Ask the Expert: Ian Sterling | Master Mixologist

One of the first things that arise in the discussion of wedding planning is, of course, the bar. The bar is often the focal point of an event and deserves thoughtful consideration in terms of what will be offered and how it will be served. I recently had a chance to interview master mixologist and bartender extraordinaire Ian Sterling about the nuances of a well stocked event bar.

How long have you been tending bar and what is your beverage of choice?

Over twenty years now, can't believe it!  CHAMPAGNE! Beverage choice for me is always based on food, mood and weather. My tendency is to go for beverages (alcohol or not) that are acidic and clean.

Beer and wine are sometimes the only alcoholic beverages offered at a wedding. If this is the case, how many different varieties of each do you recommend offering? Should the beer be bottled or keg?

Wine: Dry Sparkling, New World Chardonnay, Old World Pinot Blanc, Small amount of Riesling, New World Cabernet, Cote du Rhone. Beer: Brown ale, Domestic Lager, Small amount of Non-Alcoholic beer. I prefer kegs with a coil system for beer for a couple different reasons. Easier to setup, use less ice, less cooler space required, cost effective. Bottles can always be added if necessary.

How does the addition of spirits effect the aforementioned variety, and what are the standard (although we know nothing is standard in the wedding industry!) spirits offered at a wedding bar?

Obviously introducing spirits will drop your pars on beer and wine. The varietals I mentioned are basic and will cover most tastes.  Standard Spirits: Vodka, Flavored Vodka, Spiced Rum, White Rum, Gin (small amount if at all), Whiskey. Most of the events I serve run 2nd tier spirits mixed in with some 1st tier (well) spirits. Absolut, Sky Flavored (raspberry, blood orange, citrus), Captain Morgan, Cruzan Light, Tanguray, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. Vodka usually "sells" 5 to 1 of everything else. Vodka Soda in the summer is popular. Spiced rum is popular. Tequila is probably not necessary unless you are going to use it for Margarita's or signature drinks. I like have a inexpensive bottle of Amaretto to cover the those craving sweet. Triple Sec, Roses Lime, Grenadine, Dry/Sweet Vermouth for Martini's.

Certainly there are a lot of factors that effect the outcome, but how does one calculate the amount of beer, wine and spirits that are needed for a party?

It's amazing how much the bride and groom know about their crowd. Spending a small amount of time discussing their friends, family and co-workers is a huge asset in deciding quantities. It's a percentage game.

Hours the bar will be open, season, age demographic, venue and multiple bars all hold weight when deciding quantities. Beer is pretty straight forward. Knowing how many beers in each size barrel can give you a rough estimate of what you'll use. Liquor and wine can be estimated as well provided you have experienced staff behind the bar. Hiring a seasoned professional will keep the bar on track, anticipate needs and make sure the guests have a good time.

Are there any items you would avoid offering? Why?

Super Labor intensive Drinks. Muddling Herbs can slow service especially if your party is 100 or more guests. Also,post ceremony tray passed sparkling wine. Offer a specialty drink instead. Most tray passed sparkling wine is wasted either because the guest does not want it or it gets warm. Order a nice Italian Prosecco and offer it at the bar. You'll go through less product.

What is your best piece of advice for engaged couples when planning and purchasing for the bar?

Keep it simple and have faith that what ever you offer you friends will be pleased. Also, try to avoid multiple bars. If you are having a big wedding one large bar will be more efficient in terms of Labor and opened product for which you may be charged.

Do you have a favorite cocktail to make? To drink?

To Make: Leelanau Lemonades or a top shelf Margarita because most everyone smiles on the first sip. To drink would be a really good Side Car.