Kicking back with pals and enjoying a brew is easy. But what if you want to sip, savour and pick up some delicious education on the side?
Organizing a beer tasting requires planning, but it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter if you try new brews or game-day faves, either. You’ll still discover interesting styles and flavour notes with your closest buddies.
Trust us: There’s a lot to learn from a well-executed beer tasting. Brews come in so many styles these days: trusty pilsners, exciting saisons and kolsches, bold India pale ales (IPAs) and ambers and many more. And there’s no better way to get to know different beer styles than by comparing notes with friends as you sip. Here’s how to prep.
- Get organized
Planning a beer tasting is like organizing any other type of event. Start by narrowing down your guest list and figuring out your venue.
When choosing who to invite, consider the following:
- Experience level. Are your attendees beer pros or newbies? You don’t need a guest list stacked with beer sommeliers, but guests who know a thing or two about what they’re sipping can mentor less experienced tasters.
- Number of participants. We recommend keeping it nice and tight: fewer than 12 people.
- Venue size. Make sure everyone has enough elbow room at the table. They’ll need it to juggle their glasses and notepads.
- Proximity to bathrooms. Enough said.
- Rules and regs. Serving alcohol in parks and public spaces without a permit is usually not allowed.
- Accessibility. Take guests’ mobility issues into account. Make sure the location is easy to access and get around in.
- Travel method. If your guests are coming by car, consider setting up a carpool with one or two designated drivers. Outline public-transit, taxi and rideshare options on your invitations. That way, everybody can get home responsibly after the tasting.
There are plenty of venue options in Ontario, especially during the warmer months. Hosting your tasting outdoors is ideal, especially if you have access to a large patio or picnic table.
- Grab your supplies
Once you sort out your venue and guest list, round up your equipment. This part can be as casual or fancy as you want it to be.
Here’s what you need:
- Note-taking tools. Some hosts might print custom scorecards that list the beers you’ll be drinking and have blank spots for notes. Others might hand out blank cards and pencils and let their guests take care of the rest. You do you!
- Beer-tasting glasses. You could buy five-ounce taster glasses, but you can also use wine or juice glasses or ask guests to bring their own. It’s important to use clear glasses so you can see the colours and characteristics of the beers you’re tasting. Each should hold at least four liquid ounces (so shot glasses won’t work). Steer clear of plastic cups, which can influence the taste and temperature of your beer.
- Pick your beer lineup
Now for the exciting part: choosing the suds you’ll be tasting. There are a few different, equally delicious approaches to nailing down your roster.
You could stick with one specific style and taste a variety of subtypes — for example, an IPA night that features black, double, New England, triple, West Coast and/or white IPAs.
Or you could focus on a specific subtype. For example, you could round up a bunch of cream ales from different breweries. Or zoom in on a specific Ontario brewery and taste a selection of its beers. Or do a selection of citrus-flavoured beers. Or focus on a region and only taste, say, lagers from Germany. The possibilities are endless.
To keep things simple and interesting, why not try a few of the same style? You can compare and contrast the characteristics of each brew easily.
Here are a few lineups you might consider:
- Lagers (from lightest to darkest): Light lagers, pilsners, ambers and dark lagers
- Malty ales (from lightest to darkest): Cream ales, amber ales, brown ales, stouts and porters
- Hoppy ales (from mildest to strongest): Session ales, pale ales, IPAs and imperial IPAs
Plan to taste four to seven different beers in a sitting. That’s enough to keep things interesting but not so many that the process becomes overwhelming.
- Select your menu
When you’re serving beer, food is a must. Once you’ve figured out your tasting lineup, it’s easy to pair it with complementary bites.
Want to pull out all the stops? Go ahead and design a menu of hand-held fare that echoes the beers’ specific flavours. Rather have a low-key night? Pick up pretzels, nuts, chips, popcorn and other starchy snacks that play well with brews. (No matter what you choose, ask guests about their dietary restrictions when you send out the invitations.)
- Nail down the tasting procedure
Beer tastings typically follow a process. This allows guests to thoughtfully sip and consider what they’re drinking.
A few tips:
- Have the most confident beer taster in your group explain how to swirl and sniff.
- Buy enough beer to allow four ounces of each variety per person. (It’s easy math: Each 12-ounce bottle of beer contains enough for three tasters.)
- Pour right before tasting, allowing a bit of foam to form at the top of each glass.
- Taste beer in order from lightest or mildest to darkest or strongest.
- Allow time between tastes to discuss and take notes so your guests can rate and compare each beer.
- Have fun!
A well-planned beer tasting is a delicious, educational way to spend time with friends. With snacks, a lineup of great beers and a table full of pals, you’ll be well on your way to being a tasting pro. At the very least, you’ll be picking up new faves you might never have tried otherwise.