A Well-Stocked Wedding Bar

For anyone planning a DIY wedding in a blank canvas venue, there is one question that can leave all brides and grooms stumped:

How much booze to buy?

The numbers are actually preeeetty important.  Don’t buy enough and your guests will go thirsty (nicht gut!). Buy too much and you may feel like you spent a portion of your precious budget on the wrong thing whilst drinking leftover tonic water for the rest of your life. So how the hell do you get it right? How do you narrow down what drink to offer?  Where is the best place to buy alcohol from in bulk? How far in advance can the Prosecco be purchased??

Well dear readers, as someone in the middle of stocking her own wedding bar, I’m about to be of some help…

Whiskey, anyone? Image from DIY Weddings Whiskey, anyone? Image from DIY Wedding

What to serve?

The first thing you need to do is decide what alcohol you are going to offer your guests.  Depending on your venue you might only be needing to provide the bubbly and table wine if, say, you’re hiring a mobile bar service to come along in the evening and sell a wider range of booze.  However, if you are personally providing the whole day and night’s worth of alcohol (as we are) and therefore buying it all in advance, some decisions need to be made early on- especially if you have a budget to stick to.

The general advice is not to offer your guests too much choice. People don’t expect a wide selection if it’s free, and it keeps the buying process a lot simpler for you.  However, this is of course easier said than done when you want to please everyone.  We initially thought we would only offer wine, beer and soft drinks (as that’s what we drink), but with a bridesmaid who only drinks vodka and some people only enjoying wine with their dinner, we decided a couple of spirits were necessary too.

Our shopping list will therefore consist of the following:

  • Prosecco (cheaper than champagne and my personal favourite)
  • White wine (most likely to be a Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Red wine (Shiraz or Merlot)
  • Lager (Paul’s favourite is Becks Vier but if it’s too expensive we’ll go Fosters)
  • Ale (preferably real, Kentish and from a keg)
  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Mixers and soft drinks (cranberry juice, orange juice, coke, lemonade, tonic water, soda water and lime cordial)

For me, I feel like all the bases are covered there whilst giving our guests a reasonably large choice of beverage.  At this point I don’t think we’re going to offer shots of anything.  I’m partial to a tequila slammer, but with our caterer staying on to ‘man the bar’ as opposed to a mobile bar service, it’s a lot of hassle to provide an endless supply of clean shot glasses in an 18th century barn.  But we shall see.

Love me a neon BAR sign. Image via Alexan Events Love me a neon BAR sign. Image via Alexan Events

How much do I need?

How much indeed! And this is the tricky bit.  There’s no magic formula as the numbers are entirely dependant on a range of factors: how many guests, how many hours people will be drinking, how wide the choice of beverage is, and of course, how hardcore your friends and family are.

There are on-line booze calculators out there that claim to know the answers, but I didn’t find them much help at all.  They give out very different numbers as well as assuming you know how much people are going to want to drink, or that your drinks menu is going to be restricted to Beer, Wine, or Liquor.  Oh yes, and they’re all American sites too.

The best way to know how much to buy? You phone a friend.  Or specifically a friend who has very recently supplied her own alcohol for a very successful and very non-dry wedding for roughly the same amount of guests as you, serving a very similar drinks menu.  But don’t fret if you aren’t lucky enough to have a recently married wedding twin! Fortunately I’m a caring, sharing kind of soul, and as I said at the beginning of this post, I’m here to help :)

This is what my friend, who shall remain nameless, bought and spent for her Well-Stocked Wedding Bar…

“We had 120 guests and initially spent about £2000 on alcohol all in.  We ordered our beer and soft drinks through our venue as they could get it at cost price, and they also advised us to do a semi-free bar i.e. after a certain time we charged £1 a drink.  We made about £300 from this, and ended up taking back £200 worth of wine that was bought on sale or return.  So in the end we actually spent about £1500.

Wine: We bought our wine and Prosecco on a sale or return basis from Majestic Wine. We bought 80 bottles each of white (around £5 per bottle) and red (around £6 per bottle) as well as 60 bottles of Prosecco.  All the fizz got drank and we ended up returning £200 worth of wine.”

* I’m butting in here- I’ve worked out that means people drank roughly 120-130 bottles of wine in total, FYI.*

“Beer: We bought by the barrel directly from our venue which was great because there was a surplus, so even if what we pre-bought was drank, the bar wouldn’t run dry.  (They then charged us by weight at the end.)  We pre-bought about a keg and a half (approx £95 per keg); our guests got through two kegs of ale, two of lager and one of cider. Whoops.

Spirits: We bought…

6 bottles of 1L gin

6 bottles of 1L vodka

3 bottles of 1L whiskey

2 bottles of sambuca

1 bottle of whiskey.

All from Tesco coming in at around £350.  At the end of the night we were left with 2 bottles of gin, 4 bottles of vodka and half a bottle of whiskey.  You can do the maths…

Soft drinks were a total overkill and we were left with quite a lot.  We spent around £140 which bought us:

Cranberry Juice x 20 cartons                      
Elderflower cordial x 10 bottles                   
Lemonade x 20 1L bottles                          
Coke x 30 1L bottles                                  
Diet Coke x 30 1L bottles                           
Tonic x 150 bottles of small individual tonic

Orange Juice x 20 cartons”

Phew! Quite a list, eh?  It appears that the guests at this wedding were pretty hardcore but the bar didn’t run dry… so a very successfully-stocked bar in my opinion.  I’ve found having someone else’s shopping list so useful to compare my own against, and I hope it will be of some use to you as well!

So where do I buy to get the most from my money?

Well, thankfully nowadays we have something called The Internet.  The Internet is a wonderful place full of  numbers, information and comparison websites.  In this day and age there is no reason that, with a little bit of research, you won’t grab yourself a ruddy bargain.

UK Supermarkets

First off, there are AMAZING deals to be had at your local supermarket.  But don’t be a fool and just head to your favourite, go to My Supermarket and get comparing.  My Supermarket is your friend.  My Supermarket stopped me from buying litre bottles of Absolut Vodka for £19 from Sainsbury’s (cheaper than the other supermarkets at the time), and told me to buy litre bottles of Smirnoff Vodka for £14 from Tesco instead.  The offer ran out the next day, I could check the history and see that it was the best price Smirnoff had been in the last year; I bought 3 bottles.  And with Gordon’s Gin on the same deal, I bought that too.  £80 for 6 litres of spirits including home delivery and over £30 cheaper than the nearest competitor. Boom.

Of course, with Christmas fast approaching the supermarkets are all desperately trying to win our custom so there are some definite deals to be had (I also have 60 bottles of Prosecco and 12 crates of Corona winging its way to me over the next few days), but there are few pitfalls to be aware of:

  1. Make sure you check out the My Supermarket history graph of the item you are about to purchase.  Coke might be cheapest at ‘Tesco’ at the moment (for example), but if it’s been even cheaper in the last couple of months, hold off from buying just yet.  You might get an even better deal later down the line…
  2. …Which leads me on to sell-by dates.  Christmas may mean supermarket deals ahoy, but if you’re not getting married until next summer or later, it is probably too early to start buying in bulk. From what I saw in Sainsbury’s on a recent trip, the earliest best before date on beers and soft drinks was June 2013 (so their produce has a shelf life of at least six months), but no-one wants a flat can of coke.  Obviously wine and Prosecco have a slightly longer life- most bottles say ‘consume within a year of purchase’.
  3. If you’re going to buy wine on a supermarket deal, make sure you like it.  I’m not much of a red wine drinker but I’ve always thought a Rioja sounded nice.  There was a fantastic deal at Sainsbury’s last week (from £11.99 a bottle it worked out about £4 each if you bought in bulk) but I bought a bottle to test with our Sunday roast and we didn’t like it. Good job I tested it first.

Across the pond

Everyone knows that there are fantastic deals on wine to be had in Calais, and if you’re in the south of England it really is a no-brainer… if you can be bothered to do the trip. With wines from as little as £2/£3, and Majestic Wine France offering extremely cheap ferry fares if you spend a certain amount, there are definite savings to be made.

For me it’s a little tricky as my passport has recently expired, and I’m loathe to pay the £70-odd quid it costs to renew when I’ll be needing to renew again once I’m married.  But I’m still considering sending Paul and his best man in the New Year.  It means leaving the choice of wine down to a pair of beer drinkers though… which might not be the most sensible option unless I can find wine that is stocked over here as well and test it myself.

My friend gave an excellent review of Majestic Wine in the UK though, who do ‘sale or return’ as well as offering free delivery to your venue and free glass hire if you need it.

Kegs or Cans?

I’m finding the lager/ale purchase the most difficult of all when it comes to getting the best price.  Following a bit of research, I’ve found that the best lager deals from the supermarket come in can form… but do you want people drinking out of cans at your wedding?  It doesn’t bother me so much (as we’re having a more relaxed bash), but there is something a bit more special about having a well-pulled pint.

I’ve struggled to find the well-known brands sold by the barrel or keg… so if anyone has any words of wisdom then please do share!  There are websites like 247 Bar Supplies, who sell alcohol to pubs and bars, but I haven’t worked out if anyone ”off the street” can buy from them yet.

Even so, the bargain hunter in me is still doing the Math…

An 11-gallon keg from a wholesaler costs around £95.  There are approximately 4547ml in a gallon.  With a can of beer being 440ml that means an 11-gallon keg contains roughly 50,017ml, or 114 cans of beer.

The equivalent of 114 ‘cans’ for £95…. or on a recent Becks Vier deal at Tesco (3 cases of 12 x cans for £21), you could get 108 cans for £63.  The supermarkets prevail again.

Of course, there is something extremely tedious and time-consuming about seeking out every little bargain.  Not to mention managing the various different deliveries to your home and then having to load it all in to a van and take it to your venue (where it all has to then be unloaded) for the actual wedding.  There are much easier and more authentic options, such as finding a brewery close to your venue who will sell you kegs of locally-brewed lager and ale.

The Old Dairy Brewery in Rolvenden, Kent is my ‘authentic’ option and I think we will splash out and get our ale from there as Paul is a big real-ale fan, and let’s face it, he is the most important male drinker at the wedding.

But for everything else I don’t think I can resist the lure of the supermarket bargains for our (hopefully) well-stocked wedding bar…

Image by Rik PenningtonImage by Rik PenningtonI think that is definitely enough about me. I hope this post has been of some help if you too are buying your own alcohol.  Is the thought of under-buying or over-buying driving you mad?  Anyone got any booze bargains to share?   Are you doing shots??

Would love to hear from you if so…

Sama xxx

0 thoughts on “A Well-Stocked Wedding Bar

  1. Hi Sama,
    I have been looking forward to this post since you mentioned on twitter that you were working on it a couple of weeks ago!
    We’ve started drawing up a list of what to buy and I’m pleased to see its quite similar to your friends recommendation, though looks like we’re a bit light on spirits! Not sure about quantities of red vs white wine though!
    Definitely agree with keeping it simple, the advice we’ve been given is that people really don’t mind what they’re drinking when it’s free. I can testify that as the last blank canvas venue wedding that we went to ended with most of our group ended drinking port!
    We’re planning on doing a booze cruise in the new year, though I’ve heard mixed reviews with some people saying its not that much cheaper. We’ve also had to veto jagerbombs which we are sad about due to the lack of proper glass washing facilities in the barn. The local microbrewery is a must and was one of our reasons for booking the venue! x

    • Hi Carly! Glad I delivered :) Have you been to The Old Dairy yet? I still need to enquire about exact costs but you’ve got to use them somehow in that barn I think.

      For red and white I just think it’s safest to split it half and half. I feel like white gets drunk more, but then we’re having beef for our main so there will be a lot of red drunk over dinner!

      As with you ending up on the port (yuck), I’m sure the red drinkers would be happy to switch to white come the end of the night, or vice versa. And we felt the same about jaegerbombs! xx

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