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Serve Better Beer at Your Wedding, Damn It

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When I told my friend Rich that four-packs of Sip of Sunshine—a delightfully drinkable double IPA from Stratford, CT-based Lawson’s Finest Liquids Brewery—were spotted on the shelves of a local organic grocery store, his response wasn’t what I expected. I know he loves this beer. Hell, he turned me onto it when he brought it back from one of his many forays into New England. We shared pours of that 16-ounce can happily, and it inspired a love for the beer in me that has made it a staple any time I visit a state that distributes it.

But rather than asking what I thought would be the follow-up question: Where can I get this stuff and can we go RIGHT NOW? Rich’s response was more akin to existential rage—a condition all too constant in those trapped in the midst of the industrial wedding complex.

I forget his exact words, but “Damnit” probably sums it up.

And it wasn’t because he’d fallen out of favor with the beer. Quite the contrary. But he was in the tail end of planning his wedding, a big to-do in the nuptial Mecca that is Newport, Rhode Island. He and his now-wife are unabashedly enthusiastic lovers of craft beer. In fact the wedding, which took place on a picture-perfect evening last August, had an army of guests that his bride Allison met while working at The Brickskellar, a now-closed tavern in our home town of Washington, DC, that was one of the first to offer craft beers from around the world to an ever-growing crowd of beer snobs, myself included.

His consternation was simply that, after a lot of wrangling, they’d decided to serve Sip of Sunshine at their wedding, and they were both looking forward to introducing that beer—or reuniting it, as the case may be—with the legions of out-of-town guests that would be in attendance. The beer was still fantastic, but I think Rich was worried that if people could get it readily at the local store, it wouldn’t have the same impact on guests.

Choosing that beer itself was a chore that neither bride or groom anticipated. They had wanted to secure beer from a local brewery, but the state laws that govern liquor distribution in Rhode Island (and many states hamstrung with arcane liquor laws like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts) made simply sourcing beer from a local brew-pub an impossibility. The wedding venue, planner, and catering teams worked diligently, and were able to secure a selection of beers that they could serve. And Sip of Sunshine made the list, as did a surprising 11th-hour inclusion of Vintage 2018 Sang Noir, a spectacular bottled dark sour from Portland, OR’s Cascade Brewing Barrel House that they were able to find, and that stood in as their version of the requisite Champagne. All this, along with cans of Flower Power IPA from Ithaca Beer Company.

By all accounts, the wedding was a huge success, and the large crowds of hung-over guests the next day proved that all the Sips of Sunshine and pours of Sang Noir—both of which were fully consumed—were enjoyed, perhaps too enthusiastically, by almost all in attendance. But it did indicate that, at least in some states and in certain venues, craft beer continues to play second fiddle to wines and champagnes at most weddings.

For the beer-loving soon-to-be-married set, there are some refreshing exceptions. Baltimore, MD-based Chef’s Expressions love to work with beer and offer hors d’oeuvres that join a burger slider with a shot of beer, and Blue Plate catering out of Chicago prides itself on finding ways to work with local breweries to add a wow factor for out-of-town guests. Brewer’s Alley, a Baltimore craft beer staple, offers a Wedding Alt with customizable labels, while Albany, NY-based C.H. Evans Brewing Company has a beer trailer ready to be pulled up to your wedding reception.

Is Rhode Island merely mired in legalese that prevents them from cashing in on the wider craft beer craze? Possibly. Brides magazine reported in late 2017 that craft beer bars at weddings were on the rise, while the wedding trend-spotting website Zola.com IDs craft beer selection as the fourth-most popular trend in wedding food and drink in 2018.

What beer you can serve at your wedding reception does mostly fall to where you decide to hold the reception. Rich’s venue accommodated him in ways that eventually erased any frustration they initially encountered when they tried to get local beer added to their menu.

Receptions in restaurants, likewise, fall into that same trap of being anchored by whatever alcohol they already serve—which, it should be noted, carries over into wine and spirits as well as craft brew and are typically broken out into three quality levels. Stage your event in a private venue, and you can bring whatever will fit into the trunks of the cars of all the people you can cajole to help. And loads of breweries will host wedding receptions, and possibly work with the bride and groom to make something for the special event. And of course, industrious couples with the right connections—or enough time to pull it off—can craft signature beers for their wedding. Sufferfest Beer Company got its start when founder Caitlin Landesberg’s wanted to serve her own low-gluten beer at their wedding.

That said, your craft beer selection might turn off a few less…exposed palates, so consider including a few macro-brews. They’ll probably be gone by the end of the night, and it’ll save you from seeing your hard-to-source craft beer getting half-consumed by guests who try it…and then leave it half-empty for the caterers to clear.

As for Sip of Sunshine and its place on the shelves of our local shops? Try as we might, for now it looks like that, like the wedding itself, was a one-time event.

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