This past weekend I hosted a Beer Tasting Party for my beloved husband's early birthday party! It was a BLAST! A lot of careful consideration went into this event to ensure it would stay classy, and the biggest contributing factor was my guest list - I put a cap on the number of people coming (5 couples) and knew that each of those couples knew how to moderate themselves. This was not an event for wearing lampshades, but rather for tasting high end brews and finding some new favorites, and I think we had the perfect group for achieving that end!
Once the guest list was established, the next big piece of planning was to figure out how the tasting would actually work. I asked each couple to bring 16 oz of their favorite beer. Most people opted to bring two varieties, mostly because they just couldn't decide on one! I had mini parfait glasses that worked perfectly for a 1 - 2 oz sample, but perhaps the best idea I had was the coasters we used! I did almost all of my shopping at dollar stores and found some thin sheets of cork for a buck a pack. I cut them into squares and set out a sharpie for each of the guests to write their names on the coaster. The plan was whenever they set down their cup to set it on their labeled coaster again - that way we'd limit the number of, "Is this my glass? Or your's?" situations. I also provided everyone with tasting sheets! I found a free printable online and had copies printed out for everyone. We used a numbered scoring system, and had a master sheet, so that at the end of the evening we could see which beers ranked highest overall, but people could also see which their highest rated beer was. This was really helpful, since even by the third selection it can be tricky to remember what you liked so much about the first one. By the end of the evening some of the guests were really surprised about which ranked in their top 3.
Next on the planning front was the menu. Again, the point of this party was not to get drunk, so I planned the menu with that in mind. There were LOTS of carbs. This was not the type of party where you want to serve exclusively veggies and meringues. I made an uber dense Chocolate Stout Cake, my family's classic Honey Garlic Chicken wings, Jalapeno Popper dip with chips, and sliced peppers and cucumbers to dip, I served sweet potato fries with a lemon dill aioli and I bought soft pretzels from a store in the mall! I make soft pretzels at home, but I really didn't want to worry about the labour and the mess of that before the party, so I instead opted to buy them, and I'm so glad I did. They were a huge hit! This was a great make-ahead menu plan. I marinated the wings the night before then threw them in the oven 3 hours before the party. The Jalapeno Popper dip took 5 minutes to throw together. The Sweet Potato Fries were from Costco and baked on my stoneware beautifully (I actually replenished these through the night, which was really easy - I'd just throw a fresh batch in the oven whenever I noticed we were getting low). The cake was more labor intensive, but so worth it.
And lastly came the decorations. I want to improve my decorating efforts, so very early on I picked a color scheme: Manly. Ha! Bet you didn't know that was a color, hey! But it made sense: blacks, wood grain, metal... totally worked. I had some wood grain scrapbook paper that I alternated with black and white cardstock for a hanging banner. I had black and tan tissue paper that I made into pinwheels that I hung on the wall behind the table for a cute backdrop. I served out of black bowls, on wooden trays and metal buckets. I even found wood grain printed paper straws at HomeSense! And while I was at the dollar store I found some chalkboard signs for buffets and I spent the $5 to get the pack. I KNOW I will use those again sometime soon! Oh yes, and lastly I found a use for some of those beer bottles we cut down around Christmas time! We cut a large bottle to make into a Pint glass for my brother-in-law, and had cut some smaller ones which we never ended up using. So I did a quick sand-job on them, and used them to hold the cutlery and straws. Very apropos.
I hope you find these tips useful if you plan on hosting your own Beer Tasting Party! It was a lot of fun, and everyone loved the idea!
Mrs. VanderLeek ;)