Thursday, March 22, 2012

A sophisticated table centerpiece with a craft beer theme? I'll drink to that!

In honor of Craft Beer Week, which runs through March 25 in Charlotte, I wanted to share details about the sophisticated beer-themed table centerpieces that my colleague Marion Paynter created for her son and daughter-in-law's rehearsal dinner at The Liberty Gastropub. They were a hit and compliments flowed from both the guests and the restaurant's staff.

Marion, a researcher at the Observer who traveled the world in the early 1970s as a Pan Am stewardess, filled me in on the process of creating the unique tablescape.

It started when the bride told her not to worry about doing a fancy centerpiece for the rehearsal dinner, so Marion started thinking about how to do something that wasn't over-the-top but was still special and reflective of the venue and the couple's love for craft beer.

That's how she came up with the idea of using beer glasses collected from brewery visits, beer grains and candles as the centerpieces.

The tables were long, so she used burlap runners and placed three groupings of the centerpieces on each table.

For each grouping, she used a variety of five beer glasses in different shapes and sizes. She filled three of them with beer grains including barley and hops that she purchased at a beer making store. The other two glasses in each grouping were filled with inexpensive beer since the taste didn't matter. She nestled votive candles in the glasses filled with grains and floated them in the glasses filled with beer. To add more interest, she mixed in several small votive candles in glass holders - some filled with grains, some without.

Marion is a smart woman, so she followed her instinct to do a trial run first at a family dinner. As everyone was enjoying their meal, they suddenly smelled something burning. It turns out one of the glasses was too small for the candle, which caused it to generate too much heat, so the grains got too hot and started smoking.

She was able to fix this flaw by using a glass that was larger and wider so the heat wasn't so concentrated.

She estimates that her decorations cost her around $50 per table (each grouping cost $15 and there were three on each table).

What I learned from her Martha Stewart moment is that if you're creative and have great taste, you don't have to spend a fortune to put together something special for an event. And always do a practice run, especially when candles are involved!