Utah catering and event experts pour top-shelf wedding bar advice | By Pamela Martinson Olson, photographs by Kyle Johnson
From the cocktail hour to the Champagne toast, drinks are a key component of most modern weddings. They help you showcase your hometown, heritage, or personalities; can make good food stellar; and, let’s face it, will warm guests to both each other and the dance floor. They’ll need something to drink, after all, whether for hydration or social lubrication. When deciding what beverages to have on hand, consider the following: wedding season and setting, budget, menu, and your crowd. Invited a gaggle of gourmands? Emphasize fine wine. A ton of college buddies? Stock up on beer.
For make-it-your-own tips and inspired sips, read on. We’ve covered the cornerstones of a standard big-day bar—cocktails, beer, wine and bubbly, and nonalcoholic drinks—plus important practical matters and tasty food pairings. Salud!
In the Spirits
SHAKEN & HERBED In addition to adding some kick to a shindig, a good cocktail can be a conversation starter, especially when paired with brilliant bites. The current craze in cocktails comes straight from the garden: basil, thyme, and rosemary are finding their way into the glass, and local caterers have caught on. Mary Crafts of Culinary Crafts serves Sorrel-Lime Coolers with shrimp and crème fraiche on a cucumber crisp. For fall, Maxine Turner of Cuisine Unlimited loves crisp apple cider cocktails with rosemary syrup and a roasted apple chip garnish paired with filo bundles of brie, pear, and almonds.
THEME PARTY Complete a specialty menu with matching cocktails. For festive Mexican small plates catered by Rico, Frida Bistro, or Red Iguana (think a taco buffet, chorizo masa cakes, and Oaxacan cheese empanadas), offer a fresh margarita base that guests can doctor with huckleberry, orange, and cucumber purées or syrups. Check out Vida Tequila, produced in Mexico but owned by Utah-based duo Lisa and John Barlow.
SPIKE THE PUNCH If your guest list is large, consider cocktail punch, a remnant of swinging eras gone by that is chic again. Scott Gardner, award-winning mixologist at Finca, says punch bowls garner the same level of social swarming as office water coolers, and, “They are perfect for weddings because all of the effort goes in beforehand.” He suggests bright, citrusy concoctions like his Erskine’s Punch, based on a classic cocktail called the Boulevardier: a smooth but potent concoction of bourbon, Cognac, Campari, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, lemon juice, cold water, and cava.
Whenever any alcohol is involved and your venue isn’t within walking distance to hotels, consider providing transportation for your guests. Coordinate with your event planner, or contact a local service like All Resort Express for options.
PERFECT PAIRINGS Personal preference and budget will play a part in your wine selection, but having at least two reds and a white should cover your bases. “Whenever I get asked about selecting wine for a wedding, I always lean toward sub-$15 bottles that are unconventional, interesting, and way better than your guests would expect,” says Scott Evans, owner of Pago and curator of its award-winning wine list. For white wine, he recommends Alzania Blanco, a Chardonnay/Muscatel blend ($13). “Everyone loves or hates Chardonnay, and this Spanish blend can be compelling for the naysayers and the groupies.” Pair it with chilled shrimp, polenta cakes, oysters on the half shell, or grilled artichokes with lemon aioli. For the red, try Solar de Randez Rioja ($10). “One of the best $10 bottles on the shelf, period,” Evans says. “This pairs well with a broad range of dishes from braised meats to smoked chicken croquettas.”
ROSÉ-Y OUTLOOK Tracey Thompson, a wine educator and broker with Vine Lore, says rosé is especially versatile with food and not to be overlooked. She favors rosé from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France, and suggests pairing it with simple hamburgers and farmstead grilled cheese or prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and mushroom torte.
Anne McGarry with Bacchus Event Services says her favorite DABC Wine Store in Salt Lake City is the 255 South 300 East location. “The manager, Ron Harris, is especially knowledgeable and helpful.” She suggests couples ask Harris for vino recommendations. Or, hire a certified sommelier, like Bacchus’ Michael Roussin.
NEW BREWS A cup of Joe is comforting and will give guests the verve they need for a few more dances. “Ultimately, coffee is a drink that communicates hospitality,” says Josh Rosenthal of Salt Lake City’s Charming Beard Coffee. “Coffee is great at the end of a meal or with a dessert or a la carte wedding menu.” He says java pairs easily with pastries, crepes, or quiche, and suggests preparing it with the pour-over method because it “tastes great and is interesting to watch.”
TEATOALLERS Tea also has a place at weddings and can lend charm to your gathering. Imagine a garden reception where guests are quenched by gorgeous glasses of iced tea infused with local stone fruits like cherries and peaches. Or think about tea as a dessert pairing: serve jasmine tea with dark chocolate, or dragonwell tea with a chocolate almond tart.
MOCKTAILS Offer beverages sans alcohol that are just as fun and creative as the stuff with snuff. Every cocktail has a non-alcoholic companion, notes Mara Harwood of Events by LMG. “Serve a version of each and use different garnishes,” she says, suggesting a Ginger Lime Fizz, with or without vodka, garnished with either a skewer of blueberries or a lime twist.
BUDGET BEATERS If a full bar strains your bank account, serve just one signature cocktail as well as wine and beer. Anne McGarry with Bacchus Event Services says a basic beer and wine bar with mid-range alcohols for two- or three-hour time periods will cost you about $9-14 per person, while a full bar would run about $14-18 per person. Consider bubblies other than Champagne: “Prosecco, cava, and sparkling wines are all great options that are easy to fit into any budget,” says Tracey Thompson. She recommends Zardetto Prosecco ($16), Marques de Galida Cava Brut ($17), and Gruet Brut NV Sparkling Wine ($17).
DIY DRINKS Brew your own wedding beer with a little help from Salt Lake City’s The Beer Nut. Or, set up a DIY cocktail bar with simple ingredients, seasonal mixers, and pretty glassware. (Avoid blender drinks—you’ll save yourself from a sticky mess and hearing that annoying whirring sound all night.) We like a Bloody Mary bar with fresh local tomato and carrot juices, and crisp veggie garnishes.
TOW THE PARTY LINE Yes, rules are sometimes meant to be broken, but not Utah liquor laws. When it comes to deciding how to handle the bar, you have a few options: purchase and serve alcohol yourself (a good money-saver), speak with your caterer about their bar services, or hire a professional bartending service like Bacchus to purchase, deliver, and serve drinks. Keep in mind, hiring a bartender service transfers all liability to the company, which is insured and covered for such occasions. Whether you provide your own liquor or hire a caterer or bartender to handle it, all alcohol to be served in Utah must be purchased within the state. It’s a Class B misdemeanor to bring in and serve alcohol from anywhere else!
Send guests home with small packages of SLC’s Charming Beard Coffee and a fresh-baked treat as wedding favors. Breakfast is served!