Interview With Brian Kantor, Founder of Pour My Party

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Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party - Christina Emilie Photography

Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party – Christina Emilie Photography

 

Couples are going to great lengths these days to personalize their wedding in order to make sure that the celebration is one-of-a-kind and unforgettable. We’ve seen everything from live painters and wedding bands playing curated song lists to bouncy castles being incorporated to take the post-ceremony party to the next level. And while these all sound great, at the end of the night, every couple wants to ride off in the getaway car with a shared feeling that their wedding was a sincere expression of their style and personality from start to finish.

After considering all the available entertainment options for their Brooklyn wedding three years ago, Brian Kantor and his then fiancée felt nothing hit the mark. However, the couple did agree that cocktails were important. Once that decision was made, they were then faced with the challenge of how to take the traditional drink menu beyond the ‘signature bride & groom cocktail.’ What could be done to make the drinking experience at their wedding different and surprising? The adage, necessity is the mother of invention, can aptly be used to describe how the couple came up with the idea of having a scotch tasting at their reception. “It was a huge hit,” Brian says. “Everyone loved it. My father-in-law still talks about it to this day.”

The concept for Pour My Party grew from there. Creating pop-up tastings for weddings and events, Pour My Party connects clients with top-shelf distillers such as Glenfiddich, Buffalo Trace, and Coconut Cartel to provide a unique and memorable experience catered for the special occasion. Tastings are professionally led, casual, and simply put, fun, which allows guests to come away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the spirits they have always enjoyed, but never really knew much about. Here, Brian Kantor, the company’s founder, talks about Pour My Party’s specialized services, what couples can expect when they hire Pour My Party for their wedding, and why it’s always fun to break the rules when it comes to tradition.

We always like to start from the beginning. How did you come up with the idea for Pour My Party?

For a number of years, I was the beer, wine, and spirits ad sales rep for Esquire and Esquire.com. At the same time, my fiancé and I were planning our wedding.

The two of us were looking to do something unique at the reception, but we weren’t quite sure what that was going to be. We considered a photo booth, a food truck, and a cigar rolling station. A photo booth was out because we figured everyone already had cameras in their pockets. A food truck was out because we were already paying thousands of dollars for a caterer. And no one in our family smoked, so a cigar roller was out as well.

During this time working for Esquire, I was at a meeting with members of the Macallan team hoping that they would sponsor an event we were hosting in the Hudson Valley. When I told them the $100,000 price tag, they got a little bit of sticker-shock and said that they unfortunately didn’t have a hundred grand sitting in the back-room, but that they did want to work with us and we should let them know if we had anything else coming up that would be a little more cost-effective.

I then told them that I had a 200-person black-tie event coming up in three months in Brooklyn that they could pour for free. When they asked me for the details, I told them it was my wedding. Of course, they laughed, but long-story-short, Macallan ended up doing a scotch tasting during cocktail hour at our wedding. They liked it because it was a nice mid-point between the massive, expensive, highly-produced events they created on their own and the small, impersonal tastings they were doing at bottle shops.

Fast-forward a few months later, and I was speaking with the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire – the magazine is part of the same parent company as Esquire. She was about to get married in Brooklyn as well. She asked me if I had any advice, and when I mentioned the tasting, she said “Oh My God, that sounds amazing. My fiancé is a huge bourbon fan. Would you be able to help us do something similar?” I told her that I’d try, and sure enough I was able to set them up with a Hudson Whiskey tasting at their wedding. With that, I suddenly realized that there may be a business opportunity here, and Pour my Party was born.

Drinks play an important role in any celebration, and couples use beer, wine and cocktails as a way to personalize their wedding. Pour My Party takes the idea of serving spirits at your wedding one step further.

 

Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party - Christina Emilie Photography

Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party – Christina Emilie Photography

 

How do your services enhance the reception experience?

As was the case with ours, everyone wants their wedding to be special; something reflective of the couple’s personality. Pour My Party doesn’t fit neatly into the box of a traditional wedding “service” because we aren’t one. As far as I know, no one else is creating the experiences that we do in any sort of meaningful way.

A liquor tasting holds that place in your wedding much like a photo-booth, food-truck, cigar roller or after-party; it’s something chic that enhances and personalizes the evening. Guests can interact with the tasting at their own pace, enjoy a wonderful spirit, and come away having learned something that they will be able to speak about forever.

The education piece isn’t long, drawn-out, or boring; it’s quick, fun, and insightful. We want guests to walk away from the activation saying things like, “I always knew I liked whiskey, but I never really understood the difference was between bourbon and scotch or what the aging process actually does to the flavor. We’re empowering guests with knowledge in a way that excites them. Plus, everyone loves to Instagram from our tastings.

What can a couple expect when they hire Pour My Party for their wedding?

We take care of everything. Our goal is to make the process as simple and hassle-free as possible. The last thing we want is to be one more thing that the couple or event planner has to worry about. We strive to create a unique, Instagrammable, and most importantly, fun experience that the couple, their family, and their guests will rave about.

The process starts with a short phone consultation where we discuss what sorts of spirits the couple loves, or perhaps what they feel their guests will enjoy most. During that consultation, we walk them through some of our partner distillers that feel in-line with their tastes and what makes them special, so we can figure out the ones that will work best for their event. The couple then ranks their top five choices from the options available. Following that, we approach the distillers in that order until we land the best choice that can accommodate their date, time, and location.

We’ll coordinate with the couple or their planner on what time they want the tasting to take place (typically during cocktail hour) and how best to coordinate the process. All we need the couple to do is provide a table or other space for the tasting to take place and potentially specific glassware that they might have in mind. With that said, we always provide those “crystal” clear plastic cups just in case they don’t have enough glasses to accommodate. The spirits host will show up at their event about 30 minutes before the tasting begins and leave right after with everything taken care of in advance.

The tasting itself is not meant to be a super in-depth deep dive into the history of a particular spirit or brand, but rather it’s meant to be short, fun, and interesting. We instruct our hosts to break down the tasting experience into three key levels.

The first level is about the spirit type in general. So for example, “what is whiskey exactly?” And “What’s the difference between bourbon, rye, and scotch?” The next level down, the host explains what makes this particular brand unique. So think of things like the history, the ingredients, the processes and other intriguing bits and pieces that make them special. On the deepest level, the host will explain the difference between the various expressions or varieties that are set out in front of them. That might be the difference between an unaged moonshine and bourbon – both use the same liquid, but to create bourbon, the liquid is aged for two years in an oak barrel. For those distillers that offer multiple spirit types, that explanation might simply be what’s the difference between their gin, their vodka, and their rum.

 

Pour My Party - Three Whiskey Impressions

Pour My Party – Three Whiskey Impressions

 

Can you tell us about the various services you offer?

We’re super straightforward. We only offer one primary service—pop-up liquor tastings at weddings and events. A lot of companies and brands try to be everything to everyone. We find that many times in the end, those that try to do too many things and service too many different types of people don’t do any one thing really well. We want to be the best at pop-up liquor tastings, so that’s all that we do.

Some couples and clients want to more fully integrate their chosen distiller into their wedding either by serving the same spirit at the main bar area or incorporating that spirit into their signature cocktail. We’re more than happy to consult with them on these options, but these are really complementary extensions of that core tasting experience.

We’re often asked if we’ll ever add wine or craft beer tastings to our offerings, and the answer is always, “it depends”. Long-term, we’d love to offer both, but there are logistical concerns to handling the larger weight and volume this is needed in order to manage the more physical liquid for these lower ABV categories. So, for the time-being, we’ll stick with our roots, err spirits.

With all the options out now, finding the right spirit to pour at your wedding can be overwhelming, even if you are knowledgeable on the subject. Can you take us through the process of how you help couples find the perfect liquor to commemorate their special day?

As mentioned, the process begins with a phone or video consultation with our clients. During that call, we try to get a sense of what sorts of spirits they love and/or what they think their guests will want to experience.

Some couples are very specific; they want one of their favorite liquor brands to pour their wedding. While we often do accommodate, we like to help them expand their palate whenever we can.

Many people think they know what they like, but really only like what they know. And what they know are, in many cases, the brands with the biggest budgets. We like to nudge them into trying new spirits by helping them realize that, “if you like Mega Brand X, you’ll probably like Craft Brand Y.”

Sometimes, the couple wants to select a spirit that resonates with them on a different level. Maybe, they spent winter weekends skiing in Vermont and they’d like to incorporate a Vermont-based distiller. Maybe they’re an LGBTQ+ couple, and they want to pair with an LGBTQ-owned distillery. Maybe the couple is gluten free, or Kosher, or vegan, or eco-conscious. Those are all details we can accommodate.

Sometimes it’s as simple as the bride likes whiskey, while the groom likes gin, and they want a distillery that offers both options. These are all details that we take into consideration when helping to pair them with the right partner.

Pour My Party has partnered with some amazing spirit brands. Can you tell us about the range of selection offered to your clients?

Our focus is primarily on craft distilleries, but we certainly work with some of the big players such as Glenfiddich, Milagro, and Buffalo Trace. The craft distilleries that we partner with are producing some amazing liquid and often have unique, compelling, and interesting histories or details that simply make them feel a little more special at a wedding.

We do have a wide range of spirit types, though. Our partners offer everything from bourbon, rye, scotch and blended whiskies to vodka, gins, rums, tequilas and liqueurs. We’ve got some amazing fresh fruit liqueurs, coffee cordials, amaros, and brandies as well as naturally flavored vodkas (think lavender, cucumber, and jalapeño). But with all that said, the whiskey category as a whole is definitely our most popular.

 

Pour My Party - Whiskey Tasting

Pour My Party – Whiskey Tasting

 

A major stress couples face when planning their wedding is making sure their guests have fun and don’t get bored as the night goes on. How have you observed Pour My Party easing any worries related to entertainment?

Budget permitting, everyone wants to do something “special” at their wedding. Everyone wants their wedding to be unique and memorable. People want their friends gushing about how great of a time they had, and so much goes into boosting that emotional connection with their guests.

Before Pour My Party, options were really limited, as I noted earlier, to things like photo-booths, cigar rollers, after-parties, food trucks, and a few others. Craft spirits are totally having a moment right now, and we wanted to give couples an opportunity to tap into that.

When it comes to the flow of the event itself, we almost always schedule the pop-up liquor tasting at cocktail hour, although some choose to do it during dessert or the afterparty. When it comes to cocktail hour in particular, many couples have one to two bar areas and then a few appetizer stations. It’s not uncommon for the lines at these bars and stations to get unwieldy. Adding a liquor tasting pop-up gives guests another activity to partake in and helps to better distribute the flow of traffic.

 

Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party - Christina Emilie Photography

Image courtesy of Brian Kantor of Pour My Party – Christina Emilie Photography

 

Covid-19 has affected the wedding industry at every level. As we start taking the first steps towards holding social events again, what precautions and measures are you taking to make sure Pour My Party’s services are responsibly safe.

Well, sadly, all of our scheduled big weddings for 2020 had to be canceled. Fortunately, though, most of them have been rescheduled for 2021. Covid hit just before wedding season really started, and unfortunately, it affected Pour My Party’s official launch of activities. If there is a silver-lining, it is that we have not had to really worry too much about keeping people safe at non-existent events.

With that said, we’ve started getting inquiries about smaller events later this Fall. For those that confirm, we plan on making sure that our hosts are wearing masks and gloves and that surfaces are constantly being sanitized. We typically use disposable cups, anyway, which helps, and if the couple wants to supply glassware, we’ll need to ensure that it’s either only used once or sanitized at high temperature between uses. We’re more than happy to accommodate any special requests for our clients during this sensitive time.

As we look to 2021, it’s anybody’s guess where we’ll be in the COVID-era when wedding season picks back up. We’re nimble enough to make changes as local ordinances update their protocols and will make sure that we are fully compliant with the circumstances of-the-moment.

What do you like most about doing weddings New York City?

I love the diversity of New York Weddings. We really have everything here for any taste and budget. We’ve been to small intimate weddings at downtown restaurants, rooftop soirees under the stars, traditional catering halls, and warehouse spaces. And while maybe not within the city limits, outdoor barn-type weddings are not too far of a drive.

When it comes to the couples, there’s such a beautiful mix of skin-tones, religions, ethnicities, orientations and backgrounds. New York is so welcoming to so many types of people. Everyone here can find their tribe here.

 

Pour My Party - Rocks Glasses With Whiskey

Pour My Party – Rocks Glasses With Whiskey

 

If you could have Pour My Party host a tasting for any couple throughout all of history, who would it be? And what spirit would you serve?

These types of questions are always so impossible for me to answer! When people ask in any context “what celebrity living or dead would you love to meet and why?” I can never come up with an answer that I am proud of. I guess I like to think that I have such a diverse range of interests that there are so many heroes, celebrities, and just seemingly fun people that I would love to meet, impress, and share a drink with.

With that said, allow me give you an unexpected answer that you may find amusing. As difficult as your question is—especially in narrowing this down to just one famous couple—starting a little over a month ago, we’ve tried to answer that question every week on Instagram in a fun way. Check out the Past Events in the Stories Highlights on our Instagram profile to see a few dream weddings that we imagine would have loved a Pour My Party tasting. JFK and Jackie O? Jim and Pam from The Office? We were there in spirit, I guess.

 

Jim and Pam The Office Wedding - via Entertainment Weekly

Jim and Pam The Office Wedding – via Entertainment Weekly

 

How do you stay creatively inspired?

That’s a broad question, for sure. As a company, we’re always inspired by the new and exciting craft distillers that we discover through our work, and through the amazing couples and tireless wedding industry professionals that we meet along the way.

Before we began this journey, I considered myself highly knowledgeable in American craft spirits, but boy was I wrong. There are so many wonderful distillers across the country experimenting with new twists on classic spirits, refined takes on old favorites, and even inventing their own liquor types. One of the distilleries we were exploring this week has even created an earthy spirit distilled from beets. The industry is constantly breaking the rules and writing new ones. It’s a fun time to be in the spirits world.

With regards to couples, it’s become obvious that this generation of Americans that are entering the marrying age—Millennials—are just so much fun to work with. Much like the distillers I just mentioned, our clients are rulebreakers in many ways as well.

It seems like there was a mass-awakening, in that the “same old” wedding formula that their parents, family members, and older friends felt compelled to follow no longer applies. Weddings have truly become expressions of individuality and the personalities of the couple really shine through more today than ever before, and Pour My Party fits in nicely with that shift.

Millennials are a generation of drinkers, and not in an alcoholic sense, but in a celebratory sense. Spirits and celebration go together hand-in-glove, and we feel like we’re well-positioned at that intersection. This generation doesn’t simply want to drink what their parents drank “just because” and they don’t simply want to drink to get blitzed. It’s the exact opposite on both fronts. Our clients appreciate the flavor and nuance of spirits just like they do fine dining. They’re a curious generation interested in the history and processes of a brand. They want their liquor of choice to tell a story that reflects on them as individuals and the shared values the possess.

When it comes to the wedding industry, Covid aside, this is/was/will be an exciting time. As I mentioned just before, with Millennials carrying this sense of wanting to flaunt their personalities and forge their own paths, it has enabled the wedding industry to flex our creative muscles in new and exciting ways that simply weren’t possible even ten years ago.

Think back to a wedding you went to in the nineties, aughts, or even early teens… they all felt the same. Now the wedding industry has been pushed out of complacency in a way that I think reminds many people why they got into this business in the first place… to help starry-eyed young couples create and curate one of the most magical nights of their lives. It’s really exciting. And yes of course, I/we cannot wait until 2020—The Year that Wasn’t—is in the rearview and we can get back to really doing what we love.

With that said, this temporary new era has forced all of us to rethink yet again what a wedding can be, and these smaller, more intimate gatherings of just the couple’s closest people are really special –  I wouldn’t be surprised if a lasting effect of the Covid-era on the wedding industry is the realization and reminder that you don’t need 200+ guests to throw a great party.

You finally have a day off. How do you spend it?

A day off? What’s that? Including Pour My Party, I have three “jobs” that each feel full-time, so days off are few and far between. With that said, over the past six months, I’ve really made a concerted effort to focus on my priorities and maximize my efficiency so that I am not working every waking hour of the day, seven days a week, which my amazing, supportive wife, Jami, is certainly thrilled about.

Anyway, I’ve been much better on weekends about paring down my workload and enjoying time with Jami and our friends be it exploring Brooklyn, where we live, or Vermont, which has become like a second home to us. Jami is a phenomenal skier and I’m a respectable snowboarder—I can finally almost keep up with her after six-plus years together. When I do have a day off during the winter, nothing makes me happier than being on the slopes. As someone who always so busy, my mind is racing a million miles a minute, and when you’re speeding down a mountain with a slab of wood strapped to your feet, paradoxically the world seems to slow down. You’re forced to live in the moment in a way that’s so therapeutic. Nothing reminds me more of how great it is to be alive than sprinkling a little danger into my day-to-day.

A big thank you to Brian for taking part in our Industry Influencer Interview Series! For more information about Pour My Party’s services, visit www.pourmyparty.com and follow along at @pourmypartyus

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Blog, Industry Insider, Luxury Wedding Expertise, Your Inspiration Fix

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