You’ve probably attended a lot of cocktail parties, holiday parties, and other big bashes, and you might feel it’s your turn to do something different. If you don’t want to break the bank for a party but want to serve your guests what they love to drink, and you love to geek out and get excited – why not host a beer tasting party?
By hosting a beer tasting party, not only will you educate yourself on the complex flavors that make up beer, but you can also let your guests know about beer. It’s also a great way to start a new tradition with your friends instead of just bringing bottles of wine to your next get-together.
Here are some helpful tips on how you can host your own beer tasting party at home:
Keep it simple.
There are so many different kinds of beer – especially craft beer – but you don’t have to pack everything you want your guests to taste. Be sure to check out this great beer guide for guidance. Keep it simple by choosing a theme and featuring beers that belong to that theme. You can compare two different beer styles, like American IPA vs. English IPA or Light vs. Dark. You may simply base your theme around a specific type of beer, like stout.
If your guests already have quite some knowledge about beers (and if they also happen to be craft beer enthusiasts), you can structure your theme around a particular family of beers, like amber lagers, brown ales, and sour beers.
Another common theme for a beer tasting party is one based around a geographical region. For example, your theme can be based on Belgium, so you can feature “Belgian lambic beer” or choose Germany and highlight “German lagers.” You could quickly zero in on a specific location, especially local ones. For example, you may want to showcase some craft beers from California and name the beer tasting event “West Coast hoppy beers.” The point of choosing a geographic theme for the event is to feature all the possible nuances, even from the same brewer or beers coming from the same region.
You can also organize your themes around specific flavors, ingredients, and seasons. For example, during October, you can hold your own Oktoberfest and feature Oktoberfest beers brewed in Munich. You can host a Summer Beer Tasting party during the summer or highlight pumpkin-flavored beers in the fall or around Halloween. You may also feature beers brewed with exotic spices and strange fruits.
Another great idea is to tell each of your guests to bring their favorite beer in advance to share and taste, but collect the names in advance so you won’t have any repeats. Then, let everyone vote for their favorite beer in the end!
Plan in advance.
You will need to do quite a bit of planning in order to have a successful beer tasting event. It’s not the type of house party that you’d only have to buy chips and lots of beer, invite everyone, blast some music, and call it a day. Instead, you need more strategic party planning with this kind of party. Here are some things that you need to plan in advance:
1. Determine your number of guests.
Set a manageable number of guests. A beer tasting party is not the event to invite 40-50 of your friends. For a tasting party, it’s best to keep the guest list short. No more than ten adult guests are ideal. Gathering too many people can turn your night into more of a beer bust than a tasting party.
Having a small number of people over can also make your beer purchasing plan simpler. You only need to pour 3-4 ounces per sample, which matches up nicely to the 72 ounces in a six-pack of beer or 64 ounces in a half-gallon growler. You want your guests to be tasting, discussing, and evaluating the taste of the beers, which will be a struggle to do if they drink too many beers, clouding their judgment!
If you want to serve more beer, it’s best to reserve it for later after the main tasting event is finished.
2. Decide about logistics.
In planning, also decide who will provide the beer and snacks. If you’re managing everything yourself, then no worries, but if you want your guests to pitch in (especially if this party is a collaborative idea), then plan the logistics. Let your guest help you set up the event and divide the labor. Assign who will bring the beers, who will bring the snacks, who will bring the coolers, ice, glassware, pitchers, and things like that.
3. Choose your beer selection.
Once you have decided on a theme, you can narrow down your beer choices. Make sure you think about your guests so you can determine how strong to go with your beer selection. Generally speaking, six kinds of beers is a good number, and eight is pretty much the maximum you’d like to have. If you offer too many different beers, it will be harder to have a serious discussion and analysis of the beers being tasted.
4. Get beer glassware.
You would want to provide beer glasses for sampling, not beer mugs. It’s best to get a wide-mouthed glass that can be easily rinsed so it can be used with as many beers as possible. As a rule of thumb, you must consider the number of guests and double that figure to come up with enough glasses to have on hand. Of course, if cost is a concern, you can pick up small, clear plastic tasting cups. It’s best to provide a good beer flight glass set. It’s a tray of four glasses sized for tasting.
If you don’t want to buy glasses for the party, you can certainly use wine glasses instead. Most households have lots of wine glasses on hand anyway. You may simply want to add more wine glasses if you only have a couple on hand. Stocking up on wine glasses would be more practical anyway as it can be used for different kinds of parties you can host at home.
Here are some glassware you can buy for your beer tasting party:
- Anchor Hocking Barbary 5 Ounce Beer Tasting Glass
- Libbey Belgian Beer Taster Glass
- Libbey Beer Tasting Sampler Glass
- TOSSWARE POP 4oz Taster SET OF 12 Plastic Shot Glass
- Prestee Store Small Clear Plastic Cups
- Libbey Craft Brews Beer Flight Glass Set with Wood Carrier
- Deco 79 Beer Tasting Flight Sampler Set
- MyGift Rustic Wood Beer Flight Liquor Tasting Set
- Libbey Signature Kentfield Estate All-Purpose Wine Glasses
- C Crest All-Purpose Wine Glasses
5. Prepare snacks.
Food and beer come hand in hand, and it would be a crime to serve one without the other. And practically, giving your guests something to munch on between beer tastes will help absorb the alcohol and prevent things from turning too boozy.
The kind of food to serve at a beer tasting party is wide open as well, but try to focus it more on the beer and on your area. For instance, if you live near the coast, consider serving some cold shrimp and crab and go with crisp lagers for tasting. If it’s harvest time on your farm country, serve fresh fruits and vegetables from the nearest farm stand and pair them with ales.
Since beer is the centerpiece of the party, serve crackers, soft pretzels, mixed nuts, cheeses, bread, cold meats, and some good German sauerkraut. Serve these items on a nice charcuterie board. Choose from the charcuterie board choices here:
- SMIRLY Cheese Board and Knife Set
- Smirly Cheese Board and Knife Set – Charcuterie Board Set
- ROYAL CRAFT WOOD Store Unique Bamboo Cheese Board, Charcuterie Platter & Serving Tray
- Picnic at Ascot Bamboo Cheese Board/Charcuterie Platter
- Widousy Bamboo Cheese Board Set
It’s best to pick starchier snacks to help keep everyone’s palate clear. Hot wings, garlic, and other strong-flavored snacks will almost make any beer taste like seltzer.
Incorporate a meal somewhere into the evening, but it’s best to serve it after the official beer tasting event is over.
6. Think of the space.
The size of your space for hosting the event matters a lot, too. You’ll want to set up stations for each beer style or type. You can combine as many as 3-4 tastes in each station, but that means you still need to make sure that there’s enough room for people to mingle and move around for all the guests.
Preferably, spread it around to avoid crowds from gathering. Room enough 3-4 tasters at each station to encourage discussion but not overcrowding.
For better focus while tasting, it’s best to create a quiet and calm atmosphere. But what kind of party would it be if there was no liveliness or music? To compromise, have a separate room or section of the house dedicated only for the tasting portion, then have a social area of the house for other guests who want to talk and socialize in the meantime.
7. Prepare equipment and decorations.
It’s essential to take note of your refrigerator or cooler space. Tasting warm bear isn’t nearly as much fun, and you don’t want to put ice on the beer because it will compromise the taste and strength of the beer when it melts. Make sure you can store all your beer in a cold area. If it doesn’t fit in your existing fridge space – and it probably won’t since you’re housing some foods here also – prepare coolers with an ice bath and load the beers there.
Here are some top-rated coolers to choose from:
- Igloo Polar Cooler Family
- YETI Tundra 35 Cooler
- Coleman 16-Quart Portable Cooler
- ORCA COOLERS White 40 Quart
- Driftsun 75 Quart Ice Chest
For your decorations, it’s best to stick to the theme. Generally, you’d want your décor to be rustic or farmhouse-style. Beer blends with these décor themes, not fine china.
You may also want to decorate your area with beer-themed banners, balloons, garlands, and arches. Here are some great beer party decorations:
- Beer Party & Oktoberfest Decorations
- Cheers and Beers Balloon Garland Arch Kit
- Beer Garland Octoberfest Party
- Cheers & Beers Banner with Cake Topper Circle Dots Garland
- Creative Converting Cheers & Beers Letter Banner
If you’re doing a seasonal beer tasting, consider incorporating the season into your décor. For example, some fall garlands will work well around the table during a pumpkin-themed tasting. Likewise, you may want to incorporate snowflakes to add a frosty look to your Christmas ale selections.
Here are some seasonal decorations for a subtle décor:
- St. Patrick’s Day Tassel Garland Spring and Summer Pom Pom Ball Banner
- Cocoselected Thanksgiving Decorations Lighted Fall Garland
- WILLBOND Wool Felt Ball Garland Colorful Pom Pom Garland
- Lvydec 2 Pack Fall Maple Garland
- White Christmas Snowflake Decorations Snowflake Ornaments Garland
- Snowflake Glittery String Garland White Blue and Light Blue Snowflake
- Winter Silver Metallic Glittery Hanging Snowflake Garlands
- Big Dot of Happiness Pink Winter Wonderland
8. Prepare notepads and pens, and other tasting accessories.
Give each taster a rustic-style pen and a mini kraft notebook so they can make notes about each beer – perhaps the specific flavors they tasted, the aromas they picked up, or any comment about the drink. Then, after everyone has tried the beer, open a discussion about what people think about the beer.
If you’re giving a score for the beers you will taste, you may want to provide every participant a response whiteboard and a whiteboard marker. Let everyone write their score (out of 5 or out of 10 – you decide) for the beer they have tasted and discuss why they gave it that particular score. You can assign someone to take notes for this for the awarding session.
Have plenty of water pitchers around and spare glassware for water. Sparkling water cleanses the palate even better than still water. It may not be as refreshing to drink, but the bubbles can rejuvenate the palate. Also, provide napkins in farmhouse-style or rustic napkin holders for inevitable spills and for wiping the mouth.
9. Make it a competition.
What will make guests invested in the tasting party is if you add a competitive component. For example, if your theme is “Everybody’s Favorites” and you served beers that are a favorite of each guest, you can make the owner of the most popular beers win. Let guests rank their top three favorite beers using your established ranking system, and the owners of the most well-liked beers would take home some prizes. This way, your guests would also like to bring the best beer they know to your party! Give out prizes to the top winners like a homebrew shop gift card, pint glasses, bottle openers, trophy shot glass and more. It would also be fun to award a prize to the person who brought the least favorite beer, like a “Get in loser” keychain bottle opener, a poop hat or a toilet bowl trophy. Keep it fun and light for all guests to commemorate that day!
But if that’s not your theme, you can motivate your guests to really discuss and describe the beers they are tasting instead of just roaming around the room tasting everything. Create titles like “Most Brazen,” “Most Eloquent,” or “Hardest to Impress” and make a sash or trophies with these titles to hand out at the end. Better yet, give them cool new beer mugs as a prize, like a medieval-style wooden beer mug, a double-wall beer glass, or a classic beer mug with a fun statement print.
10. Prepare some games or activities.
To make beer tasting more fun, you can add a few bar-themed games or activities to help make the party livelier. For example, you might play a sports-themed game with beer brackets, in which the best beers advance to the next level. Or you can organize a beer trivia game. After all, the point of hosting a beer tasting party is not just to taste more beers but to be more knowledgeable about those kinds of beers.
You can have a mystery beer in between the tasting event and encourage your guests to submit written guesses as to the brand or style.
You may also turn your beer-tasting party into a vlog! Record the beer tasting session, especially your guests’ comments about the beers, and edit it as a fun vlog you can post on your YouTube channel or other social media accounts. If guests know it would be recorded, they will be motivated to bring their A-game in judging the beers.
What to do during the actual event
There are two ways to conduct a beer tasting – you can have an open one or a blind tasting. A blind tasting means you don’t know the beer you’re drinking until you’ve tasted it. This means the beers need to be served in another bottle or brown-bagged to obscure the label and let the host keep a master key using letters and numbers. Or you can recruit someone to pour the beer where no one can see what’s what and reveal the labels only after the discussion. Meanwhile, an open tasting leaves the bottles and cans in view.
Usually, the better way to go is to do a blind tasting. You’re better off not revealing the beer name, brewery, style, or ABV until every participant has tasted the particular beer. It will help prevent people’s pre-judgments about the brand or type of beer from having a say in their discussion. Let them judge the beer based on their five senses, not their pre-conceived prejudices about it.
Provide them with note or score-taking materials and writing utensils. Discuss your guidelines in scoring based on the applicable standard or guidelines. For example, a one-to-five-star system or a one-to-ten-scoring for overall enjoyment or specific traits like flavor, appearance, and aroma can work well.
To get the full flavor of a beer, pour them a taste of 4 ounces in the tasting glass. (Read on how to taste beer below.)
You would also want to develop scoring criteria for each guest to take notes on each beer they want to taste. Include a scoring section for appearance, aroma, taste, and maybe palate and feel.
The tasting part is where you’ll find the most interesting conversations. You and your guests will have a unique reaction to some flavors. Use your imagination and words to describe the taste, color, and aroma labels.
The tasting, of course, will not likely be at the end of the evening. Depending on the number of guests you invited, it would be great to keep extra six-packs of each of the tasting beers in the cooler for guests to drink, especially the ones that they really liked.
How to taste beer
To judge the beer and appreciate its complexity, here are some guidelines on how to taste beer.
1. Describe its appearance.
Look at your beer and describe its color, appearance, consistency, and head. Take a proper look and call out what they see (pale, dark, clear, cloudy, murky, etc.). Describe how you think the appearance will affect the flavor.
2. Smell the beer.
Surprisingly, the aroma is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. The aroma plays an essential role in tasting beer, though not every beer with a strong aroma is considered good.
By smelling the beer, people can pick up several key characteristics and flavoring – they can figure out if the beer comes with flavors like citrus, mango, lychee, or grapefruit, or if it has floral tones like rose, lavender, or elderflower.
Do this by agitating or swirling the beer in the glass. Take two quick sniffs with your mouths closed, then open. Reflect on the beer’s aroma and take notes.
3. Take a sip.
Finally, slowly taste the beer by taking a little sip and letting the beer sit in your mouth. Note the overall taste and breathe out during tasting. Take a note of what flavors and characteristics you pick up while it’s in your mouth. Is it sweet, bitter, fruity, spicy, citrusy, sour, or anything? It’s also good to describe the mouthfeel – literally how it feels in the mouth. For example, you can say if it’s light, spritzy, heavy, fluffy, pillow-like, and more. And when you swallow, see if it feels hot or heavy or light, or anything.