Beer tastings are amazing fun – I mean, what’s not to like about choosing a few beers, trying them, learning a bit about them and ending up a bit tipsy by the end, right?

And we’re pretty experienced at hosting beer tastings, having put on a ton of Beer Classes and hosted over a hundred meet the brewers. So we thought it would be good to put down on paper our ‘How to host a beer tasting 101’ so that you, wherever you are can impress your mates by taking them on a beer journey of their own.

We’re planning to do a series of these posts, covering all of the specialist classes that we do but to start us off, we’re going with the ‘Intro to Craft Beer’, a journey through 6 styles.

What you’ll need

  • A space big enough to host (obviously).
  • A group of mates, interested in learning about beer. A minimum of 2, up to about a maximum of 15 tends to work. Any more and it becomes hard to keep the focus!
  • Some nice glassware, appropriate for tasting the beers. These needn’t be expensive but they should, counter-intuitivey, be ideally closer in style to a wine glass than a pint glass.
  • The beers (obviously)
  • Some water for (i) drinking to cleanse the pallet and (ii) clean out glasses in between beers.
  • Related to the above, ideally a bucket into which the ‘cleaning water’ can be poured.
  • [OPTIONAL] Some snack pairings to go with the beers. If nothing else, they keep people’s minds from wondering to food when they should be thinking of the beer!

How to taste beer

Erm, surely you just drink it?

Well, yes, sort of but there’s a lot more to beer tasting than just downing what’s in the glass.

When we taste beer, we consider 3 main elements:

Looking at a beer's appearance
1. Appearance – this is the first impression a beer makes and it will have a bigger influence on the drinker’s perception of flavour than you could ever imagine. Think for example if you had a jet black beer in the glass – what flavours do you anticipate you’re going to get? Or what about a super hazy, murky beer? Your mind is straight away thinking, is it supposed to look like that? It could either be deliberate, like an East Coast IPA, or the result of poor conditioning, but your eyes are making a judgement right from the off and it’s important to think about this when leading a beer tasting.

Ask your group to pour the beer and then take a proper look at what’s in the glass. Ask them to call out what they see (clear, pale, cloudy, dark, murky etc.) and ask them to describe how they think this will affect the flavour.

We’ve not even tasted yet but we’re already building up an idea of how this beer might taste.

Incidentally, one of our favourite Beer Classes is the Blind Beer Tasting, where we get guests to try all beers blindfolded, thereby reducing the effect of inherent biases they may harbour towards certain beer styles.

P.S. To avoid too much pre-judgement, you’re usually better off not revealing the brewery, beer name, style or ABV until after the tasting segment has occurred – this stops people bringing their preconceived prejudices to the party.

Man sniffing aroma of beer
2. Aroma – surprisingly,  the most important piece of the puzzle. Did you know you have more taste buds in your nose than your mouth? Aroma plays an essential role in tasting beer, although not every beer has to have a strong aroma to be considered good. Assuming you’re using a nice open topped glass (a wine glass, a Teku or a stemmed half pint for example), the aroma should come through pretty strongly with most beers and you can pick up several key characteristics of the beer; tropical fruits such as mango, passion fruit, lychee and grapefruit, or more floral tones, such as lavender, rose or elderflower. Perhaps you’re getting more earthy tones like mature cheddar or even wet socks!

Aroma is a massive flavour indicator and should not be ignored!

HINT: If you need to ‘reset your nose’, give your wrist a sniff. This will help clear out any lingering aromas from your nose so you’re set to go.

Man drinking a craft beer
3. Flavour – what it tastes like on the palate of your mouth. What flavours and characteristics do you pick up when you actually put the beer in your mouth. Bitter, sweet, citrusy, fruity, spicy, sour etc. When you drink the beer, you should encourage your group to keep the beer in their mouth for a couple of seconds to let it hit the different parts of the tongue and mouth and they’ll want to take a couple of sips to start picking up different flavours. 

As well as flavour, ask your group to think about mouthfeel – this is quite literally how the beer feels in their mouth – for example, is it heavy, fluffy, pillowly, spritzy, light etc.

The good news is that, unlike wine, we do encourage you to swallow the beer rather than spit it out (unless you really don’t like it).

Down to business – the actual beer list

Ok, now you’ve got yourself setup for your beer tasting it’s time to actually taste some beers!

The 6 beers we’ve chosen for this blog are all excellent examples of their style but if you can’t get your hands on these, then we’ve listed out a few similar alternatives you might be able to find. The notes for each beer are included so you can show off to your mates, just don’t tell them you’re reading it from a script!

Beer #1: Augustiner Helles

  • A German Helles style lager,  originally developed around Munich in the late 19th century as Bavarian brewers needed something to compete with the hugely popular Czech Pilsner.
  • The German word hell can be translated as “bright”, “light”, or “pale”
  • It’s mildly sweet, with a less-pronounced hop flavor, yellow in colour. 5.2% in ABV
  • Augustiner was founded in Munich at the beginning of the 14th century
  • Also try: Paulaner Munich Helles, Spaten Münchner Hell, Camden Helles
Beer #2: Beavertown Gamma Ray – Pale Ale

  • The pale ale style has been around since 1703 and is made with predominantly pale malt
  • American style pale ales tend to be more hop forward whilst British pales tend to be more balanced
  • Usually light gold but sometimes copper in their appearance
  • Beavertown was founded in 2011 by Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant. They now brew in Tottenham, North London.
  • Also try: Kernel Pale, Weird Beard Mariana Trench, Mondo Dennis Hopp’r
Beer #3: Stone IPA – India Pale Ale

  • The India Pale Ale (IPA) is one of the most popular beer styles in the world and in this case we’re referring to a West Coast style IPA.
  • The origins of IPA date back to 1780s and the British colonisation of India, whilst the more modern interpretation was popularised by the American craft brewers in the 1980s.
  • IPAs are normally heavily hopped with a higher ABV – this was originally to preserve the beer on the long voyage from Britain to India as hops and alcohol are natural preservatives.
  • Usually gold in colour but can go as dark as deep red.
  • Typical strength range is 5.5% – 7.5%
  • They tend to be very bitter with less malt characteristics.
  • Stone Brewery was founded in 1995 in San Diego, California.
  • Also Try: Kernel IPA, BrewDog Jackhammer
Beer #4: Dupont – Saison

  • Saison is a farmhouse style beer and the name loosely comes from the French word for season.
  • The style dates back to the 1700s when farmers would brew it in the winter months for their labourers to drink during the summer harvest months. Workers could drink upwards of 7 pints of the stuff a day!
  • It’s is generally gold in colour, and is quite often quite cloudy.
  • It has a dry spicy yeast character, plenty of floral hops and a hint of bready sweetness
  • Brasserie Dupont was founded in 1950, in Western Hainaut, Belgium. It is the often used as a benchmark for saisons (hence our using it here).
  • Also try: BBNo 01|01, Partizan Saison
Beer #5: Boon – Oude Geuze

  • Oude Geuze is a sour beer – specifically it is a Lambic sour because it is made in a very specific region of Belgium.
  • At one time, all beers were sour to some degree. This is because, before the discovery of yeast by Louis Pasteur, all fermentation occurred with the wild yeast that is present in the environment all around us.
  • Lambics are a whole category in themselves but a geuze is a blend of different age sour beers, usually 1, 2, and 3 year olds.
  • Generally pour light in colour but can vary depending on the style.
  • Aroma is sometimes described as old horse blanket (nice!).
  • Geuze is generally pretty tart, ‘funky’ and sharp on the palate.
  • Also try: Wild Beer Co Sleeping Lemons and any beer from Cantillon!
Beer #6: Kernel – Export Stout

  • The porter style dates back to 18th Century London
  • Stout was traditionally a stronger version of the classic London porter
  • Colour ranges from dark brown/red to jet black
  • Majority of flavour comes from the malts used, with key flavour & aroma characteristics including coffee, chocolate, roasty flavors
  • Kernel Brewery was founded in 2010 in Bermondsey, South London.
  • Also try: Fullers London Porter, Titanic Plum Porter
The most important thing to do now…Enjoy yourself, don’t take it too seriously and open some minds.
Man drinking craft beer