When I’m asked to bring beer to an event, or host a party, it goes without saying that the beer is expected to be good. And when that event is a wedding, the beer selection has to be perfect!
In July of this past year (2013), I hosted the rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding. We were expecting 76 guests for this meal at Tim Schafer’s Cuisine, Morristown, NJ. Because the restaurant is a BYOB, I had to purchase the beer and wine to complement a delicious but eclectic menu. The beer would be easy, but I don’t know much about wine and, since the bride’s father was a nationally-known wine expert, my reputation was on the line.
For 76 guests, I estimated 2 bottles of beer (about 6 1/2 cases) and 1/2 bottle of wine per person, or about 38 bottles (3 cases +). The entre selections, below, included fish, shellfish, beef and vegetarian, with flavors ranging from mild to spicy. This was a menu that I could not complement with just two beers choices– lager and ale–and two wine choices–red and white. The drink selections would have to be just as varied. This was going to be a challenge! Here are the menus I was working with:
MAIN COURSE SELECTIONS FOR REHEARSAL DINNER
Tim Schafer’s Cuisine, Morristown, NJ
St. Peter’s Fish Fillet
Maryland lump crab meat, vine ripened red tomatoes, capers and scallions sauté finished with a citrus beer-blanc & creamy spinach scented risotto.
Medallions of Filet Mignon
Grilled filet mignon served over gorgonzola cheese enhanced by a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction and seasonal vegetable medley.
Wild Mushroom Ravioli
Fresh pasta filled with a blend of wild mushrooms and cheeses with a light parmesan herb cream sauce.
Kettle Cooked Short Ribs of Beef
Enticed by a Guinness Stout B.B.Q sauce plated with roasted corn, whipped potatoes, and sautéed vegetables.
Creole Style Jambalaya
Tim’s rendition of this classic New Orleans style stew with chicken, andouille and garlic herb sausages, Tasso ham, and vegetables blended with our special Cajun spices, topped with rice pilaf.
The beer selection was straightforward, especially since I had help from the bride and groom, who joined me to taste beer at the Electric City Brew Fest, described in YBN, May 15, 2013. You may recall our specifications: we would select only regional brands, available in bottles or cans, with of relatively low alcohol content of 5% ABV or less. We would include both lagers and ales, and all had to be delicious and pair well with food.
When it came time to purchase the beer, we came pretty close to our original selections, though some were unavailable. I could not locate a case of Old Forge’s T-Rail Pale Ale, and Victory’s Saisons were no longer in season, so it was replaced by Victory’s Summer Love Ale. A better choice for a wedding, don’t you think? I had to relax my low-alcohol specification since most IPAs are have a higher ABV due to their higher malt content. Because the bride’s family were from Michigan, I included two case of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, which is brewed in Michigan, and one of my favorites. I purchased 7 cases of beer overall.
Here it the beer list which was distributed to all the guests, alone with the menu: GENE & ANNIE REHEARSAL DINNER, JULY 5 2013
Summer Love, Victory Brewing Company, Downington PA A light-bodied ale, with the sublime, earthy familiarity of noble European hops backed up by fresh, clean German malts, Summer Love Ale ends with a surprising burst of lemony refreshment from fistfuls of American whole flower hops. 5.2% ABV
Susquehanna Brewing Company Selections, Pittston PA
Goldencold Lager , a German-inspired beer. Brewed with Pilsner malt and a small amount of Sauermalz to bring out a traditional, rounded note Bavarian. Hallertau Tradition, and Perle hops make for a crisp, classic and nuanced bitterness. 5% ABV
Pils Noir is an innovative black Pilsner made from Pearl (Winter) barley, malted by Munton’s, CaraMalt and Crystal malts, prepared using a unique, husk-free milling process. The beer is then naturally darkened using the classic Czech technique of decoction mashing. Hopped with Oregon Willamette, Mt. Hood and Washington hops, Pils Noir is finished with noble Czech Saaz for a fine aroma. 4.9% ABV
6th Generation Stock Ale features a unique blend of Pearl, Tipple, Crystal and Maris Otter Malts, using only hops from Oregon, mostly grown by Goschie Farms in the Willamette Valley, include Mt. Hood, Sterling and whole-cone Liberty hops. 44 IBUs 5.5% ABV
Hopfive IPA contains a blend of five hop varieties; Bravo, Willamette, Mount Hood, English Progress, and as-harvested whole-cone Liberty Hops. It presents a floral, Pine-like, aroma and full hop flavor. 6% ABV
Exit 16 Wild Rice Double IPA
Exit 16 on the New Jersey Turnpike takes you into the Hackensack Meadowlands, usually identified with landfills and pipelines, which is also an amazingly diverse ecosystem providing vital animal and plant habitat. In a nod to a once common food plant here, the beer is brewed with wild rice, as well as organic brown and white rice. This double IPA is brewed with 5 hops, then dry-hopped with Chinook and Citra hops to create a nose that hints at tangerine, mango, papaya and pine. 62 IBUs, ABV 8%,
Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI
This IPA is hopped exclusively with the Centennial hop varietal from the Pacific Northwest, massive additions in the kettle and again in the fermenter lend their characteristic grapefruit and pine resin aromas. A significant malt body balances this hop presence; together with the signature fruity aromas of Bell’s house yeast, this leads to a remarkably drinkable American-style India Pale Ale. 7% ABV
Now on to the wines. I knew these were going to be a challenge, since my knowledge of wine is limited, and so was was my budget. I called on Fred Tasker, the father of the bride, who put together a list of moderately-priced wines from tasting notes in some of his recent wine columns.
He wrote to me:
“I’ve tried to suggest safe wines with no quirks or hard edges. Pretty much every white wine drinker likes chardonnay, since it’s very fruity. You’ll see that the two Kendall-Jackson chards are purposely made quite differently from each other. “The sauvignon blancs are from New Zealand. They’re crisp and lively and very popular, although not everybody likes them. Nice contrast, though. “For the reds, pinot noir is softer than cabernet sauvignon, and a lot of people don’t like cabs. I also added some nice Italian reds as a contrast.”
The list was an excellent mix of wine styles which would mate well with the food we were serving, and all were in a modest price range of under $25 a bottle. Due to the vagaries of Pennsylvania law, however, I had to buy wine in our state stores, so my selection was limited. I had no problem with Fred’s chardonnay recommendations, but I came up dry for his other selections. However, I did rely on his varietal selections — New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, California Pinot Noir, and Tuscan reds. Yes, our state store carried many different choices among these varieties, but I still had no way to tell a good bottle from a bad one, there were no posted ratings. I couldn’t drag Fred out to PA, buy a few dozen bottles and taste them all though it was tempting. Clearly I needed a personal wine critic to accompany me.
I solved this problem with the internet. I purchased an iPad app, “Wine Ratings,” from Wine Spectator, the wine-reviewing magazine which has one of the most extensive collections of wine ratings available. To use this app, one enters the name of the wine and the vintage year, and is given the Wine Spectator rating (if available) from 0 to 100. I took my iPad along to the state store, and went through the shelves, getting the ratings for all of the bottles in the selected varietals. I got a few odd looks in the store, but it enable me to narrow the list to wines rated as 90 or higher, and under $25. Success! Even Fred liked my picks. I purchased 39 bottles. Here it the wine list which was distributed along with the menu to all the guests:
GENE & ANNIE REHEARSAL DINNER, JULY 5 2013
2011 Kendall-Jackson “Vintner’s Reserve“ Chardonnay, Calif
Hint of oak, rich tropical fruit flavors including ripe pineapples, creamy and smooth
2011 Kendall-Jackson “Avant” Chardonnay, Calif.
Intense fruit aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apples and lemons, lean and crisp.
2008 Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ
Vivid, bracing and brimming with lime-tinged grapefruit and guava flavors that persist into the long, distinctive finish.
2011 Rodney Strong Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Reserve, California
Hint of oak, black plum and blueberry flavors, smooth, long finish.
2009 Maremma Toscana 642° Reserve, Tuscany, Italy
Squarely in the Italian camp, with a sour cherry component to the mix of flavors, including black currant and raspberry. Good acidity and firm yet well-integrated tannins, with fine length.
2009 Villa Antinori Toscana, Tuscany, Italy
Black currant, bilberry, violet and spice flavors align in this luscious red, which is well-balanced and integrated, with a lingering sweet fruit and spice aftertaste. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
The rehearsal dinner came off smoothly, as planned. The party favors included bottle opener and scorkscrews, personalized with the couple’s name and the wedding date. Surprisingly I had only 1 case of beer left over, which the groom, his groomsmen and some of his friends were happy to dispose of later that night. Nevertheless, the young couple were married the following day and are living happily ever after.