Oh what fun it is to try beers! This year I planned an event where people would be able to try a variety of beers over the course of one night. I had a selection of 21 beers ranging from stouts to blondes, lagers to Ales with between 4.5% to 11% alcohol by volume (ABV). Friends also brought many beers (especially Brendan). In all there were over 40 beers to try! Which, to say the least, was a bit daunting. We ended up trying about 14 beers, which worked out great because everyone left happy having tried at least one beer that they liked! Here are some insights on the things that worked and those that didn’t.
Here was the selection I brought to the table.
Know your audience
Before the night began I knew what beers most people liked. There were a few wild cards and most people (including me) had not done a beer tasting before. Overall it was a light beer crowd with a few people that were not beer drinkers. For that reason I picked a few beers that were at the top of their category like Mons Abbey Dubbel, Dieu du Ciel Pêche Mortel and Saison Pinacle to showcase the best that the beer world could offer. Unfortunately in practice we only tried one of those beers and it didn’t go over so well.
Build it and they will drink!
In order to facilitate the evening I made sure to have the right tools for a crowd of 20 people to try the beers. The most important tools are the glasses. After a bit of research I determined 4.5 oz to 6 oz glasses are perfect for tasting. So before the party I stopped by Ares and picked up 12 X 4.5 oz tumblers and Brendan gifted my 4 X 6 oz glasses and a holy wood paddle. The size of the glasses and the paddle really came in handy while serving the beers. I did a quick rinse rotation of the glasses and was able to share the beers quickly while still being able to spend time conversing.
Now there is a fine balance between being polite and being a good host. Having a beer tasting without food would be unjust. With that in mind, we picked up a few typical beer foods like pretzels and chips along with a few nice cheeses and sausages. Some beers paired very well with the cheeses such as the Italian beer Bianca or Weiss from Hacker-Pschorr, while others went better with the sausages such as Hops and Bolts and L’égare Monstre du Lac-St-Jean.
After 4 say no more.
The unfortunate thing about trying so many beers is that after the 4th beer it gets harder to taste the nuances of each beer. After a while all the beers started tasting dryer and more bitter than normal. I am not sure if it was IPA Hops and Bolts or the cabanos sausage but the beers all tasted more dry and metallic than usual. So I would say that between beers it is important to cleanse the palate with water and bread.
Pro Tip: It’s my party and I’ll drink beer if I want to!!!!
Here is the thing, everyone enjoyed trying the beers however some people just wanted to get their drink on. Sometimes, like while eating tapas, people just want a bottle of beer straight. They don’t want to share and they would prefer to just sit back and slowly sip on a bottle and laugh. And that is OK, I however did not foresee this happening… Obvious blind-spot of a beer tasting party. For this I recommend two things; first have a 6 pack of the cheapest pilsner you can find and hide it in the back of your fridge to accommodate; second if you are going to a beer tasting party and are planning to drink one beer all night make sure to bring a few bottles of that beer (maybe enough to share).
For this party I wanted to try a new style of beer for me called Saison, and boy was it different. We tried two saisons and my first taste of Saison I (this is its actual name) was delicious and like no other beer that I have ever tried. It poured opaque yellow with one finger of head, smelled of earthy hops and spices, was dry and a little sour, and tasted earthy, of wild hops and a little citrusy. Also, Glutenberg blonde was my first try of gluten free beer and I liked it. It felt more like cider on the tongue and was very dry but overall I liked it and I am looking forward to trying it again.
The Beers we loved: Top Picks
My pick for the night would be Saison 1, as described above. It was a great introduction to the saison style and accompanied the food very well.
The crowd favourite was Unibroue’s 17. This is one fine-aged belgian strong ale. There were many mmmmss and ahhss by the group trying this beer. This beer is deep, smooth and subtle. This smooth operator will have you rolling your tongue around it to taste all of its subtle nuances. But stop and take your time while trying it because it has an ABV of 10%, not that you will notice, and you will be feeling it by the end of the bottle. Pours dark brown, leaves two fingers of head and screams I’M AM A STRONG BELGIAN ALE. At first smell the dried fruit and dark fruit hit you followed by spice, wood, and earth as it opens. I strongly recommend this beer but you must hurry because it is brewed only once a year.
Bianca was our third pick because of its pairing with cheeses and mild yet unique taste. Most people agreed that they really liked this one.
Afterthoughts on a great party
Overall the goal of a tasting night is to share good beers with friends and anything you can do to accommodate this helps make it a success. I am going to rate this night a success and plan to do it again. Some learnings were that having about 10 beers for a 20 person tasting plus what others will bring is more than enough to get your tasting on. The key is quality and variety not quantity. I wish I had tried at least one new stout and one new tripel, however I have a few left over that I am looking forward to reviewing.
PS If they brought it you should try it
Let your friends try the beers that they brought over. There were a few beers that people brought that we did not get a chance to try and for this I was sad, but like I already mentioned, there were just too many beers.
Cheers and À votre santé!