How to host a beer tasting

What could be more fun than hosting a beer tasting? Not much. Sitting around a table enjoying the varying flavours of beer with good friends is a perfect way to spend an evening. So here are some tips on how to host one at your cottage this summer.

What you’ll need

Start with some friends. Up to nine people will work. Beyond that many guests, the crowd starts to get a bit big for an at-home or at-cottage tasting. Once your guest list is ready, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • Two to three glasses per person
  • Water pitchers for drinking water and to rinse beer glasses
  • Seltzer water and unsalted crackers for cleaning palates
  • Paper towels
  • Bottle openers
  • A cooler or fridge to keep beer cold (or a bucket of ice, if you want to hold the tasting outdoors)

You’ll also need to make sure there’s enough of each beer to go around: three ounces is a good amount for each person to get a great sense of a beer’s flavour and profiles. And for the ultimate beer-tasting experience, consider ordering a small bag of malted barley and hops from a local homebrew store. This won’t cost much, and it will give your guests a great sense of what each ingredient gives to the beer’s flavours and aromas.

Choose a theme

There is a huge variety of beer out there, which means there are tons of ways to organize your tasting. Consider a theme, like pale ales. Get a bunch of different pale ales from different breweries and sample them. You could also try seasonal offerings by selecting a number of different seasonal brews from different brewers. The Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP), whose purpose is to promote “beer literacy” and the “appreciation of real beer,” recognizes 23 styles of beer. If you’re having trouble choosing a theme, you could take a look at their list and choose any of those styles to sample.

And if you’re really ambitious, you could host a multi-course meal with pairings for each course. Just remember that how you organize your tasting is entirely up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to appreciate beer.

Follow the steps

Now here’s the fun part: the actual tasting. As a host, while handing your guests samples of beer, you should be able to give them some facts about the brewery, the style of beer, and any other info you can learn from your local Beer Store, LCBO, or the particular brewery’s website.

The unofficial steps to beer tasting are to look, smell, agitate, and then taste. While looking, note the beer’s colour, head (the frothy foam on top), and clarity. Agitating simply refers to swirling your beer in its glass. This will release aromas, stimulate carbonation, and test the head retention. Scent plays a major role in the perception of taste, so give two quick sniffs through your nose, then another with your mouth open. Agitate again if you need another sniff. And finally, follow agitation with the tasting. Sip the beer, and don’t swallow it right away. Note the consistency of the beer, breathe out while tasting, and take note of its flavours. If you want to get real beer geeky with your tasting, print out a bunch of BJCP’s score sheets for your guests and fill them out as you proceed through the beers you’ve selected.

Discuss with your guests the aromas, appearance, flavours, mouthfeel, and overall impressions of each beer. Then cleanse your palate with water, seltzer water, and crackers before moving on to the next beer.