Welcome to a bit of an ironic, but hopefully helpful post. As I type I am in the midst of finishing setting up one of my first somewhat organized tastings. I have had people over to drink several different beers many times before, but tonight there is a loosely structured objective, to work our way through several local and national craft beer selections en route to our final destination: the 2011 Surly Darkness. So I will keep this post brief, not only for my own sake, but because it can hopefully serve as a quick reference guide, and because there are some great resources available on the internet that can say much more (see this excellent link from craftbeer.com). So here are some highlights to focus on:
#1 Prepare in advance!
-I have to laugh a bit at this, because I should be taking my own medicine. I have gotten most everything cleaned around the house and things prepared, but it was all in a rush, give yourself plenty of time.
-Chill your beer well before guests arrive so it will be ready to drink (or dependent on the style it can sit out and warm up to proper serving temp)
-Cook any food necessary before people arrive as well so you are available to your guests.
#2 Beer Selection
-Depending on your audience and/or theme, pick a range of beer styles to enjoy
-Drink the beers methodically so you can appreciate each in its own right and not ruin your palate. Generally work from lighter colored and flavored beers (and less hoppy) to darker and more well hopped beers, usually ending with either an imperial stout or a very bitter IPA.
-Try to moderate pours, depending on how formal you are and how many beers you are tasting. Usually don’t have full beers, just so people can try a lot of beers without getting too full (or drunk).
-Using the right type of glass can make a huge difference in flavor and aromas. Try to use something with a bulb (like a wine glass, or something with a stem) to allow the beer to be swirled to release aromas. Snifters work well also, and even smaller sampler glasses can be useful for high alcohol beers.
-Make sure the glasses are clean, just rinse with water (no soap, it will ruin the head of the beer) and let air dry
#4 Set and Setting
-If you are having some close friends over, and just want to enjoy their company, don’t worry too much about the organization of the evening and just have fun. If they don’t know a lot about beer, use natural conversation pauses or when pulling out a new beer to talk a bit about them, and be available if people have questions.
-If the focus is on the beer and the people are not super close friends or just acquaintances be sure to draw connections between people and have some information up your sleeve to be able to keep conversations going about the beer and other topics. Have a more formal organization system set up in this case.
-Set a nice atmosphere, I like to have some music playing in the background and beer paraphernalia out.
-Have at least one beer and food pairing set up for the evening, it’s not too hard to do, and really can make the evening for people, especially to newer beer drinkers.
-If you want to get real serious, you can some BJCP Review Sheets here
#5 Have fun!
-It is beer and good company after all, don’t get too bogged down in having a serious review session.
Well, I’m off to enjoy the evening with my friends at our tasting. We will finish off the evening with the Darkness and some from scratch brownies. I’ll post our review of the beer tomorrow along with some other thoughts. See you then! Drink well!