Beer tastings offer stay-at-home fun

Beer tastings offer stay-at-home fun

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Stay-at-home evenings might have become the new normal, but that doesn’t mean each and every one of them has to revolve around the same old drill. On the hunt for a new activity to share amongst a small circle of friends that doesn’t involve the TV or the grill? Expand your sensory horizons with a tasting session – not of wine, but of beer.

Those lucky enough to be based in Europe are blessed with easy and economical access to a vast range of some of the finest brews known to mankind. Beer may be synonymous with the countries of Belgium, Czech Republic and Germany, but don’t be so quick to discount the tasty wares of Slovakia and Poland, England, Ireland or Austria, all countries in which the locals exhibit a particular fondness for a well-made brew.

Sure it’s fun to just crack open a few bottles and offer all present a tiny pour, and if that’s your laid-back approach, who’s to argue with that? If you want to up your game as a beer sommelier, read on for tips plucked from the myriad of forums centering on the golden goodness of the grain:

Choose a theme for the tasting: will it be a night to sample a range of Belgian styles? Or is everyone a fan of stouts or IPAs? Exploring the beers of a certain region, country or type of brew brings focus to the exercise. Are you and yours fans of the open road? Be sure to hit the supermarket or local drink market and load up the trunk with bottles for future sampling before heading back home.

Stick to a manageable quantity: you want enough beers to ensure variety, but not so many you can’t remember what quality set one apart from the next. Five to six different beers, with a maximum of eight, is what the experts recommend.

Dole out the right size sample: a typical sample generally ranges from 3-4 ounces, or for the metrically minded, that’s 75 – 100 ml.

Use the proper glassware: you may have noticed your flights at a craft beer bar typically come in a variety of shapes, each designed to bring out the best of a certain style. Your average household is hardly apt to have such a variety or sheer number of glasses. A glass that’s slightly more bulbous on the bottom than at the rim is pretty standard. Wine glasses can handle the job nicely as well. Beer mugs are not recommended, as this takes away a tasting’s visual component.

Serve at the proper temperature: it’s true Americans love their brews ice cold, but when it comes to allowing all those fine aromas to come out, there’s an optimum temperature for each style of beer. Most beer labels will indicate the contents’ ideal serving temperature.

Order is important: begin with the lightest, more delicate of brews before moving on to the heaviest, darkest beers. The serving order will generally, but not always, correspond with alcohol content, moving from weakest to strongest. Beers with distinct flavor profiles, such as the sours or smoky ones, belong at the end of the session.

Master the perfect pour: each style of beer calls for a different approach to the art of the pour, but as a rule of thumb, a glass should be held at a 45-degree angle until it's somewhere around half full. From that point on, pouring directly into the center of the glass will result in the appearance of the desired frothy head.

Follow the tasting protocol: instruct your guests to first take a moment to admire the hue of the brew when held up to the light. Are bubbles rising up? They should check out the properties of its head: is it delicate and golden, or thick, brown and frothy? Next comes the sniff test. What aromas come to the fore? Finally, there’s taste and mouthfeel to consider.

Cleanse glasses and palate in between: to cut down on glasses to wash, each guest can hold on to his or her glass and rinse it out with plain tap water passed around between samples. The water can be poured into a bucket or vase set out for this purpose. A few sips of mineral water help cleanse the palate, as do bites of plain white bread.

Take notes: depending on how seriously you and your guests are approaching this endeavor, you might even want to break out your pens and jot down some sampling notes. It can also be fun, at the end of the evening, to rate the beers from least loved to favorite. Chances are good no two guests will rank the beers in the exact same order. Craftbeer.com offers a detailed tasting sheet in the form of a .pdf file.

This time with snacks: just like fine wines, beers too have their perfect food accompaniments. Once the tasting has been completed, it can be an interesting exercise to see how different types of beer pair up with snacks. Pilsners get on well with salty snacks such as chips and pretzels. A fruity Belgian Witbeer is good alongside dried tropical fruits or yogurt-covered cranberries. Try bock beer with Emmental or Swiss cheese, and stouts alongside rich chocolate.

By now, you know the drill: drink responsibly, never ever drive, and of course, keep in mind all the social distancing guidelines. Now is not the time to take a sip from another’s cup. Cheers to a cozy night at home or not far from it!

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