I knew that BYOB would be manageable, because every year I help my old nonprofit with it's annual gala and my job is to bring enough beer and liquor for 450 people. I wasn't willing to take it to beer/wine/signature drink because that added a level of exhaustion to my thought process. I also don't know anyone who won't drink beer, wine, or juice-wine. Most people that like sweet cocktails rather than wine or beer will drink Moscato or Riesling.
For our alcohol, I went up to Beltway Liquors in Towson. I had been told over the phone that they had "party planning specialists" who would help me decide how much wine we needed and what to serve. The person I spoke with wasn't that helpful, but I was glad to talk to him. The one complaint I have about Beltway is that on the phone, I was told that we could order stuff and it took about a week. When I talked to the party planning specialist, he told me that it would take longer. This was 10 days before the wedding, so I had to buy off the rack.
We had taste tested reds and whites at a dinner party and decided to serve a Yellowtail Shiraz-Cab blend as our red and Mallee Point Chardonnay as our dry white. I wanted a moscato and some semi-sweet Terrapin Station Cayuga White as the other two.
Beltway only had a case of the Yellowtail, so I got Gumdrop or Gumtree or something Shiraz and also Mallee Point Shiraz to round out the selection. I was worried about not having all the same of a wine, but when I thought about it, I decided that wasn't a key concern. They also only had 4 boxes of the Cayuga White, which is equivalent to 8 bottles. They had plenty of the Mallee Point chardonnay, so that wasn't an issue. When we went to pick out the Barefoot Moscato, the specialist suggested I go with SteepleJack instead. It was $2 cheaper per bottle and was "flying off the shelves", he explained. I had had it before and liked it, and we were trying to save money here, so I took two cases. We have a case leftover from the wedding (not everyone likes juice-wine) and I wouldn't let Mark return it because it's so delicious. And really, it's $6 a bottle, and with the 10% case discount?
And the beer? The beer is where we got really smart. When you have a wedding in the Maryland area and you do BYOB, your go-to beer should be Yuengling. Yuenlging is cheap, but it's really good. A lot of my friends love it, and it's usually their "go-to" cheap draft beer. The rest of the lineup was Heavy Seas Gold Ale (which at least 3 of my friends have commented on how happy they were that we had), Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, and Victory Prima Pils.
All of the beer was (fairly) locally brewed, which is good because our wine mostly ended up coming from Australia. I wish I'd been more committed to finding a red and white from Virginia, but towards the end of the wedding, some of our environmental concerns got laid by the wayside in favor of cost and convenience.
We also decided at the last minute to add a case of cider. I wanted to get Original Sin because it's a fun name and it's from New York, so it's sort of local. Beltway's only cider options were Strongbow and Woodchuck though, so I went for Strongbow, which is an old favorite of mine. A number of people commented on how thrilled they were that we had cider, and at the end of the night when I was standing around watching people clean up and not being allowed to help, I got the last bottle from the bar, so at least it was popular.
Going with the selection of beer we went with helped with a few things - first of all, it helped me feel less cheap for only serving beer and wine - which we did because it was easier, not because it was cheaper. (Plus we were having a Sunday afternoon wedding and I didn't really think people would go through the hard alcohol.) It also made our guests really happy. My friends who aren't normally heavy beer drinkers tried at least two of the beers - one of them said to me later, "I didn't try the wine at your wedding - usually I drink wine at weddings, but you had so many interesting beers!" It also cut down on the wine consumption - we only had 2 cases of beer left, and had several cases of wine left at the end. We got $200 back from Beltway when we returned all the wine, which was nice.
Overall, stocking the bar cost around $800 (original output was $1000). We could have spent $500 or so on it, but since our motivation for serving our alcohol was to have control and serve what we liked, not just to save money, we had a bigger budget for the bar. We paid a bartender and had the venue provide soda, water, and a delicious aqua fresca (because I come from a family of non-drinkers).
Are you doing your own bar? Did you find it to save you a lot of money or just mean you got what you wanted?