Many aspects of wedding planning are a chore if you're not easily absorbed in details like color palette subtleties (apricot with ivory versus bisque). This is more likely to be the case if you're a man. Everyone should have an opportunity to actively contribute to their own wedding as it takes shape. If you or someone you love is feeling alienated from their own wedding, it might be time to come up with some non-girly avenues for personal expression. Brewing some wedding beer is one such fun, hands-on project that might be a little more up their alley. Served up at your reception, or given as thank-you gifts to your guests, home-made beer is an economical labor of love that puts lets you put your own stamp on things.
If you've never brewed before, you'll need to purchase some basic equipment. Most of what you'll need is fairly inexpensive and easy to find, with the biggest investment being a 7 or 8 gallon brewpot. There are some decent kits available which provide most of what you'll need to get started, and you can always add or upgrade individual components later on. I bought mine from Cooper's, a good deal at id="mce_marker"00. You'll probably brew mostly ales, the most home-brew friendly beers in terms of the temperature needs of the yeast involved. They're also more manageable in terms of time requirements than lagers--most ales will be drinkable within a month or so. For basic recipes and detailed instructions on sanitation and bottling, check out the suggested readings below.
Once you've attained a firm grasp of the basics you can start experimenting, interpreting existing styles or inventing your own. Within the confines of the four primary ingredients--grain, water, yeast, and hops--there are endless possibilities. After deciding on the basic components of your wedding brew, making it many times with slight changes to the variables will help you refine your recipe. You can experiment with the type of hops and when they're added, the strain and quantity of yeast, specialty grains and sugar sources. Customize your special-occasion brew with flavors you love, seasonal or regional ingredients. Some possibilities to get your imagination going:
- honey or maple syrup
- chamomile or elderflowers
- rosemary, juniper berries, licorice root
- cherries, raspberries, currants
- candied citrus or ginger
- cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, peppercorns
- oak chips
Ales include a wide variety of styles--wheat beers, IPAs, stouts, porters, etc. You can easily tailor your recipe to any season or menu. For something a little different, you might want to try a barley wine. With a higher alcohol content than most beer (around 11%) it ages well, developing flavor and complexity over a period of six months to several years. This is a great option if you have lots of time until the wedding and you want to serve something really special, or if you want to give guests something that will age well at home. Fruit lambics (beer fermented "spontaneously" via wild yeasts--exciting!) also age well, but produce highly variable results. They're experiments for a smaller scale.
Forgoing cocktails in favor of wine and beer only can cut back on the expense of your reception bar significantly. While beer is generally regarded as a low-brow beverage, craft brews elevate beer-drinking somewhat and add specialness to what might otherwise seem like a limited menu. Before you're eighty gallons into your project however, there are some unique rules regarding the distribution of home-brew en mass that you'll want to be aware of, even if you plan on ignoring them. You may be able to serve your beer in your back yard but a caterer might not, for example. The American Homebrewers Association breaks this down well, listing regulatory contact information by state. For more thrifty and creative ways to get your guests lit, read our posts on creating a bar (the fun stuff & everything else- it's a two-parter, because it's important).
The Brewmaster's Bible by Stephen Snyder
Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast's Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home by Sam Calgione
The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible by Leon W. Kania
The Home Brewer's Answer Book by Ashton Lewis