Rory Lawton on how to set up the perfect beer tasting.
PART 1: Planning, purchasing and propper glassware.
Selecting A Flight Of Beers
Without doubt, the most important aspect of planning any beer tasting is the selection of the beers that will be presented in the tasting flight. Chose your theme carefully – after all, you will be spending several hours in the company of these beers with your guests.
You will need a theme to tie the beers together. For introductory tastings, selecting a broad range of styles is always interesting: start with German Pilsner and work your way up to Imperial Stout. For a more experienced audience, focussing on a single beer style with samples from a variety of brewers gives your tasting a purpose. For example, the subtle differences in Hefeweizen are best appreciated when you have a flight of this one style from different brewers, tasted side-by-side.
Purchasing The Beer
Beer – like bread or milk – is a perishable product: heat and light have a detrimental impact on the flavours in beer. Beers that have not been filtered, pasteurised and that are bottle-conditioned are even more perishable. Many wholesalers and retailers store beer at room temperature and this shortens the shelf-life.
Always buy your beer bottles from a trusted retailer. Check the best before date – the fresher the beer is the better. The life-span for most (but not all) beer styles is 3 months after the bottling date.
The Optimal Tasting Sequence
The tasting sequence needs to be considered carefully and an optimised tasting flight separates the casual beer enthusiast from the expert. A good strategy is to start with beers that have a more subtle balance, a delicate hop aroma and not to overwhelm your audience with palate-destroying beers right at the beginning.
There are a few rules of thumb that you can use: go from lower alcohol beers to higher alcohol beer, low hop bitterness to high bitterness and from light to dark.
Preparing The Beer
For optimum results, keep your beers refrigerated and upright for at least 48 hours before your tasting. For unfiltered beers, this will allow any yeast and proteins to settle to the bottom of the bottle. Bottles that have been refrigerated for too short a time before a tasting are also more likely to foam excessively when the bottle is opened
The serving temperature is very important and often overlooked. To appreciate beer fully in a tasting, it is best to ignore any serving temperature advice on the label. Light beers should be served between 9˚-11˚C – anything lower is too cold. Stronger and darker beers often require up to 14˚C to be fully appreciated. A simplified rule of thumb is to take the bottles out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving time; 45 minutes for strong and dark beers.
Choosing The Right Glassware
With dedicated glassware being sold for almost every beer style, it’s easy to become intimidated when choosing the right kind for your tasting.
Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be that difficult. To taste beer, you need a glass with a tall rim, to allow the beer to be swirled; not too wide a mouth, so that the aromas can be collected; and a stem so that holding the glass does not raise the temperature of the sample of beer in the glass too quickly.
White wine glasses are perfect and work well for tasting 150ml samples of every beer style. However, if you want to emphasise a sense of occasion, dedicated, stemmed beer glasses provide this in a group setting.