Whisky weddings: Kenyans spare no expense


Wedding gowns by Sisters Bridal during a wedding fair at Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel in Nairobi on Sunday, November 20, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

Whisky has an uncanny way of invading both formal and informal events, pulling a chair, settling and behaving as though it was there all along.

One of these spaces is the wedding reception.

Most drinkers are familiar with champagne and wine, both have traditionally been served at weddings and similar parties.

Now whisky has a place at wedding parties as well, as the popularity of liquor in the local market continues to grow. A common feature at weddings in Western markets for many years, this practice is slowly catching on in Kenya.

As luxury weddings become popular in Kenya, so has the increase in the number of premium service providers in the wedding planning ecosystem. At the heart of this business are high-end whisky brands.

Last week, Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel hosted an event dubbed Wedding Fair by Kempsinki to celebrate and showcase products by these providers. At the function, Chic Aura, Sisters Bridal, Katz and Xpose Limited exhibited.


Whisky has an uncanny way of invading both formal and informal events. PHOTO | POOL

Indeed, whisky towers are standing side-by-side with champagne towers at wedding parties, even replacing them in some instances.

Some whisky manufacturers are even curating specific brands for parties and wedding events. Glenfiddich's Grand Cru (23-year-old) is one such high-end “celebratory” whisky and an event organiser’s favourite.

“It is good for gifting to your father or uncle-in-law. It is also great for serving the guests,” explains Mulunda Kombo, the national brand ambassador for Glenfiddich in Kenya.

If you must gift or serve whisky at your wedding, it is recommended that you go big. Glenfiddich Grand Cru, for instance, retails at Sh30,000 for a 700ml bottle.

“When you host friends and family at your event, you must demonstrate that you have the means to do so. You must buy a decent whisky,” Mulunda advises.

Sherlyne Muita attributes the rise of whisky in wedding events to the market trend where more drinkers are switching to liquor as opposed to wines, liqueurs and champagne.

“Young people are more adventurous than the older folks. Middle-income folks are more likely to fit whisky within their wedding budgets than the older generation,” says The Macallan brand ambassador.

It is the trend globally, with about 25 per cent of couples serving a signature whisky cocktail to guests at their wedding these days.

Muita, however, admits that the drink served at an event depends on the guest list.

“If you have more whisky drinkers among your guests, it is only sensible to serve whisky. Couples generally invite people in their social circles to their wedding. These people will usually exhibit the same taste in the drink.”

Mulunda notes that premium whisky has an appeal that makes it a great addition to the drinks menu of every special event.

From classics to creative concoctions, wedding whisky cocktails come in varied presentations, inspirations and volumes.

“Whisky is not enjoyed in any specific way. As the host, do not dictate how your guests enjoy their drinks. Only ensure they drink responsibly. The idea is to share widely and to commune,” says Mulunda.

Some prefer to drink their whisky neat or on the rocks.

“These are experienced, whisky drinkers. They are not here to try out cocktails but to enjoy the real drink.”

City events’ organiser Esther Kihanya says alcohol at a wedding may be served as small whisky tastings in select locations within the venue or at an exclusive bar customised for the wedding.

“If the reception is at a hotel or restaurant, guests could be served from the in-house bar. You could also have your team prepare and serve cocktails to your guests in the garden. It depends on the arrangement you choose,” says Kihanya.

“Having your own bartenders allows you to create a set-up that matches the theme of your wedding.”

In luxury wedding events, whisky is often paired with oysters, smoked salmon or ham for a memorable dining experience for guests.

Among diners, The Macallan 15, for instance, is known to go well with ribeye, pork belly or medium-rare beef.

The rule of thumb, though, is that before serving alcohol to your guests, you must ensure they have eaten to their fill.

The timing too is important. After all, your family and friends topping over with glasses early in the event is the last thing you want at your wedding.

Mulunda adds: “You could offer welcome cocktails as people come into the event. It could be a whisky highball, an old-fashioned or a Manhattan.”

What is served is also market-specific, according to Mulunda. While a Grand Cru 23 would be ideal for an event in Kenya, its 21-year-old version is more popular in Nigeria.


A mock wedding reception at a wedding fair at Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel in Nairobi on Sunday, November 20, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

“Nigerians will drink the usual champagne in their wedding, but they will also indulge in whisky,” he notes.

Whisky comes in diverse expressions and can be had in multiple ways for a different effects. On some occasions, the host will go for a premium brand in a category to surprise their guests.

Drinks such as Grande Couronne, aged for 26 years, are popular among party planners for “crowning” intimate events such as weddings. Locally, a bottle of Grande Couronne retails for between Sh95,000 and Sh100,000, depending on the outlet.

But did you know you do not have to break the bank to add an expensive whisky to your already strained budget? If you have been keeping a prized bottle for a special occasion, your wedding is about the right time to make it count.

For every groom and bride, the wedding day is one of the highlights of life. For most people, this offers an opportunity to create lifetime memories.

Lifestyle writer and whisky connoisseur Ted Simmons says whisky allows couples to curate a wedding event to their liking by personalising it as much as possible.

While you will want to serve drinks that make the best impression on your guests, Simmons advises that it is equally important to pick a bottle that meets your expectations and those of your partner.

Thankfully, some whisky makers allow couples to inscribe their names on the whisky bottles to be served at their wedding.

“This can be a memorable touch for your big day,” says Simmons.

If you are adventurous and unafraid to drill a hole in your bank balance, some whisky distilleries allow couples to wed in their backyard. Lagavulin, Lindores Abbey, Glengoyne and the Italian Chapel give an all-whisky-themed wedding experience.

Nothing beats knowing that your guests are having a good time at your event. And how better to entertain them than serving them a dram or a whisky cocktail?

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