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Beer is for everyone. The wide variety of styles, price points, bottle formats.. there’s a beer for everyone and for every occassion. I’m delighted to hear of more and more homemade beer pairing dinners and bottle shares. What better way to try, share, and learn more about craft beer. But how do you go about hosting your own? This guest post by Blake Daniels is a great ‘how to’ for to throwing your very own Beer Tasting.
A great way to impress your family and friends, and have a good time, is to host a beer tasting. Depending on your audience, you might want to start with some “entry-level” craft beers (beers that aren’t too hoppy or high in alcohol content, such as lagers, pilsners, wheat beers, brown ales, and lighter pale ales). Stick to a theme, perhaps depending on the time of year. For example, a “Summer Sampler” might include Wheat beers, Weizens, and Witbiers. Wintertime offers a lot of higher alcohol or darker beers (Belgians, Bocks, Porters) or spiced beers (theme: “Winter Warm Up”). Spiced beers can be tricky because the spices often overpower the beer and take away from the chance to look for differences and similarities within a style, which is a goal of a themed party. An exception is pumpkin beers, which are fun to compare and you’d be surprised how many different kinds of pumpkin beers there are! And don’t forget the most common theme: “Oktoberfest”, which will offer none other than seasonally released Octoberfest lagers! For the more adventurous crowd you could host a “Tour of Belgium” and offer Belgian beers.
Here’s how I recommend throwing a beer tasting for friends and family so that everyone learns a little something while having a good time.
Decide on a Beer Style
For your first tasting, you’ll want to use a style that many are familiar with (but may have not tasted). The BJCP has a list of the various styles of beer and can be a big help if you’re having trouble deciding on a style. Pick up a few different brands (or ask your guests to grab some) that stick to the theme. Try to select a style that you’ve brewed – never miss a chance to have your homebrew sampled!
If you’re like me, you’ve been to many beer sampling events where they give you little 4- or 8-oz glasses as souvenirs of your tasting adventures. You’ll want to allow your guests to sample a flight of at least two at a time to get a sense of each beer and compare beers to each other (three or four works better). If you haven’t been to as many events as I have, pick up some small glassware to use for your sampling. There are specific glasses for each style, depending on how fancy you want to be but the idea is to not use plastic. Remember, this isn’t a keg party. If at all possible, try not to serve the beers right from the refrigerator or cooler – the chill will mask some of the flavors. Give chilled beers some time to come closer to room temperature while your guests settle into the party.
Offer your guests a flight of different beers, and ask them to critique each beer. I suggest everyone taste the same beer at the same time, and give their impressions one by one. Ask your guests to hold their beer up to the light, swirl it a little bit to release aromas and to test the head retention. Some things to talk about include:
How the beers look (color, head, and consistency)
What aromas are present?
Suggest that they swirl the beer around in their mouth a little bit before swallowing to get a sense of where the flavors land on the taste buds.
Have each person describe the mouthfeel – is it thin or watery, thick or full-bodied?
Can they detect the hops from the sweet malty aroma and flavor?
How does the beer finish – what are the lingering flavors?
These are just some things to look for and discuss before moving on to the next beer in the flight, and you’d be surprised how many different impressions you’ll hear about the same beer!
Beer matched with the right food can certainly enhance the experience, but to get started, try to offer breads, crackers, and cheeses during the tasting – foods without a lot of overpowering flavors or salts to allow the taster to fully appreciate the beer, and to pace the party a little bit. After the tasting, when the guests are enjoying a full glass of their personal favorite for the evening, by all means feed them some good food, like dips and pizzas and burgers.
Lastly, ask your guests for suggestions for the next theme. Plan the next party around the winning theme and if you’ve got room in your brewing schedule, try to brew that style for the next party. Alternatively, depending how many homebrewers are in the crowd, you could each try to brew the same style and invite friends and family to taste.
Blake Daniels is a stay at home(brewing) dad that enjoys the simple things in life. You’d most likely find him brewing a batch of beer in the garage, cooking a “gourmet” meal for his wife or building a pillow fort with his boys. Contact him at bdaniels589[at]gmail[dot]com.