship Awards

Yesterday, organizers of the 2011 U.S. Open Beer Championship announced the results of this year’s competition and three Bay Area Breweries won medals: Moylan’s Brewery, 21st Amendment Brewery and Bison Brewing. The unique event pits professional brewers against award winning home brewers and accepts entries from around the world. Congratulations to our winners!

Here’s the results from the award winning categories:

English IPA

GOLD –  Green Monsta IPA – Wachusetts Brewing

SILVER –  Flyin’ HI.P.Hay – Maui Brewing

BRONZE –  Moylan’s IPA – Moylan’s Brewery

Imperial IPA

GOLD –  Hop Hedge – Deschutes Brewing

SILVER –  Swamp Ape IPA – Florida Beer Company

BRONZE –  Moylan’s Double IPA – Moylan’s Brewery

Strong Scottish Ale

GOLD –  Big Sound – Cigar City Brewing

SILVER –  Piper’s Scotch Ale – Sprecher Brewing

BRONZE –  Moylan’s Kilt Lifter – Moylan’s Brewing

American Pale Ale

GOLD – Teton Ale – Grand Teton Brewing Company

SILVER – Bitter American – 21st Amendment Brewing

BRONZE – Tap Room No. 21 Pale Ale – Tap Room No. 21 Brewing

Fruit/Vegetable Beer

GOLD – Wailua – Kona Brewing Company

SILVER –  The Sour Kraut – Neustadt Springs Brewery

BRONZE –  Hell or High Watermelon – 21st Amendment Brewery

Specialty / Anything Goes

GOLD –  Monk’s Indiscretion – Sound Brewing Company

SILVER – Monk’s Blood – 21st Amendment Brewing

BRONZE – Maui Onion Ale – Maui Brewpub

Best of Show Organic

GOLD –  Mothership Wit – New Belgium Brewing

SILVER –  Green Lakes Organic Ale – Deschutes Brewing

BRONZE –  Organic I.P.A. – Bison Brewing

Healdsburg Beer Company Releases The H Cubed to Celebrate Third Anniversary

Press Release:Healdsburg Brewing Logo

(Healdsburg, California.) Healdsburg Beer Company is proud to announce the release of “The H Cubed” Anniversary Ale to celebrating its third successful year in business. “It’s basically a riff on a Belgian Tripel,” said founder and brewer Kevin McGee. “We’re going to release it in July, to coincide with the third anniversary of the final licensing of my garage as a commercial brewery.”

“The H Cubed” is made with organic pilsner malt and a few other grains, imported Saaz hops, a good measure of local honey and the brewery’s house yeast strain. “I generally don’t make many high alcohol beers, but I love Tripels and for the anniversary I wanted to do something a little different. I’ve also wanted to work some local honey into a beer for sometime,” McGee said.

Founded by wine industry executive and entrepreneur Kevin McGee in his garage, Healdsburg Beer Company, with annual production of under 1,000 gallons, is one of the earliest breweries of what has become a national nano-brewery movement. “The popularity of nano-brewing is really incredible. When I started the brewery in 2007, I was able to find Two Beers Brewing Co. and Schooner Exact in Seattle, Breaker Brewing in Pennsylvania, Heater Allen in Oregon and maybe one other outfit on the East Coast, but other than the legend of Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head in 1995 that was it. Homebrew forums had no shortage of homebrewers wanting to open tiny breweries, but everyone seemed to think it was impossible.” That has changed. “I get a pretty constant stream of emails and calls about starting a nano-brewery. It’s great to talk to people from all over the country with the passion to get involved in brewing on a scale like this. No one thinks its impossible any more and it’s feeding and being fed by the momentum and power of the craft beer culture. It’s a great time for beer.”

Nano-breweries are generally defined (by vague consensus) as very small production commercial breweries, often operated by people who maintain non-brewing day jobs and serving hyper-local markets. Nano-breweries have experienced remarkable popularity in the past two years, with an unofficial tally (maintained by nano-brewery Hess Brewing) listing over 60 licensed and operating nano-breweries in the United States and over 40 more in planning. New Hampshire has recently enacted a licensing category for nano-breweries and the Federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau recognizes nano-breweries now and even has a FAQ entry for them.

A lawyer by trade and a graduate of the Executive Program at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, McGee came to starting Healdsburg Beer Company as an extension of his day job in the wine industry. “I had been doing a good deal of business planning and strategy at the time and had already gone fairly far down the rabbit-hole of home brewing.” McGee said. “I inevitably came home and penciled out a business plan for a commercial brewery I could run in my garage. The next day I showed it to my boss, almost as a joke, and he took it seriously and we spent the better part of a day working through it. At the end of the day, we were both pretty excited and thought it was a good idea. I went home and talked to my wife and we decided to go for it. My daughter was only a few months old at the time, but the signal from the baby monitor reached the garage so I was good to go.”

Looking back, McGee makes it clear that, while fun, it has certainly been a great deal of work. “The threshold problem was that no one made nano-sized brewery equipment. You had to design your own brewhouse, go hire a welder to put it together, source components and learn to wire your control panel and also find creative ways to manage fermentation temperatures.” McGee says that was just the start. “Then – the important part – you had to make the whole thing work, and work reliably, to let you brew consistent, exceptional beer. With new recipes. I’ve had a lot of late nights.”

With regard to the beer, McGee counts himself lucky to have a secret weapon – his wife. “As a nano-brewery,” McGee continued, “if you screw up and make something that’s not good enough to sell, you just lost several weeks of production and probably an account. There really isn’t any room for error – you can’t make marginal beer.” McGee’s spouse, Katee Pendergast-McGee, a professional photographer with a strong background in design, has directed and produced all of the imagery and merchandise for the brewery and is an integral part of the recipe development. “She’s got this amazing palate and tastes everything we brew with an eye on ‘do more of this, less of that.’ I’ve tried to mess with her by throwing in other commercial beers from time to time and she’s never been fooled.” The partnership is working, apparently, as each of the brewery’s year round offerings have been awarded medals from the US Open Beer Championship. “We take the beer very seriously.” McGee said. “I believe that at my size I have no excuse to cut any corners. It can be pretty labor intensive.” Apparently the beer drinking public has caught on, and is literally drinking the brewery dry. “I used to keep a keg on tap in the brewery for family and friends who came by – not anymore. Presently, I can meet about 20% of the current demand. In 2010 we tripled what we did in 2009 and we are on pace to double those 2010 numbers this year.”

After more than three years of work and late nights, McGee still says he’d do it again. “It’s been a ton of work, but I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done and the beer we produce. We’ve had such a great reception from the locals and gotten a lot of love from the professional community as well. I feel really honored to be part of the craft brewing community, even if it is just a nano-part.”

About Healdsburg Beer Company.

Healdsburg Beer Company is an independent and family owned artisan brewery. The brewery produces limited quantities of artisan cask ales using only the finest ingredients in laboriously attended to small lots. Healdsburg Beer Company produces three year round offerings, “The Fitch Cask” California Golden Ale, “The Lytton Cask” Robust Porter and “The Alexander Cask” English-Style IPA, as well as a continuously evolving selection of seasonal releases. For more information, come visit us at www.HealdsburgBeerCompany.com.