Three weeks before my 2010 nuptials I made a Belgian-style witbier, that crowd-pleasing wheat ale with orange peel and coriander, and eagerly anticipated the moment when everyone would raise a frosty glass of “Wit Wedding” to toast me and my new bride. Then I found out it needed a month to condition. I had also made a rich stout with espresso and milk sugar because my wife loves dark beers and coffee beverages, but, alas, “I Love You A Latte Stout” suffered some irreparable sanitation issues. (Let’s just say exploding bottles were involved.) The too-late-for-me lesson learned: there are no do-overs in wedding planning, so complete key tasks well in advance.
In case it isn’t obvious, I’m a beer fan. In fact, I just completed a 2,500-plus-mile road trip visiting brewmasters throughout Oregon—nearly 200 in all—as rather enjoyable research for my guidebook, Oregon Breweries (Stackpole Books, out this fall). The variety of styles and flavors I sipped was delectably astounding and, I’d argue, makes beer a perfect fit for modern, foodie, personal weddings. When Margaret Lut, founder of the social drinking group Ladies of Lagers and Ales (LOLA), wed Lucky Labrador brewer Ben Flerchinger last October, guests got to indulge in a wealth of unique suds: Alameda brewmaster Carston Haney shared his own wedding beer; Cascade Brewing allowed the couple to create a blend of sour fruit beers; Breakside provided a beet-infused beer that Lut had helped develop; LOLA made a Strawberry-Lemonade Berliner Weisse at Old Town Brewing; and the couple both home-brewed a Champagne yeast beer for toasting (named Conspicuous Brut for the Australian beach where they got engaged) and created a dark lager called Puppy Love that’s now gracing the taps at Lucky Lab. “Beer is what brought us together, so we wanted to incorporate ones that had special meaning,” Lut says.
If you’d like to get your DIY drink on, Portland U-Brew & Pub, Let’s Brew, or Brew Brothers can help. Not the hands-on-your-hops type? There are more than 70 breweries in the Portland metro area where you can get the perfect biscuity, roasty, citrusy, and grassy bottles, cans, or kegs for your celebration. (Many others around the state distrubute here, but not all—a great excuse for a mid-wedding-planning beercation, even if you’re not writing a book about it.) Crack a cold one and check out our guide to a frothy fête.
Typically light, crisp, and refreshing with subtle grassy and peppery hop flavors, lagers and lager-like ales (kölsch, helles, cream ales) work for almost all guests and menus (especially sushi, grilled chicken, or Mexican), making them the blue jeans of the beer world.
POUR An homage to Cologne, Germany’s traditional ale and available in cans, Occidental Brewing’s dry and slightly spicy Kölsch is thirst-quenching and, at 4.5 percent alcohol, very sessionable. (Your loved ones can drink more without making embarrassing toasts.) McMinnville’s Heater Allen Brewing’s Pils is a malt-driven, quintessentially summertime lager; Breakside Pilsner has a killer biscuit-like maltiness and tangy kick; and Widmer Brothers Brewing’s Omission Lager is smooth and gluten-free.
PAIR Crown Paella’s Scott Ketterman recommends washing down their popular Crown Royale—paella studded with chicken, chorizo, prawns, clams, mussels, and piquillo peppers—with Double Mountain’s light-bodied, refreshing Kölsch: “Its crisp, clean nature complements the rich paella perfectly, and it has the right amount of hops to stand up to the seafood without overpowering the flavors.”
Sophisticated and versatile, craft beer fits in at fancy seated dinners and casual backyard barbecues alike. “To avoid overwhelming delicate flavors, stick with lighter, clean beers; you can pair the stronger, bold ones with rich foods,” says Devil’s Food Catering’s James Fowler. For example, try a station of prawns, snow crab claws, and raw oysters with Upright Brewing’s Four, a light, extra-dry Belgian-style farmhouse ale, or a combo of steak sliders on pretzel rolls with bleu cheese aïoli and Hood River’s Double Mountain Vaporizer, an aromatic, hoppy pale ale. Beer for dessert? Alameda Black Bear XX Stout and Salt & Straw’s Double Fold Singing Dog Vanilla makes a mean shake whatever the weather.
2. IPA & Imperial IPA
Certainly, hoppy India pale ales (imperials = IPA on steroids) are the flagship of craft brewing. Oregonians drink over 25 percent IPA, or four times more than the rest of America drinks in craft beer altogether. Gigantic Brewing makes only one year-round beer—guess what that is.… With pungent citrus and pine aromas, a rich caramel malt base, and a resinous, sometimes dank finish, IPA breeds obsession. Stage your event at the Kennedy School and you can sip McMenamins’ rotating IPA in the soaking pool between movies in the theater and Cajun tots in the Boiler Room.
POUR Cultishly popular right now, RPM IPA (massive hops, pineapple, citrus, and a faint cereal sweetness) from Bend’s Boneyard Brewing will make your beer aficionado buddies worship you. For Imperials, HUB’s organic Ace of Spades is a beast, while Hair of the Dog Brewing’s Blue Dot is brawny but beautiful.
PAIR Bold beers call for cuisine that can stand up to them, says Vibrant Table Catering & Events’ Kurt Beadell. Think German, Indian, heavy Asian, or hearty Oregon fare like cedar-planked salmon or braised pork shoulder with rosemary glaze.
Roasty with a rich mouthfeel, dark beers are best suited to the later portion of a meal to avoid overwhelming your palate and missing the subtle notes in more delicate offerings.
PICK There’s no better time to be decadent than your I do’s, so wow your crowd with the big, creamy Vanilla Oatis Oatmeal Stout from Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing, or offer Hazelnut Brown Nectar, a nuts-and-brown-sugar sensation from Newport’s Rogue.
POUR Both porters and stouts partner well with barbecue (serve it family-style) and desserts—end a lavish plated dinner with Alma Chocolate truffles and Deschutes Brewery’s espresso-y Obsidian Stout. On the lighter side, Corey Friesen of Bend’s Pronghorn, An Auberge Resort thinks their white chocolate Irish Cream and chocolate swirl pot de crème pairs beautifully with 10 Barrel Brewing ’s Sinister Black Ale, a schwarzbier with less astringency than other dark beers. “The Irish cream elevates the complex schwarzbier’s coffee component,” Friesen says. “We serve them with a gingersnap that harmonizes perfectly with the beer’s dried-fruit element.”
You’re not the stuffy type, so why not think outside the bottle or glass? Craft beers increasingly come in cool cans (Sweet As, a smooth APA from Bend’s GoodLife Brewing, has a stylish cobalt blue one), so consider custom koozies that double as favors or hand out cans in small brown paper bags with the tops rolled down. Eat Your Heart Out Catering and Culinary Events’ Chloe Fennell likes little shots of beer passed with mini corn dogs for a festive cocktail hour, noting that a Northwest IPA like Laurelwood Brewing’s big, citrusy Workhorse cuts perfectly through the breaded wieners’ richness. Or if you like things easy, make 64-ounce growlers a palatable part of your centerpieces.
Craft brews matter here—so much so that Oregon State University just created the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives to document their storied impact on economics (we’re talking $1.3 billion annually), culture, and more. It’s only natural that this big love for local beer would play out in our romantic rituals. After all, “bridal” comes from “bride-ale”—Old English meaning “wedding feast where much ale was drunk.” “A bar without beer is no bar at all,” says My Bartender’s Brett Soulek. “It’s affordable and almost everyone likes to drink it.” Get your party started with Ninkasi’s appropriately-named Nuptiale cream ale—pair with summer salads, pasta, and fruit tarts.
4. Fruit & Veggie Beer
While we always dig an artisan apple or pear cider (SE Powell Boulevard’s Bushwhacker Cider pub has eight rotating cider taps and 280-plus bottles), Oregon abounds in good libations brewed with all manner of produce, from the robust, toasted caramel and spice Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene to Burnside Brewing’s Sweet Heat, a wheat beer with apricot purée and appealingly subtle Scotch bonnet peppers.
POUR Although specialty beers are often seasonal/limited, Cascade Brewing usually offers a few sour ales featuring cherries, blueberries, figs, and more. In the fall, the Commons Brewery does a delightfully tart and light purple Plum Bretta farmhouse ale.
PAIR Sweet or dry but never overtly bitter, these Northwest bounty beverages go down easy with salads, shellfish, poultry, Indian, or even pizza. Jenn Louis of Culinary Artistry loves serving a watermelon salad with oil-cured olives and mint alongside Wit from Hood River’s Pfriem Family Brewers. “The melon plays off the beer’s orange peel, while the olives pick up its subtle notes of coriander,” Louis says. “It’s as refreshing as it gets for the summertime.”
More Tips on Tap
Beer is the New Wine
With flavors that can echo those in cheese and cocoa (roasted barley malt, used in stouts, porters, and more, is actually referred to as chocolate malt), beer has just as much foodie cred as its grape relation. Art of Catering’s James Lowry suggests quaffing shandy-like Swill from Bend’s 10 Barrel Brewing with elegant bites like green-olive tapenade, manchego, and quince-topped olive oil crackers, or indulging in flourless chocolate cake with Breakside’s Salted Caramel Stout. Beer flights or tasting stations also count as entertainment.
Beer Likes to Share
Beer may be your wedding bar’s backbone, but it isn’t for everyone. Round things out with wine-based batched cocktails, suggests Food in Bloom Catering’s Ollie Gahlsdorf. He recommends bubbly French 75s and Bellinis, or a white sangria with pinot gris, brandy, peach bitters, seasonal fruit, and citrus juice. Gluten-intolerant guests can have their brew and drink it, too, thanks to gluten-free Harvester Brewing and the new wave of cideries, like Reverend Nat’s and Wandering Aengus.
When serving beer with your organic lamb chops or vegan taco buffet, the most earth-friendly option is reusable kegs and glasses. With bottles and cans, make sure there’s a plan for the empties. “Some of our favorite local brews, like organic HUB Lager, are packaged in aluminum cans for maximum eco responsibility and ease of transport and recycling,” says Grace Henricks of sustainable caterer Artemis Foods. More green options: Base Camp Brewing’s unique aluminum bottles and Captured By Porches’ reusable swingtop bottles with $1 return deposits.
Beer is Budget-Friendly
Fact: truly great beer costs less than a mediocre bottle of vino. “Oregon wines, as delicious as they are, can get pricey,” says GP Catering’s Vicky Davies. “We advise starting with kegs—pour into 12 oz pilsner glasses rather than pints—and then ending the night with bottled beer. Any leftover bottles can easily be stored for your next backyard bash.” New Seasons offers 10 percent off when you buy cases for your event.
Beer Rocks Cocktails
While there’s certainly a time and place for Irish car bombs, the complexity of today’s craft beers makes them a prime ingredient in fancier wedding fare. “Many cocktails call for some bubbles—using beer will add a great dimension of flavor, aroma, and body,” says Merit Badge Bartending’s Matt Mount. “For instance, topping off our Buck Up (gin, ginger purée, cane sugar, and lemon) with a quality lager instead of Cava takes the drink into a nice malty direction.” If you like the classics, serve a stout and Champagne Black Velvet with truffle-fry apps, and spicy Micheladas at your day-after brunch.
If you need to do some hophead homework, SE Division Street’s Apex Bar has a sassy (and loud) rep, but also ample outdoor space and 50 taps. Belmont Station (on SE Stark) has 1,260-ish bottle options and 20-plus taps, including a rotating cider and one that’s dedicated gluten-free. The quietly venerated Bailey’s Taproom downtown has 24 Oregon-heavy taps, while NoPo’s Beervana-meets-the-Midwest Saraveza has nine taps, 250-plus curated bottles, and tasty pasties to keep your energy up.