**This post was originally published in June 2016. It's been slightly updated in honor of our third annual craft beer tasting, this weekend! Come back for the recap next week.**
In the summer of 2015, my BFFs Katie, Linda & I decided to host a backyard craft beer tasting party for our families and friends. It was such a success that we'll be hosting the THIRD annual tasting this September. These are the tips and tricks we learned over the years.
1. Choose a season, time, and place.
Event-planning 101: Figure out when and where you want to hold the party. We decided to make our annual tasting a late summer afternoon thing in the backyard (weather-pending) of one of our parent's houses. (One day I WILL have my own backyard to host a beer-tasting in!)
You can go even further and give your tasting a theme, like an autumn pumpkin-beer-only tasting. The only parameter we set was limiting the tasting to craft beer (duh), preferably from a local brewery.
This year, we'll be saying goodbye to summer with a shandy and toasting fall with pumpkin beers and an Oktoberfest, and of course other various types of beer in between.
2. Invite everyone you know, even the folks who "don't like beer."
Ignore the people who balk and say "I don't drink beer." These people shouldn't even be your friends. Use the tasting as an opportunity to educate such people on the finer things in life. With quality craft beer in abundance, they are sure to find something they like.
A Facebook event is probably the easiest and best way to go in terms of getting the word out. We were super excited about our first party and made fliers that we left in people's mailboxes, but also had a backup Facebook event. This year we're just sticking with a Facebook event.
3. Decide on the type of beer to taste and who will contribute to the tasting.
Like I wrote in tip #1, you can have a broad beer tasting, or make it specific, like pumpkin beer only. Once you figure this out, make sure your guests know what to contribute. For our first two beer tastings, we asked each household to bring either a growler or a six-pack of their choosing. We had quite the assortment of beer – but it was also way too much. We did not taste all of it, which was a shame.
This year, we assigned specific types of beers (i.e. IPA, Oktoberfest, amber ale, etc.) to a few people, so that we'll be tasting 8-1o beers, total.
This new method will allow us to plan our complementary bites menu based on what we know is coming.
4. Plan your menu.
Once you know the variety of beer you and your guests will be tasting, it's time to plan a complementary menu. Think of the flavors you'll be drinking and the kinds of foods that will enhance them. For example, we paired veggie spring rolls with Two Roads' Road Jam, a light, raspberry wheat ale. We also had homemade beer-spiked pretzel bites and a cheese and cracker plate that generally paired well with most of the beers we were tasting. We had a few more bites to pair with our flights, but I don't remember them.
In addition to our complementary menu, we served chips and dip, and dinner (sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, etc. We wrapped up the night with Linda's incredible Firefly Hollow-inspired cupcakes:
Here are some ideas for foods to pair with various beers:
- Beer and food pairings
- What food goes best with IPA?
- Beer pairings: What to eat with saison
- Pairing: How beer complements food
- Beer and food pairing basics
5. Gather your supplies and decor.
This is pretty straightforward – you're going to need everything you would need for a regular party (plasticware, napkins, cups, plates, etc.) but don't forget the beer-specific items! We chose to serve our beer in tiny plastic cups so people could pretend they were tasting a flight at a brewery. It was fun, but be careful when pouring from the growler into a little cup!
The first year, we planted fairy lights into a few unused growlers and used those as centerpieces at our communal table. The second year, I accented some growlers with fresh sunflowers. This year, I am basically reusing my wedding centerpieces (post with beautiful professional wedding photos coming soon!)
6. Consider asking someone to be the emcee for the evening (or, find a mascot).
We didn't intend to have an emcee at our first craft beer tasting party, but one of our very enthusiastic guests came prepared with several toasts he recited throughout the evening. This year, the hosts will act as emcees due to our usual guy moving all the way up to Buffalo 🙁
Linda's dog Miku was our mascot for our first tasting. He provided some much-needed cuteness throughout the party.
7. Whoever pours the beer must take the role very seriously.
Appoint one or two (or three) people as beer pourers while you conduct the craft beer tasting, depending on the number of guests you have. Each person must be prepped with adequate knowledge of the beer's origin, type, and taste (and any complementary bites). Each pourer must give an overview of this information as beer is distributed among the guests.
8. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Hosting a craft beer tasting is a lot of work, but it's also so much fun and something you should be proud of. You brought a bunch of your friends and family together to enjoy your two favorite things in the entire world: bites and flights. Whether your arms get tired from lifting and pouring growlers or you realize you forgot to put out the cupcakes, take a step back and remember that everyone is enjoying themselves and you got to drink some great beer! Savor the moment.