The first hour of Kori and Patrick Baloy’s wedding reception was crowded with people they’d never met. And we don’t mean friends of parents or the spouses of work colleagues; we’re talking actual strangers – there for the beer.
That’s because the Baloys are part of a growing trend of newlyweds trading the stuffiness and formality of a traditional wedding location for a loose, fun event held in a brewery.
Ballrooms, chapels, and country clubs are the usual spots to exchange vows. But increasingly, people are looking for unique experiences that more closely align with their personalities. It was only a matter of time before beer lovers started using their favorite hangouts to get hitched.
Pinterest shows hundreds of ways to get married in breweries, and wedding bloggers are sharing tips, too. Listicles of the best breweries to get married in are showing up in national magazines.
It makes sense for breweries. They often have plenty of space and a party-like atmosphere, perfect for celebrations. The Baloys had their reception at O’Connor Brewing Company, which has hosted eight ceremonies, between 20 and 30 receptions, and at least 50 rehearsal dinners since moving to its new location in 2014.
The bigger space is perfect for large parties. The brewery frequently hosts festivals and concerts, so a wedding is no stretch. The Baloys’ wedding still had attendants, a DJ, catered food and other traditional wedding elements, but nothing fancy.
The couple’s wedding photos have more than a few strangers standing in the background, but that’s OK with the Baloys. That laid-back environment is exactly what attracted the Landstown High School sweethearts to O’Connor.
“I loved how casual it was,” Kori said.
“Patrick and I are just that way. It was just the best environment.”
O’Connor is one of several local breweries taking advantage of this trend. Others include Bold Mariner Brewing Company, Tradition Brewing Company, and Back Bay Brewing
Back Bay even has a private event space called “The Blind.” It was meant to be a venue for live music, but appeals to couples planning weddings, rehearsals and showers, too. It can fit about 100 people.
At Tradition, couples want to use the mezzanine space.
“Breweries provide such a different atmosphere … than other traditional venues,” said Sarah Serrano, O’Connor’s events manager. “The younger crowd is going against the grain.”
Connie and Aaron Mack had their wedding at O’Connor, too. But they took it up a notch.
They wanted the feel of the brewery, but added elegant touches that played off the “industrial rustic” look they wanted. Their family was surprised a brewery could be transformed into something as formal as a wedding.
“I think it’s different and I think people are trying to venture out of the norm,” Connie said. “They don’t want a cookie-cutter wedding, they want to be unique and different.”
Alaina and Brandon Williams didn’t want their wedding to be cookie-cutter either, but a brewery isn’t what they had in mind until they saw O’Connor.
Alaina thought it would be a cool place to party after her wedding.
“I think it was unique,” Alaina said. “I didn’t want to do something everyone else was doing. I wanted something I was going to remember.”
She said she found her ceremony location based on what was nearby the brewery.
Her mom wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first, Alaina said, but she came around to it.
She agreed it had Alaina and Brandon “written all over it,” Alaina recalled.
Jill Brown, Alaina’s wedding planner and the owner of Sunkissed Events, said the trend is limited by the size of the breweries. Many are not big enough to hold a wedding for 150 people.
“It’s definitely a trend and something that I think more people would probably do if the breweries were selling themselves to accommodate that,” she said. “If more breweries had the event space, I could see more people getting married there.”
Unique is a good reason, but it’s not the only one. Cost is another factor. That’s why Megan and Mark Reynolds tied the knot at Bold Mariner Brewing Company.
“We thought it would be a cool thing to do,” Megan said. “I was looking for a cute venue – that or going to the park and catering everything myself. That was the cheapest thing I came up with.”
In Hampton Roads, the average cost of a wedding for about 150 people is $30,000, Brown said. The national average cost of a wedding in 2016 was $35,329, according to The Knot, an online wedding planning resource.
At O’Connor, the average cost is $1,000 to $3,000 for the rental fee, bar tab, tax and gratuity, and other fees. The price goes up if you want to rent the whole brewery when it would normally be open to the public.
That’s not out of the question for smaller breweries, such as Bold Mariner.
Megan said she got the idea from a blog and contacted Kerrie Stacks, the co-owner of the brewery. Bold Mariner has been hosting weddings, engagement parties and rehearsal dinners practically since it opened in 2016. It’s something the owners never expected, but have quickly embraced.
One of the interesting things Stacks has noticed is brides mostly leave the brewery’s aesthetics alone, but add their personal touches. “A lot of people say they don’t want to decorate, they want to appreciate the space,” Stacks said.
The Reynolds went to great lengths to make their wedding special. They had a food truck cater the event, and a friend performed the nuptials. It also included a handfasting ceremony, a pagan ritual in which the hands are essentially fastened together.
Tradition Brewing Company has only been open a few months, but already several wedding events are booked through 2017, said Jen Barnes, the brewery’s events coordinator.
The first one was in October, when a couple had to move their wedding inside because a storm ruined their outdoor plans.
It’s not always easy to sell everyone on the brewery’s charms, and sometimes Barnes has to explain the concept to the grooms’ mothers. “It’s really neat to see (them) adjust,” she said.
Weddings are changing, Barnes added.
“I think a lot of modern day couples aren’t doing what’s traditional.”