Happy New Beer’s Eve! How to Host a Beer Tasting

April 06, 2013

Happy New Beer’s Eve! How to Host a Beer Tasting

Mark your calendars! April 6 is New Beer’s Eve. Never heard of it? Well, here you go: It’s the date we celebrate the end of Prohibition. And since we never pass up a reason to celebrate, we think it’s only proper to honor this sudsy holiday–which falls on a Saturday this year–with a New Beer’s Eve tasting party.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to be an expert or a home brewer to  play host to a beer tasting–in fact, this is a great opportunity to learn a little more about beer. Just follow these five steps to craft a soiree with major hops.

1. Send Out Invitations

There are two reasons to establish a formal invite list and to ask your friends to RSVP. First, you don’t want to end up with a basement full of leftover beer and snacks. And second, you should aim to get the the right number of people at the party: Think between six and 12 guests for best results.

2. Choose Your Beers

If you’re new to beer, you may find the range of your beer options overwhelming (Belgium alone offers well over 400 different brews, and there are well over 1,000 microbreweries right here in the U.S.). But choosing a tasting list is all about picking an angle.  You can choose a great craft brewery and provide a sampling of their latest beers. You could serve an array of your favorite style of beer (e.g., pale ale, IPA, pilsner) from several breweries. Or you could select a country and try beers native to that region. (Ask at a local beer store if you’re not sure which way to go.) Once you’ve picked your theme, plan to serve the beer selection in ascending order from lightest (in color and in alcohol content) to darkest.

Whichever route you go, make sure you have enough to go around (you don’t want anyone feeling left out): Pour sizes for a tasting are usually around 3 ounces–but this is a party, so your guests will likely want to have more than a taste of their favorite brews.

3. Gear Up

You could have guests drink straight from the bottle. But if you want to make an event of the tasting, set the scene.  Start with glassware:

  • You can go for pint glasses, which are what people typically think of when they imagine a beer glass. But remember, for  a tasting, there’s no need to fill them to the rim–pour size is typically between three and five ounces.
  • Stepping it up a notch, you could do what many restaurants do when they’re serving a sampler and offer beers in a flight set: This set of 3-5 smaller glasses (typically 4-6 ounces) is set on a wood carrier for easy lifting.
  • Our all-out fancy by serving each kind of beer in the appropriate craft glass. This gives your guest a much larger pour (and can make for a more raucous evening, depending on how many different beers you plan on sampling).
  • And don’t forget water glasses, so guests can easily sip between samples — and moderate their intake.

Another great piece of beer-tasting gear is a ratings card, which will allow your guests can keep track of their impressions. Score cards can get complicated, but since we’re talking about a casual gathering, keep the sheets fairly simple. DRAFT Magazine’s Beer Scoring Sheet is a great one to get you started (technical numbers and rankings are totally optional).

4. Make the Menu

Opinions are mixed on food with beer tastings–some experts don’t want to confuse their palates, so they recommend bland options, like bread, to refresh the taste buds. But for a party, plan to provide guests something to nibble on while they sample. You can offer simple finger foods and bar snacks, or go all out with a fully prepared menu of beer and food pairings.

For finger foods, you can always go for classics like peanuts, pretzels, chips and chicken wings. If you want something more substantial (that doesn’t necessarily have you slaving over a stove), go the gastropub route with inventive twists on old favorites. Try pigs in a blanket with spicy mustard, mini gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches or even a sweet chipotle snack mix. And if your tasting is devoted to beers of a certain region, you might opt to pair with native foods. For example, beers of Japan beg for snacks like asparagus served with a wasabi mayonnaise dip, while a German beer tasting goes best with appetizers like bratwurst samplings with a side of sauerkraut.

5. Set the Scene

The great thing about beer is just how adaptable it is to its setting. Your party mood can be as fancy–or as relaxed–as your heart desires. The one caveat is that you might want to set the beer tasting area slightly apart from the clamor rest of the party, so guests can concentrate on their tastes (and write down their notes). Choose a designated pourer, to ensure the beer is poured properly and served at the best temperature for taste.

All you have to do now? Relax and enjoy! (And thank the designated driver for ensuring that your guests get home safely.)

We want to know: What’s your favorite beer?

Megan Mostyn-Brown

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