What's Brewing: Session Lesson, Revisited

Last October, we explained how to have a craft beer tasting at home by laying out a few basic ground rules on how to choose, pour, and taste. Last weekend, we hosted a potluck tasting at our apartment, and revisited our own guidelines to figure out how to make them better. Let’s revisit said ground rules, shall we?

Step 1: Stock Up.
We originally suggested choosing six brews or fewer to keep your palate from wearing out. Our bottle tally? Probably close to 50 (we ended up trying about 38 total). With 25 guests in attendance, and nearly every one contributing a bottle or three, including our pre-existing stash, we had literally more beer than we could sample in an evening. Was this okay? Damn right it was. Is 38 bottles too many? Come on, you don’t need us to answer that, do you?
Addendum: Make sure you clear out ample space in the fridge to keep all those bottles chilled. Also, have a sweet play list or record selection ready to go before guests arrive. We suggest the Black Keys’ Rubber Factory, Clive Tanaka y Su Orquesta’s Jet Set Siempre No. 1, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, among others.

Step 2: Buy from local vendors with knowledgeable staff.
Nearly all our beer was purchased from local vendors like Craft Beer Cellar and Marty’s, or sent across the country thanks to moms with access to west coast breweries. With three Formaggio Kitchen staffers on board, their stores were tapped as well.
Addendum: With four home brews (one of our own, three from a friend), buying local now includes your friendly neighborhood home brew supply store, like Modern Homebrew Emporium.

Step 3: Consider choosing beers based on the season.
Most of the time, we’re on board with seasonal selections. But our beefy lineup included a wieldy assortment of styles from brewers all over the country like Russian River, New Belgium, Stone, Pretty Things, Hill Farmstead, Port Brewing, and Jolly Pumpkin.
Addendum: Variety is indeed the spice of life.

Step 4: Know your pouring basics and glassware.
We had covered in that we do know our pouring basics. But with only five stemmed wine glasses left in our paltry cupboards (thanks to an accident-prone roommate), we had to call in for reinforcements. Our friends down the street were kind enough to bring in extra Sam Adams tasting glasses — plastic cups are only to be used for beer sodas like MGD and Coors Light.
Addendum: Use blue painter’s tape and a Sharpie to make a name label for your glass. The combination of snacks, bottles, glasses, and bodies means you’re bound to misplace it at least once.

Step 5: Taste in order of flavor intensity and alcohol content.
This remains good advice, and our goal was to strategize and organize tastings based on this suggestion. But it just didn’t work, namely because by the time we’d finished one beer, three more people and six more bottles appeared in their place. We did, however, keep heavier, sweeter varieties for later.
Addendum: It’s hard to know what a beer tastes like when you’ve never had it, and the person who brought it tells you how amazing it is, and so maybe you just open it right then and there.

Step 6: Be a careful observer.
And how! Smelling and tasting 38 beers over the course of five hours was intense, but taking the time to sift out flavors, similarities, and differences is what gives you the vocabulary to talk about what you taste, and ability to put different beers in context.
Addendum: Consider creating a bracket tournament. We would have, but didn’t think of it until ten minutes before guests arrived, and it was too late to find a large piece of butcher paper. And speaking of observations, don’t wait to dig into the guacamole. It will be gone by the time you realize you haven’t had any.

Step 7: Add some sustenance.
Did we ever. While fresh goat cheese and clothbound cheddar were nowhere to be found, we did just as well with a table full of finger foods, including Jax (classy), mini pretzels, tortilla chips, cookies, and homemade red velvet cupcakes and guacamole. About an hour into the evening, a Formaggio Kitchen cheesemonger came in with Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnimer, a washed-rind raw cow’s milk cheese that smelled like a dirty diaper, but tasted heavenly (we swear). And as luck would have it, some Spanish Bellota ham showed up on the table too.
Addendum: Remove any stinky cheese remains from the premises ASAP. And probably you should get two bags of Jax instead of one; they’re always the first to go. And next time, don’t forget to bake the 10-pound bag of tater tots in the freezer.

Step 8: Compare Notes.
My notes from the evening are admittedly ridiculous. They start off well enough, and dissolve into a sloppily written collection of quotes and observations, but because I was dedicated to tracking the lineup I ended up with a solid timeline. Talking to people about what they liked or didn’t was enlightening. “It’s really effervescent,” said one guest about Flora, an aged Belgian wheat ale from Hill Farmstead. “Did you get that cabbage,” asked another about the Panil Barrique oak aged sour red ale. “It tastes like an Arnold Palmer,” conceded several about Fantome’s Printemps.

But what does it all mean? Well, it just proves that the only real hard fast rule about beer drinking is to have a good time. To which we’ll say the tasting was an epic success. For anyone who cares about our lineup, see below for our tasting timeline.


9:35: Stone IPA
9:40: Rodenbach Grand Cru
9:50: Pretty Things Jack D’Or American Saison
9:53: Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA
9:59: New Belgium Lips of Faith series La Terroir Sour/Wild Ale
10:12: Brewmaster’s Collaboration Signature Belgian Ale
10:14: Home brew: clone of Ommegang Abbey Ale
10:17: Red Velvet cupcake
10:21: Chocolate Guiness cupcake with irish cream frosting
10:23: Spanish Bellota ham snack
10:25: Jasper Hill Farms’ Winnimer raw cow’s milk washed rind cheese
10:25: Hill Farmstead Phenomenologie of Spirit Saison
10:26: Dogfish Head Poppaskull Belgian Strong Ale
10:35: Russian River Pliny the Elder Double IPA
11:00: Cisco Winter Woods Sour/Wild Ale
11:19: Terrapin Side Project IPA
11:25: Tomfoolery Black Saison Ale
11:32: New Belgium Lips of Faith La Folie Sour Brown Ale
11:40: Brewmaster’s Collaboration Signature Les Deux Brasseurs Belgian Ale
11:42: Hill Farmstead Flora Belgian Aged Wheat
11:53: Russian River Consecration Sour/Wild Ale
11:57: Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo Especial Belgian Strong Dark Ale
12:03: Russian River Sanctification Sour/Wild Ale
12:07: Panil Barrique Oak Aged Sour Red Ale
12:15: Fantome Printemps Saison Farmhouse Ale
12:20: Guacamole scrapings
12:31: Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Saison Farmhouse Ale
12:36: Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbits Tripple Hopped IPA
12:48: Home Brew, Stout
12:54: Gulden Draak Belgian Strong Dark Ale
12:58: Dogfish Head Red & White Witbier
1:08: Home Brew, Unearthly IPA clone
1:18: Haandbryggeriet Odin’s Tipple Russian Imperial Stout
1:27: Hill Farmstead Everett Robust Porter
1:34: Pretty Things St. Botolph’s Town Rustic Dark Ale
1:50: Deschutes The Abyss Imperial Stout
1:59: De Ranke Saison De Dottignies
2:31: Russian River Redemption Belgian Pale Ale
3:07: Sweet, sweet sleep.