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How to Host the Best Beer Tasting Party

There is arguably no better way for both new and veteran beer geeks to learn about beer than to host a beer tasting party. Not only does it provide some structure while incentivizing experimentation and exploration, but it also gives you the perfect opportunity to break out rare and interesting beers that you might never drink by yourself. The following is your step-by-step instructional guide to successfully host the best beer tasting party, from the first popped cap to the final toast.


Step One: Establish a Theme

Congratulations on your decision to host a beer tasting party! The first thing you’ll need to do is decide on a theme. There’s a lot of beer out there, and without something to guide the selection process, the choices can be pretty overwhelming.

One option is to choose a specific style. Fine bottles shops and liquor stores will have plenty of examples of several styles, especially ubiquitous and popular ones like IPA or Stout. You can also broaden your options by drawing from a wider style “family” – amber lagers, sour beers or brown ales and porters, for example. Or you might consider thinking geographically and sourcing German lagers, Belgian strong ales or American West Coast hoppy beers. Beer styles are very much an expression of the myriad ways to make similar ingredients do distinct things, and so a style-based theme can be a great way to learn more about the nuances of beers that share a common name or heritage but bear their own unique identity!

Themes can also get more creative. You could feature beers with strange ingredients: exotic spices, strange fruits, smoked goat brains (I wish I was making that last one up, but I’m not). Consider a selection of beers from the BA’s Top 50 breweries or GABF medal winners. Heck, you can even just tell each of your guests to bring his/her favorite beer to share (but collect the names in advance to be sure you won’t have any repeats), with everyone voting for their favorite at the end! My homebrew club once put together a mixed case for tasting with an “Axis and Allies” theme, with “warring” beers from the U.S., Germany, Japan, Britain and more. The options are almost endless.

One thing you’ll want to do early on, which might be informed by your theme, is to determine how each attendee will evaluate, score, record or review each beer. Attendees should leave with a rough accounting of what they tasted and what they thought of the beers offered; after all, the goal is to help everyone cultivate their beer knowledge ‒ and know what to order the next time they’re out!


Step Two: Plan, Plan, Plan

It’s an article of faith for me that with the right plan you can do almost anything. A beer tasting party benefits enormously from some thoughtful pre-planning.

1. Determine a manageable number of guests. This may not be the time to host 40-50 of your closest friends! This will also make your beer purchasing plan simpler: samples are usually about 3-4 ounces, which matches up nicely to the 72 ounces in a six-pack or 64 ounces in a half-gallon growler.

2. Think about how many beers you’d like to offer. At 3-4 ounces per pour, six beers is a good number – eight, max. You want folks to be tasting, discussing and evaluating, which they’ll struggle to do if they have too many beers clouding their judgment!

3. Think of your glassware needs. Each person will need one small, easily rinsed, preferably wide-mouthed glass, or you can pick up 6-ounce clear plastic tasting cups. Multiply the number of beers by the number of guests, and then double it to be safe (somehow tasting cups disappear faster than the arithmetic would lead you to expect!).

4. Decide who will provide the beer and/or snacks. If you’re managing everything yourself, no worries! But if your guests will be pitching in, ask them to keep their beer cold, and if they plan on bringing food, suggest starchier snacks like crackers and pretzels to help keep everyone’s palate clear. Garlic and hot wings will make almost any beer taste like seltzer.

5. Take an inventory of your refrigerator/cooler space: tasting warm beer isn’t nearly as much fun! If you can’t store all that beer in your existing fridge space, load up coolers with an ice bath and load the beer in at least eight hours before the party. You’ll be pulling the beer just before service to let them warm up just a bit, so don’t worry about serving from the coolers.

6. Think about beer-themed games and diversions for your guests. Even ardent beer geeks will love the secondary activities as a break after the first few tastings. Have a “mystery beer” and encourage guests to submit written guesses as to the style or label. Set up brackets and advance the favorite tasted beers to a final showdown. Work up some beer trivia with a prize for those who scored best (and worst – we give wine). Don’t have it be all about the tasting.

7. Think about the physical space. You’ll want to set up “stations” for each beer, preferably spread around to avoid crowds gathering. Room enough for 3-4 tasters at each station will encourage discussion but not overcrowding. Your space available may dictate the total number of guests that you can accommodate. Have plenty of dump buckets and water pitchers around, along with spare pencils, score/note sheets and napkins or towels for the inevitable spills.

Set yourself up for success, and you’ll be able to enjoy the party along with your guests!


 


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