Open houses are one of the nicest ways to entertain during the holidays. Guests drop in, grab a bite, take a sip and catch up on their own schedule. You know what makes this kind of low-fuss get-together even easier? Serving a relaxed lineup of beer-and-cheese pairings, which satisfy big and small groups alike. We’ve rounded up our top tips to make hosting a holiday open house easy, merry and, of course, tasty.
1. Choose your beer.
Throwing a party is the perfect excuse to try some new brews, like that sour you heard great things about or a hopped-up double IPA. And since we have over 800 brands to choose from, you’ll find just about anything your taste buds desire. The best bet for an open house is to focus on offering plenty of thirst-quenching crowd-pleasers, like light lagers, pilsners and cream ales, plus a few interesting options for the more adventurous drinkers in the room. For the best deal, grab a 2-4: you save an average of $9 on cases when you shop at The Beer Store.
2. Choose your cheese.
When you’re buying cheeses for an open house, apply the same rules you do for buying beer. Go heavy on crowd favourites, like cheddar, Swiss and Brie, and lighter on stronger, acquired-taste varieties, like Stilton and Oka. (Popular cheeses are also much easier to cook with if you have leftovers.) Offer a range of textures and flavours, from soft, tangy goat cheese to hard, nutty Parmesan. If your supermarket has a cheese counter, see if they’ll let you taste a sample before committing to a big hunk. That way you can expand your selection without rolling the dice on the unknown.
3. Go shopping.
When you head to The Beer Store, use the 4:1 rule: for every four familiar beers you buy, grab a fifth wild-card brew to cover everyone’s tastes. Since cheese is the main event food-wise, pick up about 6 ounces (170 g) per person. (If that seems like too much, remember that having leftovers is way better than running out.) For crackers, focus on plain varieties so guests can better appreciate the flavours of the cheese; and baguettes are the ideal bread choice since they make perfect two-bite slices. Go crazy on the accompaniments, though, because they take any cheese spread from simple to sensational. Think fresh fruits (grapes, apples or pears), dried fruits (dates, figs or apricots), roasted nuts (walnuts or almonds), and cheese-friendly jellies, pickles or chutneys.
4. Set up.
Canadians typically do not like warm beer, so you need a plan of attack to chill enough for a crowd. We sell our brews cold, so they’ll get icy faster at home (more on that here). That said, since it’s the holidays and we live in Ontario, why not put a chilly garage or basement to work keeping your beers cool? Or, if it’s between 0° and 4°C outside, your back deck or balcony can act as a natural “walkout” refrigerator. Keep an eye on the thermometer, though: if it dips below 0°C, bring the beer in so it won’t freeze (and explode the cans or bottles). For your cheese spread, print up a little card to place next to each variety, with the name, country of origin and a brief description, and add a suggested beer pairing, too.
5. Serve up that low-key feast.
The most important thing to remember about cheese is that it tastes better at room temperature — heat softens the texture and brings out its subtler flavours — so take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before go-time. If your party is modest in size (under two dozen guests), leave the cheeses whole and set out knives so people can cut their own portions. For bigger parties, it’s best to cut bite-size pieces and arrange them on platters for easy serving. Put out one tray at a time and, when supplies are dwindling, switch to a new one. You can freshen up the picked-over plate with more cheese or transfer the leftovers to a smaller serving dish. Or jazz them up: gently toss together cubed feta, olive oil and dried oregano, or bake Brie or Camembert until it’s warm and ooey-gooey.
6. Clean up.
At the end of the party, every bit of packaging you got from The Beer Store — cans, bottles, boxes, plastic rings and even bottle caps — can be returned for recycling. (We’re happy to help lighten the load in your waste bin and your footprint on the planet.) If you have a mountain of cheese left over, send guests home with doggie bags or save it to make pizzas, quesadillas, baked pastas, dips and, of course, fondue.