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Beer Tasting at home

During lockdown, the idea of virtual beer tasting events took off wherever beer is enjoyed. Everyone would order the same beers, and then they'd connect over a platform like Zoom and sample the beers simultaneously. It was a great idea, and these online beer tasting events were some drinkers' first experience of communal tasting.

Those virtual events have now inspired craft beer aficionados to invite friends round to their homes to bring and taste their favourite ales, lagers, porters and stouts from across the beer world. Some will even use the event to let others try their home brewery produce and will no doubt send guests home with a few bottles with their own label.

One of the disadvantages of virtual experiences is that everyone has to drink the whole bottle, which might not sound like a disadvantage, but in reality, it limits the range of beers you can try, either financially or through the inevitable dulling of the senses that will come. With friends around a table, you can split bottles or cans, so you're actually tasting it rather than simply drinking it.

At our own UK beer schools, we serve up five one-third pints (190ml), so by the end of the beer tasting experience, guests have had just under two pints, which is enough to stay sober enough to compare and contrast.

All about personal tastes

Beer tasting at home should be fun while exposing people's taste buds to the enjoyment of new brews. Craft beer has thrown off its stuffy, snobbish image, just as wine did a decade or so earlier. The focus is on finding beers and breweries that you and your guests like – not necessarily that are critically acclaimed from award-winning breweries.

Brewing is a process with multiple variables, and it leads to complex tastes, an array of aromas and many subtle differences, but if you're throwing an informal craft beer tasting party for friends, it's sometimes good to leave any expertise you have at the door. Only volunteer it if asked, especially if there's a spectrum of expertise among those doing the tasting.

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The Headliners

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Hazy Jane

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Get the beers in

There are two ways of arriving at a selection of beers at your tasting experience: ask guests to bring their own craft ales and lagers, or be the perfect host and supply your own list. Both work well, but if you're planning on having a series of beer tasting evenings with the same people, it can be good to do it like on Come Dine with Me – i.e. the host chooses, and then the guests reciprocate on their own beer tasting parties.

The advantage of this is that you can choose food pairings (cheese, deli, snacks or full meals) that go with your selection of drinks. If it's more of a one-off, why not ask each person to bring a couple of their favourites for everyone to taste?

If you're hosting and buying for a beer tasting, you could grab a load of ales from your local craft beer store, pub or taphouse, where the staff will no doubt be able to select a diverse range of craft beers for you. Supermarkets are getting better at stocking the more mainstream craft beers, but there will always be a better choice from a specialist.

Tasting is all about diversity, so try different breweries, brewing techniques and even your own home brewing attempts if you brew your own. You can also organise themed events, for example, one where you're tasting beers from a certain country or region, a flavoured beer night or an alcohol-free night.

Setting the mood for beer tasting

So you've got the drinks and found your perfect cheeses and other food pairings for your selection. Can the tasting start yet? It's up to you, but it's good to make it a full experience for everyone, so presentation and sounds are everything.

Do you want to make a pub-like atmosphere, or just have a homely tasting session sitting on the couch or in the back garden? Lighting is important here: relaxed and informal is always best, just like the company. Choose some popular background music to match the mood of the event, and maybe don't impose your tastes on everyone – save that for one of your experimental music experiences every other Thursday.

If you're taking things a little more seriously, don't forget that some people might like to take down beer tasting notes, so get some pads and pencils in. Make the night long, so people can properly taste the beers with palate-cleansing gaps in between them, and do your homework about the hops, ingredients and brewing techniques used so guests can fully appreciate what they're tasting.

Here are some things to look out for when making your tasting notes:

Appearance

Think about how clear the beer is, are we talking Hazy Jane or clear like Punk IPA? How thick is the head, and is it creamy or bubbly?

Aroma

Some beers have a floral note, others smell more hoppy. You can also find spicy or even smoky beers.

Mouthfeel

The best way to describe this is the texture of the beer. Malty, sweet beers leave a slightly smoother mouthfeel, and dry and hoppy beers leave a drier sensation.

Overall impression

Consider what you liked and disliked about the beer as a whole. The smell, look, feel and taste all contribute to the impression. However, the setting, company, food it’s paired with and even your mood can affect how you feel about a beer overall.

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Refining your enjoyment

Beer tasting experiences are great ways to get friends together and try new taste experiences, whether it's in your kitchen or at a virtual beer tasting over Zoom. Finding out what you like and don't like will help narrow your choices next time you're choosing your perfect tipple for the match, the meal or the box set, and the more you know about the brewing techniques and breweries, the better. Expect great company, lively debate and an evening you'll remember next time you're scratching your chin at a beer festival or craft brewhouse.

Hopefully, this article shows that tasting beer with friends is all about good company, new experiences and a little education about hops, aromas, flavours and pairings. A good place to start is to order a brewery's gift packs or beer boxes and have them delivered to your door. You'll get a good selection to help you get your first experiences, and then you can start to delve into the types of beer you enjoy the most. May it be the first of many!