For National Beer Day, How to Estimate Alcohol for Your Wedding

Photo by Stonehouse Photography

Photo by Stonehouse Photography

As anyone from the northern Midwest knows, beer can be an important part of any wedding or celebration. The last thing you want to do is run out of it an end your night early, so in honor of National Beer Day, we'll show you how to calculate how much beer or wine to buy for your wedding.

As a side note, the state of Wisconsin statues say that you can only self-cater beer and wine, and you should still have a responsible person keeping an eye on their distribution. If you want liquor, you can get a bartender who will be able to help you understand how much liquor you need.

The Basic Rule

1 serving per person per hour. That's it. Easy, right?

To calculate out how many servings, multiply how many guests you expect to attend (remember, only about 75-80% of people invited will attend) by how many hours your bar will be open.

For example, you invited 208 people, but are expecting 160 to attend. Your ceremony ends (and the cocktail hour begins) at 4:30, and last call is at 11:30 pm, meaning the bar is open for 7 hours. Therefore, the number of servings to buy is 160 x 7 = 1120.

If your guests are heavier (or lighter) drinkers, adjust accordingly. For example, if about 15% of your guests don't really drink, your number would go from 1120 to 960. 

That sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it's a little more complicated.

The next step is figuring out what mix of of drinks your wedding crowd will want. For example, a typical wedding in northern Wisconsin is about 25% wine and 75% beer. Multiply your number of servings by the percentage to find the number of servings of each type of alcohol.

In our example with 960 servings and 25% wine and 75% beer, that would come out to 960 x 0.25= 240 servings of wine and 960 x 0.75 = 720 servings of beer.

So...How Much Should I Buy?

Servings are all well and good, but that doesn't help you at the store shelf. To figure out your shopping list, you'll have to convert servings to bottles/cases/etc.

For beer, hard soda, and cider, 12 ounces is a serving. You can buy by the case at 12 servings a case, or you can buy kegs at 165 servings per keg (called a half barrel in technical terms). A pony keg (or quarter barrel) is 82 servings. Even smaller is the mini keg (a sixth-barrel) at 55 servings.

In our example, 720 servings of beer could be divided a few different ways. If we went with all kegs, it would be 720 / 165 = 4.4 kegs. With case, it would be 720 / 12 = 60 cases. Or, if we went with a mix it would be 3 kegs and 19 cases.

For wine, a serving is somewhere around 4-6 ounces. That's about 4 servings per bottle of wine. A case of wine is 6 bottles, or about 24 servings. There's also great boxed wine that has hit the market recently that has 3L, or about 16 servings per box.

In our example, 240 servings of wine would be 240 / 24 = 10 cases or 240 / 16 = 15 3L boxes of wine.

Making Your List

You have the "how much" and general "what" for your list, but the last part is figuring out exactly what type you're going to buy.

This comes down to knowing your guests, the time of year you're getting married, and more.

Daytime, weekday, or Sunday weddings tend to have lighter drinks - light beers, light wines, ciders, etc.

Warm-weather weddings tend to have lighter drinks, as well as a focus on more acidic or bitter. If you're getting married in the middle of August, then, focus more on IPAs or dry ciders for beers and sauvignon blanc or other dry whites for wines.

The opposite is true for cold-weather weddings. If you're getting married in October, focus more on darker, sweet beers (like an Oktoberfest or Scottish ale) and full-bodied red wines (like zinfandel).

In our example, it will be late September, so we'll want to focus on darker, sweeter flavors. Our 3 kegs and 19 cases of beer will become:

  • 2 kegs of Miller Light
  • 1 keg of Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • 10 cases of New Glarus Fat Squirrel
  • 5 cases of Crispin the Saint Cider
  • 4 cases of Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Our 15 3L boxes of wine will become:

  • 10 3L boxes Bota Box Cabernet Sauvingnon
  • 15 1L boxes Bandit Chardonnay