How to host a beer tasting

Four different kinds of beers in a row ranging from amber to dark with labels 1 through 4

The bigger the craft beer movement becomes, the more interesting, and experimental different beers are becoming. Try a new microbrew today and you’re likely to experience a variety of bold and subtle flavours that are completely different from the beer next to it on the shelf. No wonder the idea of hosting a beer tastings is catching on in a big way. Like wine, scotch and whisky, beer has a definite tasting process – one that reveals the intricacies of the Brewmaster’s art.

THE FOUR THINGS YOU'LL NEED

1. The Beer

Establish a theme. It can be as broad as Beer 101, showing off a range of styles or as focused as India Pale Ale, featuring a collection of IPA from different regions or different IPA sub-categories such as Imperial IPA, Double IPA or Black IPA. Other ideas include a Belgian beer tasting, a Nova Scotia craft beer tasting or a seasonal beer tasting. For a complete beer tasting, five to six different beers is enough to give a range of taste experiences without overwhelming the guests’ palates. One standard 341ml bottle will provide a sample for up to six people.

2. Glasses

Unless it is a particularly grandiose affair, one properly shaped beer glass per person is sufficient. The best beer tasting glasses have a slight inward taper—snifters work well. Invite guests to rinse their glasses between different beers. Don’t forget to also put out a pitcher of water with water glasses.

3. Tasting Sheets

It’s always a great idea to provide guests a tasting sheet to jot their notes. It can simply be a blank piece of paper or a more elaborate sheet with places to write notes on appearance, nose, palate and final impression.

4. Nibbles

Plan, as a socially responsible host, to provide food to guests enjoy before, after or during the tasting. For the tasting itself, be sure to have unsalted crackers or cubes of bread available, allowing guests to cleanse their palate between sips. Beer also makes a great match for cheese. If you want a more elaborate event, consider hosting a multi-course beer and food pairing. Serve each course with a different beer. Move from light to full-bodied beers. Stouts and Porters make great closers as they pair well with chocolate desserts.

10 STEPS TO TASTING BEER

Step 1: Pour everyone a sample (2-3 ounces) of the first beer. Remember, serve lightest beers first and heaviest last.

Step 2: Provide some information about the beer. If it is a blind tasting (the beer isn’t revealed until after it is tasted), it can be as simple as the style of the beer.

Step 3: Take notes on the appearance.

Step 4: Smell the beer. Note what you smell.

Step 5: Swirl the glass to release more aromas. Note these aromas.

Step 6: Taste the beer and note its flavours and the overall impression of the beer.

Step 7: Talk about the beer as a group.

Step 8: Rinse everyone’s glass.

Step 9: Invite everyone to have a cracker or bite of bread before the next beer.

Step 10: Repeat Steps 1 to 9 until all the beers have been sampled.

OTHER IMPORTANT DETAILS YOU SHOULD KNOW

Appearance

The depth of colour and hue speaks to the type of malt, or other grain, used in making the beer. Very pale beers are made using pale malts and possibly other grains, while jet black beers are made with heavily roasted malt.

Note the amount of carbonation as well as the richness and consistency of the head – the layer of foam at the top of the beer. Beers with a persistent head – meaning it doesn’t immediately dissipate – have acquired their effervescence from fermentation while those that dissipate quickly have had carbon dioxide added.

The Nose

After the swirl, it’s time to smell (or nose) the beer. Shake the glass lightly again and then smell the beer. In beer, the aromas are generally from the yeast, malt, and amount of hops used. Lager yeast generally adds little character, but ale yeast often provides fruity aromas to a beer. The flavour range from the malt varies widely, from the biscuit-like character of pale malts to the nutty, caramel and toffee character of caramel malt to the rich chocolate and roasted coffee notes of the darkest malts. Finally, hops add a range of flavours depending on the hop varieties used; but beer tasters will often identify citrus, spice and grass aromas.

The Taste

Taste the beer. Swish the beer around your entire mouth, giving the liquid an opportunity to reach all your taste receptors. You will want to note the beer’s weight, which can range from light to full-bodied. You’ll also want to describe the flavour sensations. Does the beer taste sweet, indicating a relatively strong malt character? Is it dry, which might suggest the beer has been heavily hopped? Or perhaps it has a perfect balance of malt sweetness and hop dryness—which is one of the signs of a great beer.

THE FINAL IMPRESSION

This is your opportunity to make a final comment on the beer. Did you like the beer? Did you think the beer was balanced or out of balance? Did linger on your palate for a long time? This is often the sign of well-made beer. Hosting a beer tasting isn’t difficult—there’s nothing pretentious or complicated about it. Follow these beer-tasting tips, and you and your guests are sure to not only learn something new—but discover a new favourite beer or two along the way!

Hosting a beer tasting isn’t difficult—there’s nothing pretentious or complicated about it. Follow these beer-tasting tips, and you and your guests are sure to not only learn something new—but discover a new favourite beer or two along the way!

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