How to Host a Beer Tasting Party

You are learning so much about craft beer, now you want to show off to all of your friends.  Why not have a beer tasting party?  It’s pretty easy to put together and your friends will have a blast.

When and Who?

First off, let’s decide when and who will be at the party.  Time of year and guest list determines few things.  First, it can help choose a theme.  In the Summer, you may lean more towards the lighter beers, while in Fall and Winter you can sample more heavier or seasonal beers.  Second, if your guests are new to craft beer, you may want to steer clear of exotic beers, while seasoned craft beer drinkers may be more adventurous.

Set the Theme

There are many ways to set a theme.  Maybe its based on the style of beer, or geography of the beer or odd ingredients or your guests will bring their favorite beer.

  • Style – if going with the style of beer you could choose all IPAs or Stouts. Maybe you look at all Amber Lagers or Sour beers.
  • Geography – choose beers from a specific country such as Germany or Belgium.  Or choose beers from a country with a certain style in mind, such as American IPAs.
  • Ingredients – how about tasting smoked beers, or beers made with certain spices or fruits?
  • Bring your Own – how about your guests bring their current favorite beer so everyone can try.  Make sure they tell you ahead of time so you don’t have any duplicates.

Before the Party

Obviously, you will need to let your friends know you are having a party.  Depending on your group of friends will determine how far in advance you will need to send out the invites.  Some suggest six to eight weeks in advance.  In my case, no more than two weeks works.  But, stick with what works for your friends.

You will need to have enough glassware for the tastings.  Beer samples should be 3-4 ounces.  I would plan on six to eight different beers.  Any more than that and your guests really won’t taste them.  Their taste buds will be in a beer clouded haze.  There are small sample size disposable glasses you can buy or use a small glass for each guest and let them rinse out the glasses between each tasting. Totally up to you.

Determine what you will serve to eat.  During the tasting, you will want palate cleansing foods such as pretzels and crackers.  Let the guests sip on water in between as well to stay hydrated and keep their palate cleansed.  After the tasting, you can serve a full meal.  If you do this during or before, your guest’s palates will be distorted by the spices and the food and won’t truly taste the beers.

Decide if you are having your guest score each beer on a tally sheet or rate it by another method.  Tally sheets can easily be downloaded off of the internet.  Or, maybe at the end, you have a show of hands for their favorite.  Some folks even use bottle caps to have guests vote on favorites.  Pick which method works best for your group of friends.

Some tasting parties involve games.  You can find interesting beer tasting party games on the internet.  I am not a huge fan of games during the party. I think the guests can engage in conversation and discuss each beer during the tasting, which would be a better experience.  But, again, if your group of friends would prefer a game, then pick a game that keeps them on target of the beer tasting.

How will you have your guests experience the beer?  All sitting around one large table?  Moving station to station? All of this really depends on how much room you have in your space and how many friends you invite.  I think sitting at a table and trying each beer in a group, with lively conversation and feedback with each tasting would be a great beer tasting party.

Day of the Party

Chill your beer.  If you don’t have enough room in your refrigerator, then use coolers filled with ice.  But, keep the beer cold.

When your guests arrive, give them either a tally sheet or let them know how they will be ranking the beers.  You will want to set the tasting of the beers from less to more intense.  So lighter to darker, or lower ABV to higher ABV or low hop bitterness to higher hop bitterness.

I would allocate about 15 minutes per beer.  This will give your guests time to taste and discuss each beer before moving onto the next tasting. Have your guests first sniff the beer then sip it.  The aroma of the beer adds to the taste and experience.  The foam, or head, on the beer is where all of the aromas will come from.  To ensure you have a proper pour, keep the glass flat on the table and then pour the tasting. Pour the beer without tipping the glass.  You want the foam so you can have the full experience of the beer.

At the end of the tasting, tally the results and reveal the winner. Then you can have your guests sit down for a meal and talk about the experience, or whatever else they want to discuss.  By waiting until after the tasting to feed your guests, you can ensure their palates remain clear so they can enjoy the beers.  As with any party, you will want to make sure none of your guests leave impaired.  Your guests can plan ahead to have a ride share or cab service pick them up.  Or, they stay with you and enjoy a hearty breakfast before they head home.  Either way, make sure your guests have a great time and get home safe.

After the Party

Take note of what your guests liked and build on that for your next tasting party.  There are so many really good beers to try, that your friends will want to experience them all with you.  Add to the theme or create a special meal to enjoy after the tasting.  Just have fun and keep it simple.

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