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Serving Beer at Your Wedding Reception


A tableside pour of bubbly white or red wine is fine—but many couples seek a wedding meal that embraces beer, the beverage that has long defined Wisconsin. Adding it to your reception menu can elevate, not diminish, the elegance of the occasion.

Smart and thoughtful beer and food pairings offer numerous pleasant surprises in flavor and culinary complexity. A refreshing, semi-bitter pilsner, for example, can do as much to whet the appetite as a sip of sparkling wine.

So, flute of champagne or flight of microbrews? Anything goes, especially when the choice reflects your own tastes.

  • Hinterland Brewery Green Bay, Milwaukee
    Maybe you’re content with just wedding cake for dessert, but Bill Tressler, owner of Hinterland Brewery, knows brides who have used beer in more creative pursuits. Add his Weizen Bier (a German wheat with hints of clove and banana) to pancake batter for a crêpe-like treat, topped with bacon-flavored ice cream and maple gastrique. Or match his coffee-flavored Luna Stout with chocolate and berries.
         Featuring beer on a wedding menu “is becoming more of a hip thing to do, especially with the range of beers available today,” says Tressler, whose two restaurants showcase his brews. “What I look for when working with the chefs on a wedding menu are the types of protein and sauces, be it a veal reduction or beurre blanc. Is the dish earthy, containing morel mushrooms or ramps in spring? You have to select a beer that complements, not competes with the food.”
         As you build your menu, consider how the components (including other beverages) work together, he advises. “Monkfish simply doesn’t go well with a lighter beer, especially if adding braised oxtail and a heavy reduction sauce.”
         Similarly, adding beer to long-simmering sauce accentuates the beverage’s flavor profile. “You want to be careful when braising,” Tressler says. “Don’t choose a bitter beer, because you’ll further the bitterness, especially if it’s too hoppy to begin with.”
  • Culina Mariana Restaurant La Crosse
    Beverages from New Glarus and Milwaukee’s Sprecher brewing companies feature prominently in menu planning at Culina Mariana, a restaurant/caterer on the hilly grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, south of downtown La Crosse. These picturesque 107 acres host wedding receptions (though not ceremonies), and religious affiliation is not required.
         Restaurant general manager Phillip Wanke has noticed a definite increase in the number of couples requesting regional microbrews. Preferences cover more than what the guests will drink: Wanke notes that cooking with beer in soups, sauces, and glazes “adds a lot of depth of character” and flavor.
         Matching smoked chicken with the nutty flavor of Sprecher’s Pub Ale has been a success for him, as has serving Guinness alongside braised beef with the same Irish stout in the meat’s glaze.“
         As with any menu or pairing plan, come in with an open mind,” Wanke says, “but our job is to take the time to listen to you and make your preferences work.”
  • Harvest Restaurant Madison
    “Most couples getting married in Wisconsin have many guests who aren’t familiar with Wisconsin cuisine,” observes Tami Lax, owner of Harvest Restaurant, whose customized and boutique menus serve up to 60 people. “What better way to introduce them and make their wedding reception the most memorable event they and their guests have ever been to?”
         For some couples, it takes a big leap to think “pilsner and pale ale” instead of “champagne and chardonnay.” Although couples have requested meals with a strong focus on Wisconsin beer at Harvest, “no one has gone the full mile, planning an entire meal with pairings, quite yet. It has been a mix of both wine and beer.”
         But the restaurant routinely presents themed dinners for the public, including a four-course Wisconsin Craft Beer Dinner, using products from Red Eye Brewing Co. in Wausau. The menu—from curried mussels with Bloom (a Belgian-style white) to date-almond cake with Veruca Stout (a milk stout)—demonstrates the level of sophistication that beer can bring to the table.
         “We are up for anything, especially when it comes to showcasing the bounty of Wisconsin,” says Lax.
  • Zilli Hospitality Group – Waukesha
    What a couple decides to eat and drink during their first meal as husband and wife can reflect their values, ethnicity or shared history. Gary Campbell of Milwaukee-area Zilli Hospitality Group says more customers are choosing to include one or more kinds of specialty beer.
         A wedding toast with a pint of Guinness could honor the bride and groom’s Irish heritage. For others, the preferred brand might be a sentimental choice—whatever they drank when they met—or the best of what they’ve experienced as beer connoisseurs.
         Campbell says some brides aim to match particular textures and flavors as they plan their menus. The citrus-like appeal of Wheat Monkey Ale from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, for example, is a natural match for seafood.
         “A big question sometimes is ‘How do we present the beverage?’” Campbell says. Specialty glassware adds panache, while large-mouth glasses look especially attractive and allow the beer to properly work the palate and “accentuate the nose profile” of the brew.
         Tableside pours by attentive waitstaff are an option, but so is leaving ice-cold bottles next to the place settings, says Campbell, “keeping the freshness right at the table.”

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