At Zola, we believe that your wedding day is a sacred event intended to celebrate the commitment between you and your partner. While other wedding sites may be in the business of referring to your wedding reception as "one big party," Zola understands that your wedding is as relevant as it is celebratory.
That being said, celebrating is an integral part of what will undoubtedly be one of the most important days of your life. We don't like to overemphasize the "party" aspect of your wedding celebration. Still, we’d be lying if we said that your reception isn't going to be one of the most fabulous celebrations you ever attend.
When it comes to celebrating your wedding, having a substantial selection of adult beverages is key. So, enough beating around the bush—here is the ultimate alcohol list for your wedding, according to Zola.
Distilled spirits are a foundational building block for any wedding alcohol list. As Willy Wonka once said, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” If you’re planning on serving alcohol at your event, we strongly recommend that you include some version of liquor.
For many couples, there are questions and concerns surrounding wedding caterers and bartenders serving liquor, and understandably so. The biggest question regarding liquor at your wedding is not whether or not it should be served, but rather what kinds of liquor should be provided, especially at a limited bar.
As a method of making your decisions easier, Zola recommends using a tiered system for choosing the liquor you will serve at your wedding. Our tiered system involves choosing two liquors at a time. The idea behind choosing two at a time is all about encouraging you to make selections that will offset one another. Using this selection method will provide your guests with the greatest possible variety for standalone spirits and mixed drinks.
The first step in tiering your liquor choices is to separate your liquors into clear and colored options. While it may seem simplistic, separating your hard liquor into clear and colored means that you will secure a broader range of alcohol for your guests. For the most part, clear liquors, such as vodka, gin, and tequila, are a completely different flavor profile than dark liquors, such as whiskey, bourbon, and rum.
Vodka and bourbon are the two most common liquor choices for any wedding. On the one hand, you have a clear liquor with vodka, and alternately you have a colored liquor in bourbon. Both are easily drinkable on their own, and both are used in signature cocktail beverages, such as the vodka martini and the Old Fashioned.
The reason for choosing bourbon over a different kind of whiskey is somewhat subjective, but there is logic behind the choice. All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Usually, bourbon is easier to drink on its own, and, far more often, a whiskey drinker will ask for a bourbon over an alternate variety of whiskey. Choose whatever you and your guests will prefer, but bourbon is the safe play here.
The next tier of liquor is usually gin and rum. Gin is a popular choice for fancy cocktails, and rum is great for fun mixed-drink varieties. While rum can be light or dark, we recommend choosing a lighter rum that still has some color to it, such as Mount Gay. Because vodka and bourbon are more mainstream, it’s wise to include gin and rum as your tier two options to increase the versatility of your cocktail bar.
Tier three and beyond get extremely subjective and can include everything from Irish whisky and tequila, to vermouth and cognac. Unless you and your guests are avid tequila drinkers, best to skip it for your wedding. Shots are never encouraged at a wedding, and tequila practically demands to be taken as a shot. Steer clear of this polarizing beverage as it tends to bring out the wild side of any party.
When it comes to your ultimate wedding alcohol list, Champagne should be at the top of it. While liquor is a foundational staple for any wedding, a wedding just simply isn't a wedding without some bubbles and a Champagne toast. For those who are Champagne purists, we should clarify that we are talking about sparkling wine, not necessarily Champagne.
The difference, for those who are wondering, is sort of like bourbon and whiskey. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Champagne is a region in France where the beverage Champagne was invented, and, as such, only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region is called Champagne.
Specificity aside, you’ll want Champagne (read: sparkling wine) throughout the day. Perhaps you’ll want to indulge in a mimosa while getting ready, so you'll need to have prosecco on hand. Maybe you'll want a glass of something in the limo on the way to the reception, so be sure to have a nice brut chilling in the ice chest. And, of course, you'll want to have a bottle bedside for when you and your sweetheart arrive home after the wedding reception.
The point is, sparkling wine and the aforementioned Champagne are a major part of your wedding day. If we have one piece of advice regarding your Champagne selection, it's this—spend up and overbuy. There is no worse hangover than the one you get from cheap Champagne. And, even if you save the good stuff for yourself, you should always have a few more bottles than you think you'll need.
Photo Credits // Zola Inc
Beer and Wine
Beer and wine are such essential choices for wedding beverages that some couples choose to serve them exclusively. Beer and wine do what other wedding alcohols cannot in their ability to stand on their own as sufficient. While serving only beer and wine may not be your guests' preferred choice, no one will be outraged if you choose to go with beer and wine only.
Beer and wine are also terrific complementary pieces to your wedding bar as a whole. Often, whoever is providing your bar service will offer two different beer selections and two different wine selections. More often than not, the choices of beer will include one domestic and one imported. Similarly, the wine will be offered in the form of red wine, usually a cabernet, and white wine, usually chardonnay.
The best part about beer and wine is simplicity. You don't have to overthink it, just pick something that most people like and you'll be fine. When in doubt, pick something you like to drink, and if you're really stuck, ask a couple of guests. The most common beer choices for a wedding include Bud Light—as the domestic choice—and Corona or Heineken as the imported choice. Chardonnay and cabernet are the most popular wine choices, but a zinfandel and sauvignon blanc are good alternatives, respectively.
Mixers, Citrus, and Ice
Every ultimate wedding alcohol list should include mixers. While they may not be alcohol themselves, there are very few guests who will want their drinks neat. Be sure to procure a variety of soft drinks, juices, and, of course, fresh-cut citrus to include with the alcohol you’re serving.
You can never have too much ice. People like their drinks to be cold, and many people enjoy their cocktails on the rocks. Every good bartender will tell you how important ice is to a well-stocked bar. Do your guests, and your bartenders, a favor by getting plenty of ice for the booze.
Some call them craft cocktails, others call them specialty spirits, but whatever you call these artisanal alcoholic treats, your guests will simply call them delicious. Usually, an average bartender will not be able to create signature cocktails on the spot, so you may need to hire someone with a special skill set who can help curate a unique wedding cocktail menu for the event. We're not saying that there aren't regular bartenders who don't make a superior drink, but we're just saying that for truly artisanal cocktails you’ll need to hire a bonafide mixologist for this type of alcoholic beverage.
If you’re considering a real mixologist for your wedding, we recommend hiring them only for cocktail hour. Having someone to make fancy cocktails is a great way to entertain your guests as they mingle during the time between ceremony and reception. However, there is a high probability that the cool aesthetic of craft cocktails will wear off later in the evening. As people begin to drink more, they care less about a hibiscus-infused vodka gimlet and tend to lean more on the standard party beverages, such as beer or a glass of wine.
Just for fun, here is our ultimate wedding alcohol list power rankings:
- Champagne You can't have a wedding without it.
- Red Wine You can have it during cocktail hour, it will be served with dinner, and it pairs well with chocolatey desserts. Plus, there aren't many people who flat out refuse to drink it.
- Vodka It's easy to drink on its own, and it mixes well with almost everything. If you're going to choose only one spirit, Vodka is it.
- Beer Whether it's domestic or craft, beer is always a great option for a party.
- Bourbon There's the casual whiskey drinker, and then there's the bourbon drinker. Every party has a few of them. Bourbon can be substituted for whiskey, but not the other way around. When in doubt, bourbon over whiskey.
- White Wine More of a cocktail hour beverage than an all-night drink, white wine is a staple for those who prefer something light on the palette.
- Gin It's vodka's partner in crime. This distilled spirit is very en vogue at the moment and opens up a world of cocktail options, such as martinis, gimlets, and, of course, the classic gin and tonic.
- Whiskey Much like vodka, whiskey pairs well with a lot of other beverages. Whiskey is a top requested spirit at any event with a bar, but with only a small range of flexibility for cocktails, it's lower on our list.
- Rum A great liquor for mixed drinks, and a solid depth option to round out any bar.
- Liqueurs This generalized group includes spirits such as triple sec and Bailey's, and are absolutely necessary for creating wedding signature cocktails.
If you have trepidations about serving liquor at your wedding, we’re here to tell you not to worry. While distilled spirits and other alcohols can certainly cause drunkenness, rest assured that your guests will be on their best behavior. It’s a well understood social construct that behavior at a wedding is jovial, yet controlled. Your guests certainly understand that this is a special occasion and they are expected to have fun responsibly.
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If you’re concerned about overserving your guests, we recommend setting a drink limit for hard liquor. Alternately, a cash bar is always a great way to encourage responsibility as it tempers how many trips to the bar your guests are willing to take. If you’re concerned about serving too much alcohol at your wedding, address your guest list to see whether or not alcohol will be an issue. Alcohol, when consumed responsibly, is a wonderful part of being an adult and an incredible part of your wedding day. We hope this list of wedding day alcohol choices will help your planning process, so that come the big day you can sit back and raise a glass to your new spouse and a life of joy together. Cheers!