There was only one speech at the wedding of 37-year-old health specialist Chris Kebbel and Sarah Mulholland, a 34-year-old communications officer, at a family cottage outside Fenelon Falls, Ont., last September.
As the couple were signing the guest book, their best man, Cass Enright, asked everyone to raise their champagne flutes, which were filled with an opaque, cherry-red liquid topped with thick creamy foam, and told the story of the brew inside.
The month prior, Mr. Enright, his girlfriend and the happy couple-to-be went on a beer run – driving 1,600 kilometres round-trip to Madison, Wis., to pick up a few kegs of their favourite beer, Wisconsin Belgian Red, as well as Raspberry Tart, from New Glarus Brewing Co., whose legendary craft beers are available only in the Dairy State.
And what a beer Wisconsin Belgian Red is. With a punch-you-in-the-face, mouth-puckering tart cherry nose and taste, punctured by hints of sweetness and oak, it consistently makes the list of the top 100 beers in the world compiled by ratebeer.com, the online bible of beer ratings.
These days, more and more couples are going the distance to make craft beer the centre of their nuptials. "When I tried the Belgian Red the summer before our wedding, it was like nothing I've ever had before," Ms. Mulholland says. "Neither of us are that into wine, and this beer is meant to be served in champagne flutes, so it fit really well with the celebratory nature of the day. For our toast, we wanted to show our guests that beer is more than just frat parties and pub nights – we wanted to show them what beer can be."
A burgeoning movement of small breweries that are making "craft" beer with local ingredients is lending beer a new respect, giving it enough status to move from the sports bar to formal dining rooms. Wine has been the star at the table of wedding banquets for well over a century, but more and more brides and grooms are forsaking merlot and chardonnay for something they actually like to drink. (In fact, the trend is a bit of a return to tradition. The word bride is thought to come from the Old German word bruid, the root of which, bru, described a new wife's duties: to cook, make broth and brew beer.)
When Chris Dixon, 32 and Sunny Patch, 31, were planning their wedding, it was essential that it reflect the city where they met. So when they tied the knot at a museum in Whitehorse last August, guests could choose a bottle of Yukon Gold, Yukon Red or Ice Fog by Yukon Brewing from a canoe filled with ice. Each style had a personalized label with a picture of the couple.
"We had a lot of out-of-town guests, our venue looked over the Yukon River and the Yukon-made beer tied it all into a locally themed wedding – without having to force people to dress in period costumes," Ms. Patch says.
Craft beer is just one part of a larger trend in weddings toward personalizing every aspect of the celebration, says Robyn Green, owner of Kai Event Management in Vancouver, an event and wedding planning company.
"A lot of couples are getting married in their late 20s and early 30s and they're paying for the wedding themselves. They've been to a ton of weddings, they don't have to justify the cost to their family and they want to do something that will set their day apart," she says.
"We don't love traditional weddings, so we modelled ours after everything that we like to do," says Jenny Sojat, a 30-year-old speech language pathologist in Vancouver who married Alex Sojat, a 35-year-old doctor, this month.
Instead of opting for an easygoing lager or pale ale, the couple had a personalized label made up for their favourite beer – the oily, black, 9-per-cent-alcohol Pothole Filler Imperial Stout by Howe Sound Brewing, and included it in their welcome packages and at their rehearsal dinner, along with their other favourite local brews, in a private cabin at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
"We really wanted our wedding to represent us – and if it was our favourite, we did it," she said. "We didn't think anyone would drink our beer. We brought five cases of wine, and we took four home, but all of the beer went."
Beer's versatility at the table is another reason why more and more couples are reaching for it on their big day.
"Beer can be more complementary with food than wine," says Roger Mittag, a beer consultant and founder of Prud'homme Beer Certification, a beer sommelier program. "Wines can work well, but typically they don't complement the dishes like beer does, so you can do a lot more with beer if you're pairing it with your dinner."
Still, Mr. Mittag suggests that couples have wine on offer for the unconverted guests and if they are going to serve beer, they should look for brews that complement the dishes instead of cutting or contrasting, because some people just won't get the wildly diverging flavours.
One of the easiest foods to pair beer with at weddings is the cake. "If the icing is really buttery, you need a beer that can cut through it, but also has caramel and toffee characteristics, like an Innis & Gunn," Mr. Mittag says. "A fruit beer with a wedding cake is going to work no matter what."
And for those exhausted by the wedding industry's competitive one-upmanship, beer's casual charm and low price tag will keep the celebration from becoming too highfalutin.
"We both love beer," Annica Leigh says, "but not the commercial stuff, even when we go to music festivals and they're only serving Heineken, it's a turnoff." So at her wedding last July in Victoria, Annica and Jason Leigh shotgunned cans of their favourite brew – Race Rocks Ale from the local Lighthouse Brewing Company – in the middle of the dance floor to chants of "chug, chug, chug, chug!"
On the menu
Want to pair your wedding menu with the perfect style of beer? We asked beer consultant Roger Mittag to pair this spring wedding menu with a great beer.
First course: Chilled asparagus soup, finished with a splash of cream, chive crème fraîche and a fried, julienned leek crackle.
Beer pairing: Either a Blanche de Chambly or Hoegaarden. The citrus and coriander of a Belgian witbier will complement the leek crackle, the chives and the sweetness of the soup. The extra carbonation will help to cut the richness of the crème fraîche.
Second course: Pickerel with succotash from a 19th-century native recipe.
Beer pairing: Creemore Kellerbier or Kronenbourg 1664. Pickerel is very light and needs a lager that will not overpower it. These two beers will also complement the sweetness of the corn.
Third course: Beef tenderloin served with potato, egg and bacon salad, stuffed tomatoes and sautéed asparagus.
Beer pairing: Try a Dunkel or a black lager such as King Dark or Kostrizer Schwarzbier. With a tenderloin, choose a beer that won't overwhelm the gentle flavours, but one that still complements the charring. The potato, egg and bacon salad are a very nice complement to the malt and umami flavours in the beers and the slight bitterness will cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
Special to The Globe and Mail