I’ve been a beer girl since
college I was 21. Although I (tragically) started on suds like Keystone and “Natty” Light (ooof), my tastes have grown more sophisticated over the years thanks to the ever-expanding American craft beer industry. Don’t get me wrong; nothing tastes better on the beach than a cold Coors Light, but for the rest of my drinking occasions, a hoppy, golden craft beer can’t be beat. Good beer is just as complex tasting as wine but, in this girl’s opinion, a lot more refreshing, which makes it the perfect summertime drink.
Whether you’re new to beer or you’re brewing your own grapefruit IPA, hosting a beer tasting party is a great way to learn about new beers and summer is the time to do it. Plus, everyone loves the food that goes best with beer. Below is our guide for pulling off your beer tasting party in style.
Oh, and I know that this pretty much leaves the kids out, but an occassional grown up party is a good thing, don’t you agree?
How to host a beer tasting party: The invite
I suggest hosting 6 to 10 people so that you can really talk about the beers. Remember: This isn’t a kegger, but rather a chance to try something new. Neighbors are a great choice since you don’t have to worry about designated drivers. Otherwise, make sure that everyone has a safe ride home.
One last note about your invite list: Take note if your guests are beer novices or experts and plan the types of beer accordingly. The Huffington Post has a great Beer 101 slideshow that offers simple talking points for the different styles of beer.
How to host a beer tasting party: What beers to serve
Belgian Taster Glasses | Crate and Barrel
There are no rules for what beers to serve, but I say branch out! Go with a couple that you love and a few that are new to you and the group. To keep things interesting, choose different styles of beer; follow along below for more on that. And don’t forget to check the label for more than just the type of beer: Part of the fun of a beer tasting is noticing the wacky names and graphic labels (that are way more funky than that bottle of French Burgundy). A lot of craft beer brands have fun stories; do a little research to impress your guests while they sip.
Crisp // Lagers and Pilsners.
This is your easy drinking beer. Crisp, clear, and lightyears beyond the typical Bud.
TRY: Victory Prima Pilsner (this was my gateway beer!), Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Lagunitas Pils Czech Style Pilsner, Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, Brooklyn Lager
Wheat-y // Witbiers or Hefeweizens.
Hazy gold beers that often have an aroma and taste of citrus. Great for summer.
TRY: Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Blue Moon Belgian White, Yuengling Summer Wheat, Hottenroth Berliner Weisse (Beer expert Joshua Bernstein said that this tastes as “if lemonade and champagne had a love child.” Wow.)
Hoppy // Pale Ales and India Pale Ales.
IPAs—a “beer drinkers beer” as my husband likes to call them—are such a staple in my house, they should practically be paying rent. Pay attention to the alcohol content, as some can be very strong. We can thank Founders Brewery for introducing the newest craze of Session IPAs, which have awesome hoppy IPA flavor, but with less alcohol. Founders All Day IPA continues to be my favorite everyday beer.
TRY: Maine Peeper Pale Ale, Bronx Pale Ale, Founders All Day IPA, Hop Nosh IPA, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
Roasty // Stouts and Porters.
Don’t let the dark color fool you; some stouts and porters (think Guinness) have a richness that is smooth and less bitter than hoppy ales.
TRY: Duck-Rabbit Porter, Stone Smoked Porter, Sixpoint Beast Mode Porter, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, Firestone Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout (formerly known as the Velvet Merkin, tee-hee.)
How to host a beer tasting party: How to serve
Tastings should be about 4 ounces each, so a normal 12-ounce bottle will serve 3 people. Do the math according to how many guests, adding a few extra bottles of each beer in case someone prefers a certain type. Be sure to have plenty of water on hand, as well.
There is a well-founded theory that tasting beer at a slightly warmer temp is good for showcasing flavor, but come on: Nobody wants warm beer. If you don’t have space in the fridge, pack a bucket or cooler with ice and place the bottles in there (with an opener affixed or nearby). You can always leave an open bottle out to temper a few minutes before pouring.
Serve tastings in the order that I list the types of beer above. When pouring, remember that this is the one time you actually want a little foam, since that’s where the aroma comes from. Ask guests to sniff the beer first (as you would wine), and then taste. And of course, have a dump bucket nearby in case someone isn’t a fan.
After serving the taste, talk about it! My favorite part of tasting parties is to hear how people’s tastes and preferences differ. It’s always such a surprise. Either discuss right away or have people write down thoughts on a scorecard.
How to host a beer tasting party: The party set up
With all the important stuff out of the way, let’s talk about setting up your beer tasting—because, if you ask me, that’s part of the fun too! I love the free Beer Tasting Party Printables at Catch My Party (above), especially for the scorecard, though all the decor printables are great—and easy. You can also grab some butcher paper or this cool Chalkboard Runner at Anthropologie for an effortless way to write beer types and label snacks.
Just like with wine, I also think that having the right glassware is key. At $1.95 each, these cool-looking Belgian Taster Glasses at Crate and Barrel (3rd photo down) are a no-brainer. If you don’t want to buy something new, though, wine glasses will work. And while we’re talking about glasses, I’ve got a pro tip: To eliminate a pile of dishes, keep a pitcher of water near the dump bucket so that tasting glasses can be rinsed and re-used.
How to host a beer tasting party: The food
You know us: It always comes back to food.
You can’t go wrong with a charcuterie board, cheese plate, and a few bowls of easy snack foods like mixed nuts and pretzels (leave guests a serving spoon, please!), but you’ll want at least one dish that’s a little more substantial. Here are a few good ones:
The Beer Braised Brats with Apple Mustard Slaw at Kristi Murphy are a perfect party dish. To prep this ahead of time, keep the sausages warm and assemble right before guests arrive. Serve the slaw on the side so it remains fresh and crisp.
Breaking out the crockpot is always the right call for a party. Turn the popular Slow Cooker Sweet and Tangy Pulled Chicken at One Hungry Mama into sliders for an easy yet hearty finger food.
A little carb, a little cheese, and a little protein—the food trio made for beer drinking. The Cordon Bleu and Apple Panini we found at Simple Bites combines all three, with rich flavors that will stand up nicely to all those malts and hops. Cut these into slightly smaller triangles and watch them disappear as quickly as the beer.