Your local wine and beer store has an almost overwhelming beer selection. Craft beer has exploded over the last two decades. Even those who are familiar with a wide variety of beer styles are often wondering what to try next. Even within the same style, two different brewers may make two very different beers.
Beer festivals are a wonderful way to try new beers, but it can get quite expensive, and you may not get around to all the types you want to try. An in-home beer tasting allows you and your friends to explore a variety of beers you may not otherwise try and learn a little about beer along the way. While you probably do not want to go into a full lecture, having a basic knowledge of how beer is brewed and what the basic ingredients are is helpful in understanding what you are tasting and knowing how to explain it.
You can be as formal or informal as you like, but you need to decide that beforehand. Other things to think about:
- A sit down experience where everyone is tasting the same beer at the same time vs. various stations throughout the room where two or three people can gather around a table, try a beer and discuss together
- How will you engage people? This will be a lot more fun if it is interactive. Figure out how you will get people to share their opinions and impressions. You can also offer prizes for various things like funniest description, most popular beer, trivia questions, or blind tastings.
- Pick a theme. You can sample various beers from a certain area or a certain company. You can also explore a single style and sample various interpretations of it. For an introductory crowd, you can try classic examples from a variety of popular styles. For a more advanced crowd, you can focus on a single ingredient like hops and see if you can accurately distinguish the characteristics of various types of hops such as centennial, cascade, or nugget.
- Gather your supplies. You will need a cup for each person for each beer. You will be doing a 3-4 oz pour for each taste, so small cups are best. It is helpful to stick to less than ten people so you can have a more thorough conversation. Six beers is a good amount to try. Any more than that, and you may be too fuzzy to describe much. Everyone will need a way to take notes. You can print out something very thorough with information on each beer and common descriptors or just give everyone a stack of note cards and see what they come up with. It is also helpful to have a placemat with sections labeled for each of the beers you will be tasting. This way everyone can place a sample down to try again later without confusing which is which.
- Make a plan for food. Having food available is a good way to absorb some of that alcohol. While you do not want to distract from the beer, having foods that pair well with your beers is a nice touch. Foods with delicate flavors go best with lighter beers, while heartier foods will go nicely with stronger beers. Remember that the darkest beer may not be the strongest. After a few lighter beers, take a break and serve some fish tacos, paella, sushi, salad, or West Coast Dried Whole Cranberries and mixed nuts. After the stronger beers, go for some carne asada, burgers, or meat heavy pizza. Stouts and porters go incredibly well with chocolate. Serve them with our Dark Chocolate Whole Blueberries!
At the event
With a plan in place, everything should go smoothly! Remember to ask open ended questions to get people talking and having fun!
- Keep a towel handy. Spills happen.
- Encourage people to save a portion of their sample to try again once they have tasted other beers. This is particularly useful if you are trying to distinguish subtle flavors.
- Once you get people talking, share more detailed information about beer history or brewing. Everyone loves trivia, and people also enjoy going into a pub knowing a thing or two about what they are tasting.
- Other than the chocolate, try to keep eating separate from the beer tasting. Everyone loves chicken wings with beer, but they tend to drown the beer flavor. Be sure to have bread or crackers available so people can cleanse their palate between tastings. Eat the bulk of the food during a break or after the tasting is finished.
- Keep the water flowing! It is important to hydrate, and it will also help cleanse the palate.
- Allow plenty of time and food between the last tasting and the end of your event or be sure everyone has a safe ride home. Never allow anyone to drive drunk from your home.
A beer tasting is a great way to spend a fun evening with friends and learn something cool in the process. Happy tasting!