DIY Whisky Bar

It’s funny how the drinks you like change with age, isn’t it? I mean, when I was 18, I drank a lot of alcopops, but I wouldn’t be caught dead with one now. And at that age, I thought whisky was vile, but now I quite like a one from time to time (although, I’m sorry purists, mine’s on the rocks). Due probably to the fact that a few years back I dated a guy who really loved the stuff, and I came to appreciate it more after a distillery weekend in Islay, Scotland. Maybe that’s appropriate, because there’s something a bit more sophisticated about whisky – it’s to be enjoyed slowly, not downed or drunk through a straw (what WAS that anyway, eighteen year old Gaby?). Point is, I think a whisky (or whisky and cigar) bar is a really lovely addition to a wedding reception, and something that usually makes the groom’s eyes light up in the planning. So I was delighted when SBB reader Claudine got in touch after her own recent wedding to share how she and her groom Richard created a whisky/whiskey bar for their wedding – and how you can too! All images are by the awesome Laura Versveld, who is based in Mpumalanga. (You can also see the whole of Richard and Claudine’s wedding on Lovilee.) Take it away, Claudine!


Both my husband and I come from a long line of whisky drinkers so we knew we had to include whisky into our wedding night. We decided from the beginning to offer the standard “wine on the table” but we also added a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label with the red wine and white wine. To keep the costs down we decided on a cash bar. Besides the wine and whisky on the table, we were looking for a way to offer our guests alcoholic beverages without the complications of a tab or the expense of an open bar. My mother stumbled upon a picture from a wedding (unfortunately, we didn’t save this) where they offered their guests a whisky bar. We loved it! The whisky bar was an easy DIY and best of all, a major hit with guests, who still talk about it when we see them.

We highly recommend the DIY whisky bar to other couples. If you’re not a whisky lover why not opt for a beer bar (ideal for those summer weddings), a hot chocolate bar (ideal for winter weddings) or even a glamorous cocktail bar.

This was a great project for my groom. He so wanted to be involved in the planning but was easily bored with all the feminine details. This was something more manly for him to help with. In the end, I think he may have been more excited about the whisky bar than the “I do”!

How to:
Understand that there are whiskies from all over the world. My husband made it his little project to research the world of whisky. He spent hours looking at the different international whiskies on offer. We were impressed to find countries besides Scotland, Ireland and America produce award winning whiskies. The ideal is to offer a variety of whiskies from different countries and different regions. As we had friends and family who drink a lot of whisky, we knew we would have to offer more than the usual bottles. The online retail store Aficionados is a great source for those hard-to-find whiskies.

Decide on a budget and stick to it. It’s tempting when you’re buying bottles of your favourite tipple to spend freely. But it’s important to remember that the expense forms part of the wedding budget and that you’re buying alcohol for everyone to drink. I had to keep reminding my husband that he wouldn’t be drinking all the bottles he purchased!

Know your single malts from your blends. We won’t get into a debate as to the preferences of a single malt over a blend but know that if you are offering whisky, you should offer a selection of each. If you want to get technical, be aware that there are single malts, blended malts, blended whiskies and single barrel.

In this case, age is more than a number. The older whiskies are not necessarily the better whiskies but the aging process does influence the development of the flavour. The ideal whisky bar will have a few different aged whiskies.

Whiskey v whisky. When we began discussing the sign for the whisky bar we had the family vote on WHISKY v WHISKEY. There is an entire debate behind the two spellings and in the end there was no resolution. This of course did not help my desire to make bunting with letters spelt out. In the end, we found large white letters from Cotton On and purchased W-H-I-S-K-E and Y. We started the night out with all the letters on display. Half way through the night, the E was knocked down to spell whisky.

How many bottles of whisky on the wall? There is the catch of how many bottles to buy for your whisky bar. We decided on twelve bottles for our 80 guests. Bear in mind that there was wine and whisky on the table too. To our surprise, we did get home with a few leftover bottles, although by leftover I mean 100ml per bottle max. To make the bar visually effective, don’t do less than 8 bottles for 80 guests. In the end it is up to you as the bridal couple and depends on budget and the guests who will be enjoying the whisky.

Ensure that it has all the extras to make it work. A good whisky bar needs a few essential items:

  • A well-stocked ice bucket with ice tongs. Although not everyone drinks their whisky “on the rocks” it’s preferred to have ice available.
  • Whisky tumblers. There is nothing more annoying for a whisky drinker than having to sip it out of a high ball glass or worse, a beer glass!
  • A jug with mineral water. It is acceptable to add a bit of mineral water to whisky.

How to accessorise the whisky bar:

  • Create the “gentlemen’s club” feel with an old wing back chair or a leather sofa.
  • We set out old cigar boxes that we had purchased at markets to add some colour.
  • If your guests are smokers, you could set out a few cigars and ashtrays.
  • A large wooden table, old chest of drawers or various wine barrels could be used to set out the bottles of whisky.
  • If you have access to books about whisky, why not set them out for guests to browse through. Alternatively, purchase a few magazines and set them out.
  • The ideal is to group the whiskies by region for easy reference for your guests.
  • Decanters are a nice touch but if you are going to fill them with whisky, have a card indicating the type of whisky inside.
  • A few coasters would be a nice touch. We wanted some fun personalised coasters but ran out of time.
  • A fun option is to print cards with the name of the whisky, a write up about the whisky as well as tasting notes.

Enjoy your whisky bar on the night. I don’t remember every one of the whiskies that I tasted but my new brother-in-law made sure that I tried them all. I am really excited about the beer bar we are planning for my brother’s summer garden wedding!


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