Friday, 28 September 2012

The Wedding: Awesome

Against all odds I actually finished part 2 of my Wedding Trilogy this week, so here it is for your perusal. It also looks like part 3 is finished, but whether I post that one next week depends on what happens in between. In the meantime, enjoy…

There are some occasions that demand booze and the king of them all is the wedding.

Weddings are awesome. The booze, for the most part is free, and you’re encouraged to drink it all day. I love drinking all day, and I try to do it as often as possible. The British media call that a binge, but not when it’s a wedding. Weddings are the acceptable side of binge drinking. I suspect it might be because weddings usually involve drinking a lot of champagne and wine – and also that weddings are in keeping with Conservative family values. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like so much of a binge when you’re drinking wine. You’d have to be a special kind of person to go on a wine binge.

What’s not to love about a wedding? It is expected that you are going to get smashed. In fact, if you do get smashed, Great Aunt Sybil isn’t going to think, “what a drunken lout”, she’s going to think, “how nice that that young man has come to celebrate this wedding, and is having such a great time”.

Just don’t punch Great Aunt Sybil in the nose, or vomit in her hat. Also, maybe don’t swear prolifically.

Well, I’ve alluded to it in previous posts, but Brenda and I got married recently, which was brilliant – you know, for all the usual reasons, but also because it meant we got to throw a massive party, and place particular focus on the quality of the food and quality and quantity of the drink.

At our wedding, one of our friends was dragged onto the dancefloor, still in his chair and treated to a lap dance, right in front of my parents. Afterwards my mother said it was lovely to see all the young people having a good time. There were also two gay men having a full-on snog in the middle of the dancefloor, and no one batted an eyelid. Brilliant.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog about weddings, so I’ll keep non-booze related details to a minimum. If you want that stuff, I’m sure there are tons of blogs to satisfy your needs. This post is just about the ideas we had, and what happened about the booze. There will have to be some details about the wedding though, otherwise it just won’t make sense.

In theory, you should only be planning a wedding once, so you don’t really know how to do it. Those idiots on Don’t Tell the Bride can do it mind, so how hard can it be? Well, we’ve found it can be quite hard, so it’s good if you’ve got about a year to do it. The main problem is that you come up with all these original and exciting ideas, then someone tells you, “yeah, you can’t do that.” 

Of paramount importance to us was the quality of the food and booze, so we needed to make sure that we found somewhere that could provide what we wanted within our budget. To be fair, we didn’t even have a budget for a long while there, and I don’t mean ‘money was no object’ – I mean, there was no money - but we sorted some out eventually.

With regard to food, a lot of the venues have their own caterers, and each caterer produces a number of set wedding menus. It’s all stuff like a salmon starter and thin slices of beef for the main (how many times have you had that at a wedding?), and it costs £47 per head.

Not only did we want to avoid anything that resembled what we call ‘wedding food’, but we didn’t want to pay £47 a head for it. They all assured us that they could work to our specifications, but at a price. So like… £60 a head.

At one particularly memorable wedding we went to, we were served fillet steak. I’d never been served that at a wedding before, and it was superb – hot, tender, perfectly cooked. I said to the guy sitting next to me, who was himself getting married shortly, “you never get fillet steak at a wedding; it’s normally thin slices of beef! What are you having at your wedding?”

“Thin slices of beef”.

I thought he was joking. He wasn’t, and his fiancĂ©e wasn’t looking very happy. I wonder whether their wedding menu changed after that…

Wedding caterers tend to advise against serving fillet steak because it’s really difficult to cook it correctly and get it out to everyone in sufficient time, so how the caterers managed it at that wedding remains a mystery, and one that we weren’t keen to solve when it was our turn.

Don’t worry, it’s all booze from here on in. I only mention the food because there was a story about it, and it was a large contributing factor in the selection of our venue – as I’m about to tell you shortly.

In terms of booze, some of the bars at the venues we checked out were no better stocked than your local working men’s club. It was all Fosters and Carling, Bells and Bacardi. And the lagers were £3.80 for a 330ml bottle. This would never do! I wanted premium lagers that I actually liked to be available and fancy spirits with ages on the bottle, not stuff you get at 2 bottles for £20 in Morrisons.

Of course there were lots of other considerations, but the place we chose, The Living Room on Manchester’s Deansgate fitted the bill completely when it came to food and booze. I never thought I’d have my wedding reception on a Friday night on Deansgate, but The Living Room has three private upstairs rooms that we could use, it’s an actual restaurant (of some repute) - so it could provide the modern gourmet cuisine we were after, and it’s also an actual bar – a well stocked one.

We’d eaten there before, and been impressed. We were more impressed when we saw the function rooms, and the deal was sealed when they told us they could do our choice of menu for £32 a head. For my money, it’s better quality than 95% of wedding food, and it’s different. They could allow us to provide three choices for each course for our guests, and could even do lamb for us – for that price. Furthermore, it’s what you call a ‘minimum spend’ deal. So there’s no charge for hiring the room, there’s just a minimum amount of money you have to spend, and all the food and booze counts towards it.


When I say the booze was important, I’m not talking about wine, mind. If you’ve read much of my blog before, you’ll be aware that I don’t think much of wine, and although we knew we’d have to provide some, we weren’t keen on spending too much on it – what’s that? Your house white and your house red are £17 a bottle? That’ll do. You just have to forget that Aldi sells bottles of wine at £2.99 a bottle. We looked at providing our own wine too, and corkage tends to cost the same as (or more than) the house wine. I think providing Aldi wine would have been a bit too cheap, mind.

We did taste the house stuff, and it was all right. That’s all you want so sorry to any guests who were hoping for some great wine. I don’t think many people would know great wine if it bit them on the bottom… and given that I’ve never tasted a great wine, I remain unconvinced that such a thing actually exists – and if it does, it’s going to be too expensive to provide for all our guests anyway. On that subject, a friend told me his boss had bought some £180 bottles on a night out recently, and when I asked him if he could tell the difference, he said no.

We did try to think about our friends who liked wine a little though, in that we both remembered at least one of them professing a liking for Sauvignon Blanc, and saying that everything else was bland in comparison. So we made sure one of the wines was that, and we made sure there would be enough for one whole bottle per person. No one complained about the quality of the wine, so I’m going to assume it was fine.

Beer, and more specifically, Double Maxim

Now, one of the ideas I had was to have beer available during the meal (which is called a wedding breakfast, for some reason – beer for breakfast! Speaking of breakfast, I did have a little Caol Ila to calm the nerves before leaving the house in the morning). I’ve been to countless weddings where I’m being served a generous flow of wine throughout the meal, but all I want is a beer, so we asked our liaison if we could have big buckets of beer on ice at every table so that people who wanted beer could damn well have it. Not a problem. They could do good beer too, and I got to choose. I went for Peroni because everyone likes that. We also chose a cider (Bulmers) because several of my friends can’t drink beer anymore, due to wheat intolerance.
What God would drink...

One of my other ideas (that also came to fruition), was that I wanted one of the beers that was to be available to be Double Maxim. My friends and I used to drink this in Gosforth’s Earl Grey pub (now a wine bar, apparently) while we were at University in Newcastle in the late 90s (£2.05 a pint, in those days, 4.7% ABV). It was a beautiful, deep red ale that was the ideal complement to Brannigan’s Beef and Mustard crisps, and that didn’t have that bitter taste many ales of this kind do. I would call it an underappreciated gem. In fact, when our events manager mentioned my request to the chef, he said we should get Newcastle Brown. I told her to tell him, “Newcastle Brown good, Double Max better.” Whether she did or not, I don’t know.

...if he was real
The recipe of the Brannigan’s crisps has changed now in order to make them healthier at the expense of flavour - in spite of the complaint I wrote to the manufacturer through one of those online complaint submission forms that didn’t provide nearly enough capacity to adequately describe my gripe.

Meanwhile Double Maxim is very much harder to find. I haven’t seen Double Maxim anywhere since I left Newcastle in 1999, though after the wedding my friend Dave located some bottles in his local Morrison’s.

Double Max used to be brewed by Vaux in Sunderland, and I seem to recall that the brewery closed that year. A couple of years later I entered the Red Lion pub in Sheffield (a frequent haunt for a while) and saw that they had Double Maxim beer mats on all the tables. My excitement was extinguished when I asked at the bar and found they didn’t actually have the beer, but I did collect a beer mat to take home with me.

I also used to have a Double Maxim ash tray, but I think that was lost in a flat move.

Double Maxim is now brewed by Maxim Brewery, and is supposedly available in bottles, cans and cask. The website says it is available in supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but believe me; I have looked, and I haven’t seen it so far. It does say you can order it direct, though.

The Living Room said they would try to source it, but they are subject to limitations on the suppliers they are allowed to use. If they couldn’t, they’d allow us to provide our own, subject to a corkage fee. I’m happy to say it didn’t come to that. They found they could supply it at £3.50 per bottle, and that was 500ml bottles, so for bar prices, that’s pretty reasonable. The ones Dave found in Morrisons were £1.80 per bottle.

Providing Double Maxim led to one of my highlights of the day. As I was sitting at the head table, waiting for my first course, two friends (Joe and Dave) approached with looks of absolute delight on their faces. It was a special moment. If you’re a fan of ale like Old Speckled Hen, there’s a good chance you’ll like it – nay, prefer it. If you do happen to see it anywhere, make sure you let me know; we could start a Maxim Watch. I can’t believe I just say ‘nay’.

Now, I know you’re not necessarily supposed to keep ale in the fridge, but I like my beer cold, and that’s where I kept the crate of Double Maxim that was left over after the wedding. I may be mistaken, but I swear this beer stays cold once you take it out of the fridge a lot longer than it should do. So that’s a bonus.

Unfortunately it is now gone. I finished the last bottle on Sunday afternoon, and I hope it won’t be so long before we next meet. Until then it will be sorely missed, and though the photos can’t simulate the flavour, at least I can keep one in my wallet and think of the good times. I’m not really going to keep one in my wallet.

Pre-mixed drinks

I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself here, because I’ve jumped straight to the reception, but there are one or two other elements I want to cover. Firstly, it was essential that we got people lubricated fairly early (for the relentless alcohol bumming that was coming their way later). The wedding was to take place at 2pm at Manchester Town Hall, and I didn’t want it to be one of those weddings where you’re standing about asking, “when are we going to get a drink?”

We wanted, in some small way, to simulate a pub crawl, and had hired a bus to take everyone to the nearby Rain Bar for free drinks while the wife and I went for some more outdoor photos, but we were aware that people might be in need of refreshment before that. We were also aware that people might be getting hungry. The meal wasn’t scheduled until after 6, so anyone who hadn’t thought about lunch might be struggling.

 Brenda hit upon the idea of taking snacks and drinks on the bus. The snacks would be nuts and pretzels, and the drinks would be those pre-mixed alcoholic drinks you can get in 250ml cans. We stored them with bags of ice for the duration of the ceremony (in one of those giant Ikea shopping bags), and handed them out as our guests clambered on to the bus.

tower of booze

I hadn’t tried any of these before, but I thought it was a great idea, and a lot more weddingy than handing out cans of beer – not to mention, something different to write about for the blog. We had Smirnoff and Cranberry (6.4% ABV), Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and Cola (6.4% ABV), Gordon’s Gin and Tonic (6.4% ABV) , Southern Comfort with lemonade and lime (5% ABV), and a Pimms one (5.4% ABV, I still don’t know what Pimms is…).

Sadly I didn’t get to try them all, though they went down very well with the guests. I had a Captain Morgan and cola on the bus, and I have to say, finally I ‘get’ rum and coke. The balance of flavours was just right.

The missus and I then left our guests in the pub while we took a car to various nearby locations for more photos. I was able to grab a can of the Smirnoff to take with us, and since then have also been able to try the Southern Comfort. Like the Captain Morgan, they are all nicely balanced, so it’s just a matter of personal taste.

We bought 80 cans for our 52 guests I think, and they were on offer at 4 cans for £6, which isn’t bad. There are a number of other varieties you can get; I wanted the Three Barrels brandy and coke, but I wasn’t present at the purchasing, so that one was overlooked.

I wouldn’t normally see the point in pre-mixed alcoholic drinks like this, but under these circumstances they made perfect sense – a little bit classier than cans of lager, but alcoholic nevertheless.

The Pub

As I said, we took everyone to a pub (Rain Bar) for drinks in advance of the main reception. We thought it would be cool to have the wedding simulate a pub crawl, since it wasn’t all going to take place in one venue anyway. I don’t know what people drank in there, but we put £450 behind the bar, and let them order what they wanted. They were scheduled to be there for about an hour and a half before the bus would pick them up again, and take them to The Living Room for…


I’m afraid I didn’t think to take any pictures of the cocktails, but they were pretty special. The new wife and I shared a general apathy towards champagne receptions, and we’d thought it might be more fun to offer our guests a selection of cocktails on arrival.

The original idea was that I would invent a couple of cocktails, but when we mentioned cocktails to our events manager, she said that they would have a new cocktail menu for the summer, and that they would allow us a free tasting session in advance of the event, so we just decided to go with that.

One Friday evening after work we went over there, where a table had been reserved next to the bar for us. We were introduced to the bar manager and encouraged to peruse the cocktail menu and try whichever ones we fancied. It was a lot of fun to talk about what we liked and what we wanted, and in the end we must have drunk about ten between us, finally settling on three.

Foam seemed to be the theme of the summer, with two of our selections featuring it. One was served in a cocktail glass, but was made with whisky and was very strong. I figured that while it looked like a feminine drink, it tasted quite masculine, so we would need a masculine looking drink and a feminine looking drink that tasted feminine. It made sense at the time, but as I say, we were drinking free cocktails. I figured the ladies would be drawn to the one in the cocktail glass, and might be shocked at the strong whisky flavour.

We fulfilled our criteria, with one drink called ‘Return of the Mac’ and another one being a fruity concoction. On the day I only had time to have one cocktail, and after that I was feeling pretty smashed, so I had to drink two jugs of water with my meal to regain equilibrium.

A number of our guests were already well on their way, too. I understand there was impromptu singing on the bus from the pub and one person was caught having a snooze during the meal.


The result of the smorgasbord of booze we laid on was that everyone got wasted, which made for a very fun day and evening – even the staff were getting down at one point (I’ll put that down to the killer playlist I’d put together for the dance).

I estimate that we spent around £3000 on alcohol, and I don’t consider a penny of it to have been wasted (that was for 52 people, though we had more join us in the evening). There were numerous reports of severe hangovers on Facebook the next day, and general consensus was positive, so we were very happy with the way things turned out, and ready to start married life.

It’s a shame it’s all over really, because it was a lot of fun, but I suppose we don’t have to stress about it anymore – all the organising and vow writing and speech writing… If there’s one bit of advice I could give you should you be considering getting married at some point in the future – other than making sure you find the right person (though you can never guarantee that, even when you’re sure!) – it would be to plan as much as possible with your guests in mind. If you make them feel special, and they have a good time, then you’ll feel special and have a good time, too. You may be getting married, but it isn’t about you. You might look the best on the day, and have everything how you want it, but It’s about all the people in your life, so just try to remember that.


  1. Fucking loved your wedding Neil! From the classy G&T on the bus, to the half of real ale in the pub (I was TRYING to be good at that point), the amazing cocktails at Living Room and that Sauvignon Blanc (because every other white wine tastes bland in comparison) I loved every single god damn minute. And I certainly got wasted! Makes me want to get married again... guess I'll just have to make sure we do a party for Gav's 40th...

  2. Thanks Clare. It was certainly a pleasure to have you as a guest! And yes, I believe it was you that clued us in on sauvignon blanc.

  3. Wedding Drinks is awesome to drink in wedding day. The wedding drink is enjoy to celebrate our friends wedding parties.

  4. Absolutely. Are you at a wedding now?

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