Hosting a beer tasting is similar to hosting a wine tasting -- with some important differences. You could organize a beer tasting menu by selecting brews from a single region, style or brewer. However, you also could use a seasonal theme, serving several bright spring and summer ales or heavy fall and winter ales, or a multiseasonal sampling of each. Some breweries market sampler packs with a few flavors that you could use to create a no-fuss menu.
When it comes to food pairings, sometimes beer is best. Take spicy Thai food, for example. Strong-flavored beers -- such as IPAs or Belgian tripels -- can cut the heat and complement the food without being overwhelmed. Lighter fare, like sushi or salads, benefit from a delicate wheat beer (also called white beer, witbeer, or weissbeer) like a hefeweizen. And a lowbrow-themed tasting would need a clean pilsner to play against those rich burgers & brats. Websites like BeerAdvocate.com offer helpful pairing advice, as do mobile apps like Beer Match.
During a tasting, serve beer -- like you would wine -- in order from the lightest-flavored to the strongest. This usually means serving bitter beers before sweet ones and light-colored beers before dark ones, but also pay attention to the alcohol content (sometimes expressed as ABV -- alcohol by volume -- or gravity) and serve less-alcoholic beers first.
No matter what the beer, the pour is crucial. Tip the open bottle into a tilted glass; if there's a lot of foam, pour slowly as you shift the glass to an upright position. The goal is to produce about two fingers (approximately 1 to 2 inches or 3 to 5 centimeters) of foam atop a full glass of beer.
The size and shape of the glassware will also affect the way the bubbles and head form, which will impact the aroma and taste of the beer. For example, a tulip-shaped beer glass is perfect for Belgian strong ales, fruity lambics and Scotch ales; the glass helps preserve both a foamy head and the flavors underneath. Many breweries sell signature glasses to enhance their beer, but if you can't afford to buy them you may be able to rent them from a catering company.
What else should you do to present a libation -- and its paired food -- in the best possible light? We'll share a few tips on the next page.