How to Have the Perfect Wedding Whisky

It’s your wedding day! You’ve curated the perfect menu, meticulously planned the seating chart and flower arrangements, and pored over playlists to pick your first dance song—and now it’s time to add in some whisky. You could leave the choice up to the venue, but unless you’re required to go with a pre-set bar package, you’re better off doing this part of the work yourself.

When planning my own wedding, I was offered a choice of two packages: a few bottom to mid-shelf well whiskies, or a premium selection that seemed designed to gouge my budget. (Think a $700 upcharge to include just Glenlivet 12 year old.) I opted for the former, then tailored my reception’s whisky offerings to meet my tastes and budget—and to give my guests a top-notch experience.

Give the Wedding Gift Everyone Wants: Whisky

You know your taste better than anyone else, and you can easily assemble your own whisky bar offerings with these tips and strategies. But before you do, check with your venue that you’re able to bring your own stash. And be mindful of any dietary requirements such as keeping kosher, which can impact your choice of whiskies.

Get Prepped

Those pre-wedding hours of getting dressed, rehearsing your vows, and anticipating the moment you say “I do” may require something to calm the nerves. What better than a good whisky? Share it with your bridal party, in-laws, the photographer—just keep it light, as no one (least of all you, the bride or groom) wants to get tipsy this early on. Choose a 40% to 43% ABV whisky, and be sure to put that ice bucket to good use.

Recommended: The Dalmore 12 year old (84 points), Hibiki Japanese Harmony (90 points) (Bonus points if the bottle is particularly photogenic!)

Go Big

Extra-large 1.75-liter bottles offer great value and make for fun photo props. A single handle equals about two and a third regular-sized bottles, so spending around $200 on two to three of them will ensure the high-quality whisky stays in heavy rotation, even if your guests return for repeat pours.

Recommended: Glenmorangie Original 10 year old (93 points), Elijah Craig Small Batch (87 points)

Keep It Personal

If your guests’ thirst for whisky isn’t deep, keep a personal bottle on your table for toasts, and place one where you know it will count: with friends and relatives who prefer a finer dram. Since this is a smaller bottle, aim higher on the shelf and be precise with your picks. The special treatment and the special bottle will be much appreciated.

Or take another approach and have a top-shelf cart at cocktail hour. Select a few of your favorite brands and grab a single bottle of each. Some distilleries, like Glenfiddich, even let you bottle and label your own whisky on-site, which can be a memorable touch for your big day.

Recommended: Balvenie Carribean Cask 14 year old (89 points), Blanton’s (88 points), Macallan Double Cask 12 year old (90 points)

Curate a Tasting

Some venues have a bonus room for you to repurpose, while others might feature alcoves or other spaces to set up a special tasting area. Highlight local distilleries, or feature a range of whiskies within a given category like bottled in bond, wheated bourbons, or single barrel, each with its own brief but illuminating story.

For example: When a friend, who is self-financing, confessed that his favorite whiskey was Jameson, I recommended he do a comparative tasting. Most whisky drinkers are likely to be familiar with regular Jameson, so featuring side-by-side comparisons with limited or newer expressions can offer an exciting and enjoyable experience. Note that you’ll likely need a dedicated server for this area, and pours should be minimal—about half an ounce each.

Recommended: Local bourbons or ryes, world whiskies, several whiskies from your favorite brand

Create a Custom Cocktail

According to The Knot, nearly 25% of couples serve a signature cocktail at their wedding, with options ranging from a batched sangria to personalized classics. Whatever you choose, it’s wise to hold off on anything too high-alcohol until substantial food has been served.

If you’re looking to concoct a custom cocktail, remember to keep the recipe simple for the staff bartender. Start with a whisky you love and build something with no more than two or three additional ingredients. Or riff on an established classic, like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned, by varying the vermouth or bitters. Some local distillers, like Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey, offer cocktail programs to help manage the task. Audra Kelly, who leads such efforts for Wigle and Threadbare Cider, said she helped a couple devise a Bourbon Old Fashioned made with mint simple syrup, a hybrid of two familiar cocktails.

Recommended: Go out for cocktails with your intended and talk about what each of you like. Choose a starting whisky or two, experiment together at home, and be sure to inject your personality through a creative ingredient or cocktail name.

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