Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to host a holiday beer tasting

The holidays are a time when friends and family get together and celebrate. If you are wanting to host an adults only gathering this holiday season, you may want to consider hosting a beer tasting. These events are not only fun, but when done right, they can be quite festive and educational as well. As with the planning of any social gathering, there are certain steps that need to be undertaken to ensure your event's success.

Compile your guest list. Ideally, you want to invite between six and ten people to a beer tasting. Any more than that can be difficult to manage and the time and expense spent planning can quickly climb out of control. Request that your guests refrain from wearing heavy perfume or cologne, as this can interfere with the tasting process.
Choose a theme. Since this is a holiday tasting, it would be a natural assumption that you will be serving seasonal beers. This doesn't have to be the case. You can also choose to serve a variety of beers from a particular region, a specific brewery or of a certain style. Plan on serving six to twelve different beers, three ounces per guest.
Plan your menu. You will need to serve food to your guests during your beer tasting. They will need something to cleanse their palates between samples and the food will help soak up the alcohol they are ingesting. Simple snacks such as popcorn, pretzels and crackers are fine. If you want something more elaborate, consider a cheese tray and fresh fruit. For a truly memorable event, base your food menu on the beers you will be serving. If you need inspiration, visit Beer Advocate or the websites of the breweries you will be serving for food pairing ideas.
Go shopping. You will want to serve the freshest beer possible, so go shopping as close to your event as possible. Try to avoid buying beer that is stored at room temperature or that has been exposed to direct sunlight or excessive fluorescent lighting. These factors can all impact the taste of your beer negatively. Make sure to buy extra beer for the after tasting festivities. Once your beer is safely home, store it upright and in the refrigerator, preferably between 45 and 55 degrees F. If you don't have enough glassware to serve your guests, now is the time to stock up. You don't want to serve beer in plastic or paper cups.
Determine tasting order. Typically, you will start with the lighter beers first, easing into those with heavier alcohol content. You can also start with the brew that is lightest in hops and move towards the hoppier brews. If you want, you can create a tasting menu that lists all of the beers you will be serving and the order you are serving them in so guests are clear on what brew they are tasting. Feel free to include any information about each beer that you think your guests will appreciate.
Prepare for your guests. Make sure you have the following items on hand for each of your guests: a clean, clear tasting glass, a glass or bottle of water for palate cleansing, pen and paper for note taking and your tasting menu, if you created one. You will also need a swill bucket for rinsing glasses between samples. Be sure to bring your beers to the appropriate serving temperatures for each style. Lagers, pilsners and wheat beers are best served between 45 and 50 degrees F. IPA's, dobblebocks, abbey ales, lambics and stouts are best served between 50 and 55 degrees F. Stronger beers should be served between 55 and 60 degrees. The general rule of thumb for serving temperatures is that the higher the alcohol content, the higher the serving temperature.
During the tasting. As your beer tasting kicks off, encourage your guests to use all of their senses to fully experience each brew. They should be looking at the color and clarity of the beer, they should note the size and color of its head. They should smell it and enjoy the subtle aromas it gives off. Remind your guests to write down their impressions and to share them with others. One guest may notice something another overlooks.
After the tasting. Make sure your guests have a designated driver or other safe means of getting home. If someone can't make it home safely, prepare the couch for them and allow the to stay over. You want to be a safe host as well as a fun one.

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