Get your friends together and test their mad beer skills. We show you how with the ultimate guide to everything you need to know to host a beer tasting party!
A beer tasting party is perfect to celebrate Oktoberfest, a beer lover’s birthday party, National Beer Day on April 7th, or just a reason to get your friends together for a little fun. You can go for a brewery tour and participate in the taste testing after, but why not enjoy it in the comfort of your own home – especially in the backyard for a BBQ on a hot summer day. Then it can be an all day event!
Here’s how to have a beer tasting party that is the Good Times Glue for your crew.
Choose your beer.
Choose 4 different beers to compare:
- If your party is with close friends, ask each one to bring their favorite beer – enough for everyone at the party to taste test – to see how it holds up mano-a-mano against everyone else’s fav. (Just ensure there are no duplicates.)
- Have a seasonal choice such as apple or pumpkin ales in the fall, Oktoberfest beers in October, or hard lemonades in the summer.
- Choose one brewery and sample their different beer from light to dark.
- Compare domestic to imported beer.
- Compare different breweries in a particular style of beer such as stout, lager, or ales.
How much beer will you need?
For a beer tasting party, plan on needing a 1/2 bottle beer or 6 oz for each guest to sample, and extras for consumption later.
Know your beer.
Once you’ve decided on the beer to taste test, find some background information on each one such as brewing history, the brewer’s tasting notes and where it’s brewed.
If your friends are bringing the beer, take note of their choice when you’re confirming that there’s no duplicates so you can look up the same info on all the beers.
The Beer Glasses
Beer bottles vs beer glasses.
Even though it will incur an extra cost, it is best to use beer glasses for your beer tasting party.
- it’s easier to smell the aroma from a glass than a bottle
- testers need to be able to see the color, head and purity of the beer
- it’s more enjoyable in glasses!
For more information, see 3 Reasons to Serve Beer in a Glass.
How many glasses will you need?
You’ll need one glass for each beer sample served per person. (ie: 4 beers sampled by 6 people = 48 glasses) That’s a lot of glasses.
Check with a party rental place – the bonus is no washing! (Want to serve party rental glasses on beer flight boards? Get the beer paddle only here.)
You will also need glasses to serve water to cleanse the palate between beer choices, but this can be any type of glass.
What kind of glasses will you need?
The glass style should be the same for everyone – the different shapes can affect the aroma and the head – but each beer can have a different glass style if need be.
(In fact, there is a specific type of glass for each beer to be presented at it’s best for head, aroma and color. See How to Know Which Beer Glass to Use for Your Party.)
The glasses must be clear so taste testers can examine the color, purity and head of the beer.
There are many styles to choose from at Amazon.com.
The Party Table
A wooden cutting board with the food to be paired with the beer makes the perfect table centerpiece.
Put a large cutting board with cheese, nuts, fruit, condiments, breads & crackers on a cutting board. Long crackers, breadsticks or cheese straws in a tall glass or vase adds a visual dimension and eliminates the need the flowers.
Put a cutting board with the same food pairings between every 4 guests. (2 on each side.)
Include a dish of lemon and orange slices if any of the beer selections have citrus notes.
Keep it simple and easy with a beer tasting party placemat.
This beer flight testing notes placemat does it all. No beer flight paddle required, this 14″ x 10″ placemat does it all. Made of paper so you can use it to make your notes.
Very inexpensive, it keeps the budget in check but still makes the taste testing “official” and easy.
The Food Pairing
Food is a necessity because it lowers the alcohol level in the bloodstream, but it also makes beer tasting a party.
When pairing beer with food, start by matching qualities in the beer with corresponding qualities in food. There’s a “food match” when the combination of beer and food creates a flavor sensation in the mouth.
Pairing Beer with Food
First you must consider the weight of the beer and the food. Darker, more robust beers such as stouts and porters match richer (fatter) foods. More delicate beers like a pilsener pair best with a lighter (low-fat or no-fat) food. This is the foundational rule that accepts or rejects choices.
Next, you need to understand the beer’s flavor profile and compare or contrast it’s components with food choices.
Do you want to echo the aroma or flavors? Pair a spicy ale with a spicy dish. Pair fruit with a fruit beer.
Would you prefer a contrast? Pair a bitter ale with a sweet dessert. Pair a sweeter beer with a salty pretzel.
Wheat beers pair well with foods that have a bright, brisk flavor such as salads (especially with a citrus dressing), sushi, Gruyère cheese, Feta and goat cheeses, Asian dishes, and Caribbean dishes.
Amber lagers and pale ales match best with salty, fatty foods and caramelized foods that are fried or roasted, such as burgers, pizza & buffalo wings, Mexican food or spicy food, bacon, nuts, and cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan or Romano.
Pilsners are best with crunchy, crisp foods such as salads and asparagus, and with lighter fare such as fish and seafood. Also with light cheeses like Havarti, Monterey Jack and Muenster.
Bock beer is a strong lager that pairs well with spicy food such as Cajun food, Jamaican jerk chicken, and sausage.
Porter beer is a dark beer with chocolate and caramel flavors that pairs well with those flavored desserts, smoked & barbecued foods, rich stew & chili.
Guiness and stout beer matches well with roasted, barbecued or smoked food, salty food, oysters and chocolate desserts.
Required food for a beer tasting party.
You need a cheese board.
Start by pairing beer with cheeses that compliment their flavor. Ask everyone to take a sip of beer and then taste its cheese counterpart. This is a great way to introduce the idea of taste testing, so make your first food match with a cheese.
Light beer, pilsners and fruit flavored ales are best paired with soft cheeses like brie, camembert and capricorn goat whose subtle flavor won’t overpower the beer.
Wheat beers pair well with tangy cheeses such as emmantal or swiss.
Stout, porter and dark, malty beers are best suited to the intense flavor of aged cheeses.
For instruction on making a great cheese board, see 5 Tips on Creating a Cheese Board.
Pretzels are a must.
Soft pretzels are traditionally served with beer, so of course you want to serve them at your Beer Tasting Party. You can make them individual-sized or you can make them couple-sized for a Lady and the Tramp moment – German style.
They go well with Pilsners or lighter-bodied pale ales.
Want to make your own soft pretzels? Our Easy Munich Soft Pretzels recipe is so easy – the secret is using store-bought frozen bread dough as a base. This way it turns out perfectly, buy you still get that DIY feeling. See recipe here.
Sliders are the perfect size.
Sliders are perfect for a beer tasting party. They are bite-sized, hearty and you can add whatever ingredients you feel will add to the flavor of the next beer on your taste testing list.
Dessert ideas for a break in the middle of the tasting or for a happy ending.
Bacon Maple cupcakes are a salty-sweet treat that pairs well with lighter-bodied pale ales or American craft-brewed stouts.
The Beer Tasting
Set It Up
Give each participant a score sheet and a pen:
- Want to keep it simple? Use the Beerology Evaluation Sheet.
- Or, use the beer tasting placemat shown above.
Serve the beer.
Most types of beer should be served cool, so store them in your fridge and take them out before sampling. Take Pilsners out 15 minutes before tasting, wheats, pale ales and dark ales 25 minutes. High-alcohol beers should be served at room temperature so take them out of the fridge at least 45 minutes before tasting – more is better.
Fill the glasses:
Fill each glass only 1/3 full to allow space for the aroma, which is important in beer sampling. Make sure there is a head because it will be judged.
Order of serving:
Beer should be tasted from the lightest flavors to heaviest. Note that it’s not by color but by flavor. The beer with the most hops and alcohol content should be left to last because they have the heaviest flavor.
On With the Judging
Explain how to taste test beer. With wine tasting there’s swishing – not so with beer because it is tasted at the back of the tongue. Take a sip and reflect on the flavor.
As they test each beer, remind them of what they’re looking for:
- Hold the glass up to the light and note the color of the beer.
- Decide on the clarity ranging from brilliant to cloudy.
- Is the head thick or thin? If it has peaks it is considered “rocky”.
- If there is a thick head that lingers it is considered a well-crafted beer.
- As you drink your beer note the pattern the foam leaves on the glass – this is called Belgian lace – more pattern means better beer quality.
- Sniffing the beer opens up the palate for tasting. If you can’t discover an aroma, swirl the beer in your glass.
- Decide if it smells hoppy (sharp), malty (sweet) or fruity.
- Do you like the aroma – or not?
- The first sip can taste different from the after taste, so pay close attention to your initial sensation.
- Beer is tasted at the back of the tongue, so take a minute to hold the beer in your mouth before swallowing.
- How intense is the flavor? How bitter?
- Compare the taste to other foods you know.
- This is important in beer tasting and refers to the texture of the beer in your mouth, not the taste. Is it silky, heavy, fizzy?
- High alcohol beer can feel warm compared to bitter beer that feels astringent.
- Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
- Take a second and third sip with pauses between each.
- What are the lingering flavors after you swallow? Are they different from the first sip? How?
- Is the after taste sweet or bitter?
- Did you find the taste lively, balanced or flat?
Now pair with the food choice and record how the beer taste changes itself or enhances the taste of the food.
Cleanse the palate with water before moving on to the next beer.
Continue until all beer has been tasted and the results have been tallied. Which beer was the favorite? If your friends contributed their choices for the beer tasting party, consider giving the winner a prize.
One last important tip.
Make sure you have designated drivers or other means of transportation for your taste testers to get home safely.
Want to put more play in your Beer Tasting Party?
The Unlabeled beer tasting board game is the perfect way to have a beer tasting party with a group of beer connaisseurs.
It is the super easy way have an impromptu beer tasting competition at home, at the brewery or at your favorite bar.
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