By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
When my fiancé and I started planning for our wedding about a year ago, I was lost. There was so much to think about, from our venue to the catering to the décor to the drinks. There was one thing we knew for sure: We wanted it to be personal, and we wanted to keep our expenses as low as possible.
We’ve always enjoyed craft beer from the very early stages of our relationship. One of our first dates was at a gastropub and, when we’re traveling, breweries are always on the itinerary. While my experience with craft beer has mostly been limited to consuming it, my fiancé is a home brewer and has even experimented with growing his own grain.
With the average cost of an open bar at a wedding running about $2,800, brewing our own batch of beer for the ceremony, in addition to providing alternatives to beer, like wine, champagne and soda for those not partaking, seemed to be the most cost-effective and uniquely “us” option.
When choosing the style of beer, we went with something summery and refreshing: A Belgian-style white ale with hints of honey, orange peel and coriander.
We also considered how we wanted to serve the beer. Did we want to bottle it individually or did we want to invest in a kegging system?
For us, it came down to what was easiest. Bottling beer individually can take hours, from properly sterilizing the bottles to avoid infection to sealing each bottle by hand. We took the plunge and bought a kegging system that we also knew would make serving guests a more seamless – and, frankly, more fun – experience.
Once we knew our recipe and how we were serving our beer, we were ready for a brew day.
Home brewing is an all-day activity, easily taking about six to eight hours from “mashing in,” the first step in the brewing process, to pouring the soon-to-be-beer mixture in an airtight container where it can ferment.
Mashing in, which involves steeping malted barley and wheat in water, is where all brewing starts. While the home brewing process looks different than brewing with commercial equipment, it’s the same concept. A 2-liter pot, which can be purchased anywhere kitchenware is for sale, will do the trick. A thermometer and zip ties that can help hold the thermometer in place on the pot are also essential, as the mixture must be kept around 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the 90-minute period.
After the mashing in process is over, it’s time to strain the new mixture. A colander and cheesecloth work well to separate the liquid from the grain. After the initial straining, it’s necessary to pour cold water over the grain to strip it of any remaining sugars.
After that, the remaining mixture, called “wort,” is boiled for 50 minutes. At the end of the 50-minute period, any extra flavors can be added and boiled for an additional 10 minutes. In our case, that meant adding coriander, orange peel and honey. We used Texas honey given to us by my cousin to add something special to the recipe.
Once the wort is done boiling, the mixture is strained again before being poured into a fermenter. Then it’s time for the final and, arguably, most important step: Pitching the yeast. The yeast is what makes the beer-like mixture into beer by consuming the sugar and converting it into alcohol. Luckily, yeast packets can be purchased at just about any home brewing shop, which can easily be found across Northern Virginia. The mixture is then sealed up and is ready for the next stage.
The beer-like mixture will need to ferment for a few weeks, depending on the style. In our case, the beer will take about one week.
Although time consuming, brewing our own beer was a perfect way to inject our personality into our wedding in a way that’s also fun for guests and cost-effective in the long run.
Thinking about brewing a batch of your own for your wedding? If you’re passionate about beer and think home brewing might be the right fit for you and your soon-to-be-spouse, I’d highly recommend it. Not only is it a great personal touch – it’s a fun way to spend time with your fiancé and, perhaps, it will even develop into a hobby of your own.
Recipe (Blanche de Texas)
- 75 pounds Muntons DME wheat
- 4 ounces Belgian clear candi sugar
- 1 ounce German Hallertau Hersbrucker (hops)
- 1 teaspoon bitter orange peel
- ½ teaspoon crushed coriander
- 1 teaspoon Irish Moss
- 1 yeast packet (Wyeast’s 3944 Belgian witbier)
- 1 cup honey (optional)