Whether you’re saying “I do” near Derby Day (the first Saturday in May), on a hot summer afternoon, or, well, any time of the year really, hosting a bourbon bar at your wedding is a surefire way to excite your guests. Bourbon, a type of American, barrel-aged whiskey, has quite the following thanks to its sweet notes and flavors of caramel, honey, and butterscotch. Plus, it works as a savory base spirit in a wide range of tipples, from classic cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and Hot Toddy to simple mixed drinks, like a bourbon and soda.
If you’re thinking of serving up this brown spirit, here are six ways to pour bourbon on the big day.
1. Favorite Bourbons
Are you or your groom a huge fan of bourbon? Host a bourbon bar during your cocktail hour or reception where you display a selection of your favorite bottles. These can be fancy, such as special edition bottlings, or sentimental, such as the bottles you drink often together at home. From big brands like Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark to smaller producers such as Kings County and cult (and rare) bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle, use the selection to tell a story about yourself and your relationship.
Sharing your go-tos with your guests is a great way to celebrate your favorite brands, too.
2. Local Bourbon Bar
If you’re focusing on seasonal and local ingredients with your cuisine, consider extending that philosophy to your bourbon bar, too. This works especially well if you’re marrying in Kentucky, Tennessee, or other popular whiskey-production area—you’ll have quite the local selection. It’s also a thoughtful nod to your venue, which you likely picked for a significant reason, such as a childhood memory, vacation destination, or, of course, your hometown.
3. Tasting Bar
Guests love a full glass and conversation, but consider making your bourbon bar more interactive by hosting a tasting bar. Have the bartender share notes about the different bourbons, pouring “tasting” pours from lightest to heaviest in style. Serve each in a snifter, a stubby wine glass-looking glass which allows air to circulate over the beverage and maximize flavor and aroma. The ceremony is similar to the experience of tasting bourbon at a distillery, so let your guests go at it discussing the various tastes and scents of each.
4. Flight of Bourbon Cocktails
Just because you want to pour bourbon doesn’t mean you have to drink it neat. Consider offering a flight of bourbon-based cocktails rather than a tasting bar. It works like this: Pick three or four cocktails for the menu which can be served up in mini versions to guests. Some popular cocktails include Mint Juleps, bourbon Old-Fashioned, Boulevardier, and Whiskey Sour. Pro tip: Collaborate with your bar team to choose drinks you can easily pre-batch, so you won’t jam up the line at the bar. No one wants to wait for a drink during cocktail hour!
5. Garnish Buffet
Interaction doesn’t have to stop at the cocktail. Consider a garnish-your-own-bourbon drink bar, complete with herbs, spices, citrus and fresh fruit. Pick a cocktail that works well with a variety of scents and accents, such as smash, mule, or lemonade, and place various garnishes in decorative jars and bowls. Guests can top their own cocktails with everything from lavender to burnt orange peels and maraschino cherries.
6. Smoking station
To really “wow” your guests, put a modern spin on a bourbon bar by hosting a smoked cocktail station. At this type of bar, bartenders smoke your cocktail using wood chips from cedar, oak, pecan, and more for a multi-sensory experience. Smoking a cocktail not only adds a layer to the aroma, but also masks the sweetness of a drink and psychologically excites the palate. Try it with everything from a Sazerac to a bourbon-based Bloody Mary—for hangover brunch! Plus, it’s entirely Instagrammable to see your cocktail surrounded by whisps of smoke.
Just be sure to have your hashtag posted nearby.