We may be an ocean and a solid grand away from Germany’s Oktoberfest celebrations, but it’s starting to cool down outside (I am feeling really good about wearing a sweater the other day), and there’s no reason we can’t gather in the name of good beer on our home turf. Whether you’re a seasoned aficionado who knows a thing or two about the fermentation process or a novice (like me) who takes heat for loving Coors Light, a backyard beer tasting is a fun and easy way to refine your taste or learn something new in the company of good friends. To guide you, we’ve compiled a list of pointers to help bring a little bit of Deutschland to your backyard this October.
1. Select the beer: The goal of attending a beer tasting is to leave with a better understanding of beer and its many varieties. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that there will be a range of varieties to try. Ask your guests to bring a specific category of beer. Let the size of your party determine how many categories you’re able to cover across a range of light and wheaty to heavy and malty. For our tasting we sampled the following varieties: wheat, lager, pilsner, pale ale, India pale ale, brown ale, and stout. Be sure that your guests know to bring enough for everyone to taste.
2. Read up: As the host, you’ll to want to be a little more knowledgeable than some of your guests. For the already educated enthusiast, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re learning along with your guests, read up beforehand so you can explain the difference between lager and ale or malt-based versus hop-based beer. To keep your guests involved, ask each of them to do some reading of their own and to share about the beer they bring with the group. This will keep the pressure off you to know everything and will engage your guests in the tasting process.
3. Set the table: A few things you’ll want to supply: First, crackers and water. It would be unfortunate to leave a beer tasting thinking each beer tasted like the one before it. You’ll want to make sure everyone is able to cleanse their palates. Eating plain crackers and sipping some water between beers will help cleanse the palate and prepare guests for the next taste. Some guests may also want water to rinse out their glasses as you progress. Next, provide a dump bucket. Everyone isn’t going to enjoy every beer they try. Have a container available to pour out unwanted leftover servings. No need souring the palate before a beer that might be otherwise enjoyed. Lastly, have some snacks for after the tasting. You’ll want to avoid eating much during the tasting to prevent the confusion of flavors, but afterward it would be nice to have some food that pairs well with beer. (I mean, who would say no to a cheese tray?)
4. Serve: Being intentional about the order in which the beer is served can make all the difference. Following a heavier beer with a lighter one can hinder the taster’s ability to experience the subtle complexities of the latter beer. For this reason, serve in a progression from light and subtle to heavy and robust. Give your guests some paper to jot down their thoughts. One of the fun things about tastings is learning new things, and they may want to keep notes for later reference. Encourage everyone to rate the beer so that they don’t forget which ones were their favorites and which ones they perhaps didn’t like as well.
5. Enjoy: The best thing about gathering around any table is the sense of community that grows out of quality time. Enjoy the company of your guests, be grateful for their friendships, and find rest in the act of hospitality. Once all of the beer has been tasted, help yourselves to the food, settle in with a pint (or two) of your favorite beer from the evening, and savor in the time shared together.
Josh Garcia is a commercial photographer who landed in Jackson in 2008. With a B.A. in English from Union University in his back pocket, he’s abandoned other adjectives for “home” when describing this city. He enjoys reading, writing, photography, and cultivating community around the dinner table. #INFJ
Photography by Josh Garcia.