Tasting is Different than Drinking
Pour 3 to 4 oz. samples, but encourage people to only taste 1 to 2 oz. initially. They might want to compare samples later. Set out the glasses like brewpubs do with their sampler boards, but serve one beer at a time. I like to have tasting mats prepared for the guests, which have a space for each sample and provide some information about the beer. You can pour for your guests or pass the bottle, but you will want to decant into pitchers if using bottle-conditioned beers. If your glasses aren’t marked for size, you can give them a reference like “pour three fingers.”
Keep their Interest
The tasting needs to be interactive, and guests need to participate. Encourage discussion. Don’t bore them; keep the discussion at the right level for the group. Ask for descriptors—“What are you tasting?” Ask for impressions—“What do you think of this? Would you buy this? Do you think it fits the style?” Ask them to compare the beers they’ve tried, and look for similarities and differences. The party theme can influence your questions as well. Ask if the beers are good examples of the theme. Try to keep people engaged and participating, not just pounding through the samples. If you find the conversation lacking, ask questions to prompt discussion or give some background information on the beer style or brewery. You might also ask if any of the guests have stories to relate about the beer being sampled. When finished tasting, you might have contests, prizes or votes. Ask for feedback: “What beer did you like best?” “Which is the best example of its style?” You might prepare some trivia questions and give out any unopened bottles as prizes.
Be a Good Host
Keep an eye on alcohol consumption and your pacing. Always provide food and water. If you have a large number of samples, take some breaks during the presentation. Plan for socializing after the event. Get designated drivers if needed.
Beer tasting events can be quite a bit of fun while also being educational. What each person gets out of it will often depend on their goals, and those of the group. Certainly the opportunity for education exists, but those who want to just enjoy the hedonistic aspects of the event will also likely be satisfied. Done properly, beer tastings let people learn about the differences in beer, learn about beer styles, and practice structured tasting and evaluation skills. Increasing palate training and sensory awareness can make you a better consumer, and also let you share your knowledge with others. Remember that the more you get the people you know to enjoy good beer, the more they’re likely to share it with you.