Just Married

Nearly every home brewer that is planning a wedding wants to involve their own beer in one way or another. There are multiple approaches to achieving this goal including handing out parting gifts to their guests, special keg tappings at some point in the evening, or simply using a homebrewed beer for the toast. Me? I of course had to take it one step further and decided to only serve beer that I brewed myself to our 220 guests. Very quickly I realized that this was going to be quite an undertaking and set out to create a plan. Step one was to decide how much beer I would need and what styles I was going to brew. Step two was to brew all that beer! Step three was to determine how to make the bars “plug and play” to serve all of that beer at once without my assistance. Step four was to determine the equipment needed and then make, buy, or borrow all of it. Finally step five was execution and getting all the beer in place for the wedding.

The bar in full swing

Step 1: The caterers recommended that we stock at least two bars. At first I wanted to stock both bars with the same 4 styles so that each bar was the same. After some prodding from friends I decided to do 8 different styles and put 4 at each bar. The reason we chose 4 at each bar was because my friend Todd and I built matching jockey boxes with 4 faucets in each. I called one bar “America” and the other “Europe” so that helped determine what styles would be brewed. Choosing to bring 8 different styles was a potentially risky decision. Having to nail 8 different recipes, with different yeasts, and aging requirements would prove to be very challenging. I only went for this because I felt confident in my brewing skills and most of the recipes had been tried out before. If you are new to brewing and cannot achieve repeatability, it may be wiser to stick to fewer styles. After making that decision, next was to determine quantities of each style and brewing schedule. I know everyone loves IPA’s and lagers so I brewed the most of those. Here is how it all broke down:

1st – American Stout – 1 – 10 gal batch
2nd – English Brown – 1 – 15 gal batch
3rd/5th – Oktoberfest – 2 – 10 gal batches
4th – Saison – 1 – 10 gal batch
6th – American Pale – 1 -15 gal batch
7th – American Amber – 1- 15 gal batch
8th/9th – IPA – 2 – 15 gal batches
10th – Hefeweizen – 1 – 15 gal batch

I knew there would be extra beer but I didn’t want taps to start kicking which would make people switch to styles they would not enjoy. This volume worked out to 0.59 gallons per person and at the end of the wedding we finished about 100 gallons or 0.45 gal per person. This was even with a full open bar including wine.

Close up of the tap handles

Step 2: I pretty much spent all summer brewing these batches and getting them into kegs, many of which were borrowed from friends. Once all the beer was brewed the challenge wasn’t complete. I had to get all of the kegs cold and carbonated. I pulled my two big fermentors out of their upright freezers and was able to fit 11 kegs in the large upright and 5 in the smaller one. I also fit 10 kegs in my lagering fridge, and then put the final 2 in my kegerator. Being able to keep the kegs cold right up until the day I brought them to the venue was integral to the successful serving at the proper temperature. I cannot stress enough that it is very easy to lose these beers in the cellar and it would have been very embarrassing to serve flat beer. I spent three weeks leading up to the wedding getting all these kegs carbonated and tasting to ensure all the beer was up to par.

Large Upright with 11 kegs conditioning

Step 3: It was very important that this setup run smoothly without the need to continually change kegs. On your wedding day you will not have time to teach this to the bartenders and you will not have time to do this yourself. The goal was to set the kegs up so that the bar tenders could pull the faucet until it blew foam. This was accomplished by “jumping” the kegs of the same style together. A jumper was simply a short length of tubing, generally 1 ft or less, connected to a beverage and a gas disconnect on each end. By connecting the “beverage out” post to the “gas in” post, you could essentially make one large keg. To set this up you connect the last keg to the gas, then jump it to the remaining kegs of that style until the last beverage line went to the faucet. Next you systematically purge the air from the relief valve from the first keg backward to the last until beer starts coming out the relief. When the tap handle is pulled, gas is pushed into the last keg, moving beer forward through the kegs until there is no beer left. As the kegs empty, the last ones just fill with CO2 while the ones closest to the faucet remain full of beer.

Keg Jumpers

To help the cold plates work most efficiently, I had the jockey boxes setup with hoses pressed into the drain plugs to continually remove the cold water into a bucket and keep the plates on ice. To keep the cold plates form working overtime, I made 28 keg cozy’s from reflectix insulation which would help keep the beer cold once I took them out of the refrigerators. Wrapping the kegs with reflectix had a profound effect and the kegs with beer left in them were all still cold two days later! In fact, the reflectix worked so well, the jockey boxes did not need to be re-iced during the entire wedding.

Mobile Draft Tool Box

Step 4: Now that the plans were in place, it was time to start acquiring all of the support equipment. I borrowed kegs and quick disconnects from 5 different homebrewing friends (thanks Tim, Tom, Todd, Adrien, and Boyer!) I made the 16 beverage to gas jumpers which was a tedious task and set up two 4 way gas manifolds to distribute the CO2. I created a tool box in an ammo can containing tools that could be used to fix any hardware problems. This included wrenches, a faucet wrench, spare tap handles, tape, flashlight, hose clamps, sharpies, extra QD’s, screw driver, etc, I also emailed the caterers photos of three home brewers that would be in attendance that could address any issues since I would not have time. My friend Luke made me 8 custom tap handles turned from native Appalachian woods. My friend Dan made me matching custom wood facades so the guests would not see the cooler jockey boxes. I ordered custom 16oz Belgian beer glasses as gifts for all of the guests. This served a few purposes, it was a gift for everyone, cut down on rental expenses, and provided a much more enjoyable experience than drinking out of a lame pint glass. Lastly, I asked the caterer to provide a cooler of water to act as a rinse station.

Pickup ruck loaded with serving equipment

Step 5: The day before the wedding was when it came time to move the kegs into position and execute the plans. With the help of a few friends, we pulled the 28 kegs out of the refrigerator and immediately put the cozy’s on them. We loaded up the truck with all of the CO2 tanks (including two backups), kegs, and jockey boxes. Once on site we moved all kegs to their respective bars and began jumping them all together and then connecting the gas and faucets. Once all the lines were hooked up, we purged the excess headspace in the forward kegs and tested their operation. As you pulled the faucet you could easily see the beer moving through the jumpers. Each bank of kegs got an additional wrap of reflectix to help keep even more heat out. We then put the bar tables over the bank of kegs and covered everything with the table cloths. By doing this you could not see any kegs, CO2 tanks, or jockey boxes. It just appeared as if there were 4 magical tap handles in the middle of the room that poured endless beer. We turned off the CO2 for the evening so to not overcarbonate the beers. Jumping these kegs together and pushing the beer through the cold plate required about 25psi of pressure to get a good steady pour.

Keg bank jumped together and insulated

View of the drain bucket and kegs tucked under the table

A month before the wedding I decided to stock a dessert bar with two sour beers that I had been aging along with some whiskey and cigars. I borrowed a third jockey box from my friend Tom and had the caterer set this up after dinner. I had 5 gallons of a blonde sour aged with East Coast Yeast Bug County and another 5 gallons of a Saison aged with Brettanomyces Naardenensis.

Sour Beer Bar

During the wedding all of the serving went off without a hitch. The beer stayed cold and was all well carbonated. Only the Blonde sour and the Saison kicked. The servers from Salt Gastropub Events took pride in presenting a good pour and rinsed the glasses each time. I was even able to give them the Hefeweizen, Saison, and Oktoberfest in 22oz bottles to cook some of the food for the evening! At the end of the wedding we drank about 100 of the 140 gallons I brought. When I broke everything down the next morning any kegs with beer in them were actually still cold. The reflectix was really a game changer and ensured all of the beer stayed cold. The only issue that had to be dealt with on the fly was a low serving pressure. Luckily the homebrewers in attendance noticed this and fixed the issue easily. At the end of the night they even remembered to turn off the CO2 to not overcarbonate the beer that was left. RJE photo did an excellent job capturing the big day and were nothing but professional.

HungusDrinks Inspecting the Brews Custom Glassware

Planning on doing something like this for your wedding or have any questions? Feel free to leave comments below and be sure to subscribe to hungusbrews.com to get these posts in your inbox.