Awhile back we encouraged our readers to try their hands at having a beer tasting party.  On Friday, June 5, I got together with 13 other people to try thirty beers.  A tall order, indeed!  We had a blast at the party, and I think that we all learned a lot.  I hosted the party but had some help with the beer purchase (thanks to all of you who contributed).  For my part, I brought three of my homebrews along with my purchases.  Here is a list of all the beers at the tasting:

  1. Ichnusa (Sardinian Lager)
  2. Spaten Lager (German)
  3. Duvel (Belgian Golden)
  4. Ayinger Brau-Weisse (German Wheat)
  5. Jever (German Pilsner)
  6. Samuel Smith’s Pale Ale (English)
  7. Chapeau Framboise (Belgian Lambic)
  8. Victenaar Flemish Sour (Belgian-Flanders)
  9. Saison (Belgian)
  10. Rochefort 8 (Belgian Trappist)
  11. Crooked Tree IPA (U.S.)
  12. Victory Hop Devil (U.S.)
  13. Chouffe Belgian Trippel IPA (Belgian)
  14. Tilburg Dutch Ale (Holland)
  15. Double Bock (homebrew)
  16. Belhaven Wee Heavy (Scottish)
  17. Brasserie Ciel Du Scotch Ale w/maple syrup (Quebec, Canada)
  18. Minschof Schwarz (German Black Lager)
  19. Sineboychoff Porter (Denmark)
  20. BBC Dark Star Porter (U.S.)
  21. Meantime London Porter (England)
  22. Old Fog Horn Barley-wine Anchor (U.S.)
  23. Rigdeway Insanely Bad Elf (England)
  24. Schlenterla Marzen (German Smoked Lager)
  25. Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout (U.S.)
  26. Flaky Boy Oatmeal Stout (homebrew)
  27. Milk me for all I’m worth Stout (homebrew)
  28. Old Rasputin (Russian Imperial Stout, U.S.)
  29. Dark Lord (Russian Imperial Stout, U.S.)

The beer list is in the order of drinking.  In retrospect, I might have switched the order on a couple, but the basic structure was pretty good.  We drank from lighter to darker, or weaker to stronger.  I intentionally had beers purchased with a wide variety and number in mind, which is represented by the wide spectrum.  Were all of the beers a hit?  No one spit anything out, but it is likely that some of the tasters need a while before they will try some of the beers again.  However, the social side of the party was terrific and the beer a really big hit.

I truly love when people are willing and excited to try new stuff, especially when that stuff is beer.  The beer may have been about $140.00 (which is actually getting out of the thing cheaply) but the pricelessness of introducing people the the breadth and depth of beer is worth every penny.  Among the most common statements made at the party was the surprise people expressed at the complexities of beer.  I even converted some people who hold wine tastings to the idea that beer was at least as complex as their beloved drink (that was a victory for wine’s ugly cousin).

If you really love beer, you ought to consider holding a tasting.  You might be shocked at the amount of joy you get out of spending money on beer and giving the lion’s share away.  If you swing it right, you can get people to chip in on the deal.  My hope was that people were there to chime in and give some notes, opinions, or highlights of the night, which is why I’m not including tasting notes.  I’m also hoping to do another tasting (and spending some money on beer) as soon as possible.  I dare say that beer tastes best when had with the rest.

Here is how to organize the tasting:

The first thing that must be done is to have a guest list.  Who wants to come?  Who would appreciate the beers?  Whose mind do you want to expand?  Answer the above questions, get a date in mind, and invite the most people you can (assuming they don’t have a scheduling conflict).  Part of this whole affair is being or finding a host for the tasting.

Now that you have a people guest list, you need a beer guest list.  The second thing to do is consider what beers you will feature.  I go with a wide variety of styles to increase their exposure to people.  If you don’t know your styles, here is a link to our series on different styles of beer.  What you spend depends on your invitees.  Don’t go bananas (thanks for the spelling help Gwen Stephani) on spending, but don’t be a cheapskate, either.  If you want people to have a pleasant experience, you’ll have to shell out some bones.  I was lucky enough to have friends who were willing to contribute to the cause, so it was a much better price.  We did 29 beers, but you don’t have to do that many.

The third thing you’ll have to do is set up some pairings (if you want to match beer and food) and palate cleansers (wafers or crackers work well).  Have some food and water for people to drink.  We happened to have some steak, chicken, brats, fruits, chocolate covered coffee beans, and deer summer sausage.  Again, this was based on the generosity of our host, Jerry, which is why we had so much food. You’ll also need some adequate cups, glasses, or whatever you want to pour into.  Make sure you have a way to rinse out the old to put in the new.

The last thing you’ll need to do is actually taste.  I stood and spoke about the beer either before or during drinking.  DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT TO TASTE!!!  The way I handled the tasting was to tell the drinkers what we were tasting, not what to taste.  I talked about porter as a style and gave some history.  Don’t suck the fun out by telling them to taste 4 grams of Belgian candy sugar or whatever you’ve perceived in your wisdom.  I also brought some note cards along, so people could make notes.  You could also set up 8X11 sheets with beer facts and leave room for notes.  There are multiple approaches to this tasting.

Remember this thing is about fun and beer education.  Beer Neo-Nazism should not be what people gain from the experience.  Share your passion and zeal, but don’t be a Zealot.  Here is a link to our beervangelism article (it might give some perspective).

P.S.  I’m looking into trying to lead beer tastings as a part-time job.  If you know anyone who would be interested in having a party like this, please point them my direction.  We are currently living in Pasadena, California, and I would love to establish something here.  But I will be in Indiana on a couple of occasions during the year, so please pass the word on to someone who might like this.  Trust me: there is a lot to be learned.