Hosting a beer tasting
By Kevin J. Gray
Want to learn more about craft beer? Or want to turn your friends on to some incredible brews you’ve discovered? Host a beer tasting. Tastings are great ways to share amazing beers, compare different styles or breweries, and to hang out with friends. Below are some steps to get you started:
Step 1: Consider Your Audience
Considering your audience is the most important step in planning your tasting. Will you be hosting a big crowd or a small one? Your guests — are they beer noobs or beer snobs? Are they coming to learn more about beer, or to drink good beer while socializing? The answers to these questions determine how you approach your tasting. An informal tasting, with beers set up at stations where guests serve themselves, might be a better approach for a big tasting full of socializing drinkers. In contrast, a more structured tasting, where a moderator provides information about each beer before guests taste it, works better in a smaller crowd.
Step 2: Pick Your Theme
- Next, what types of beers will you serve? Most tastings include eight to 12 beers centered on a theme. Each beer relates to the theme in some way. Below are several theme suggestions:
- Beers that challenge notions of what beers taste like. Pick dark colored but light-bodied schwartz biers and pale but boozy Belgian tripels. Or try fruity lambics or chocolaty Russian Imperial Stouts for guests who aren’t convinced they like beer.
- Explore a range of beers from a single brewer. Most brewers have extensive line-ups, from simple lagers to robust barley wines.
- Select beers from a specific region. The Midwest has an amazing number of world-class breweries, as do both coasts. And of course, many countries in Europe are known for diverse beer selections.
- Pick a holiday theme, especially around this time of year, when brewers parade their winter and Christmas ales.
- Vertical tastings of a single beer. For the hard core, pick a beer that ages well and sample several years of the same beer. Anything over 8 percent ABV will keep for several years, although unless you have a friend with an extensive cellar, these beers can be tricky to source.
Step 3: Buy and Research Your Beers
Now it’s time to go shopping. Pick a store with a wide selection and revise your list based on what is available. Most better beer stores have well-educated staff members who can help you. You will be pouring about 4 ounces per guest of each beer, so buy accordingly.
Back at home, use the Internet to gather some key points about each beer, including:
- The beer’s alcohol by volume (ABV) and ingredients
- Background information on the styles of each beer
- Interesting tidbits about the brewery or the beers themselves
- Sites to check out include the individual brewer’s website, craftbeer.com, beeradvocate.com, ratebeer.com, or www.bjcp.com (the site for the Beer Judge Certification Program).
Step 4: Get Ready For The Tasting
The site set-up depends on your approach, but in all cases assume that your guests will need several things, all of which you should prepare in advance:
- Glassware — You will be pouring two to four ounces tastes of each beer. Larger shot glasses or highball glasses can work, as can regular-sized pint glasses. Consider snifters or wine glasses for higher ABV beers.
- Munchies — You need palate cleansers like bread or crackers. You can also pair beers with cheeses or light hors d’oeuvres. And it’s always best not to drink on an empty stomach.
- Water — Let guests rinse glasses and stay hydrated.
- Dump buckets — Give guests somewhere to chuck their rinse water (and any beers they don’t like).
- Evaluation forms and pencils — Let guests record what beers they liked, and why. You may want to provide a reference, too, to ensure guests have the vocabulary to describe what they are tasting.
Step 5: Serve the Beer
There are no hard and fast rules on serving at a tasting, but most experts generally recommend moving from smaller, lighter beers to heavier, more bombastic ones. Structure your order in terms of ABV, with smaller beers first, and in terms of flavor intensity. If you serve the biggest, most intense beers first, the rest of the beers will seem weak and less interesting by comparison. Instead, work up towards the monster beers. If you are hosting a structured tasting, pause between pours of each beer to inform guests about what they are about to taste.
Step 6: Evaluate the Beer
The final step in a tasting is to give your guests a chance to evaluate the beers. Ask your friends to consider the appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression for each beer. What beers did they like? What did they like about them? Equally important, were there beers they disliked, and if so, what about the beers did they dislike? Evaluation can be formal, where guests fill out a scorecard for each beer, noting specific characteristics. It can also be a more informal process, where guests simply rate each beer against a scale or against the other beers. Regardless of the approach, the goal of the tasting is to allow your friends to try new beers, discovering what they like and dislike, while having a great time doing so.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.