Hosting a craft beer tasting party will get your holiday get-together hoppin'. Learn how to host a craft beer party in three easy steps below!
The smell of fresh buttered popcorn fills the movie theater lobby.
"Eleven adults and three kids, please."
I sit behind the glass window in my (polyester) tuxedo uniform, smiling at the family as I wait for their tickets to print, wondering:
Why is this family at the movie theater on a holiday instead of at HOME?
What does this story have to do with hosting a holiday craft beer party? Well . . .
Throughout college, I worked at our local movie theater on every major holiday.
If you didn't know, movie theaters are open 365 days a year. Yep —
They're open on Labor Day.
They're open on Thanksgiving.
They're even open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
In fact, holidays are the BIGGEST moviegoing days of the year.
Back then, I never understood why people would choose to see a movie on a holiday. Surely, families had better things to do than to sit in a dark room and NOT talk to each other for two hours.
Whether you're hosting a patriotic summer barbecue, giving thanks together, or exchanging holiday gifts, it's smart to have a pre-set game plan for "family fun" during your next holiday get-together.
In the past, our family has coordinated family bowling trips, game nights, and even holiday minute-to-win-it challenges. But our new favorite holiday adult activity is CRAFT BEER SAMPLING.
Yep. You read that right . . .
Having a casual beer-tasting party while we wait for grilled ribs on the BBQ or the turkey to roast is the perfect conversation enhancer when we have out-of-town family or friends staying with us.
You can pull together a fun afternoon or evening of beer tasting to get your next holiday hoppin' in three simple steps.
How to Host a Craft Beer Party (In 3 Easy Steps)
Let's get started . . .
1. Pick out a diverse selection of craft beer and local beer.
Variety is key when beer-tasting. To create the ultimate craft beer sampler, explore three to six local beers — everything from fruit-paired Hefeweizens to rich coffee stouts. The goal is to have a diverse selection, but not to overwhelm people with too many options.
If you're not sure what to get, ask a friend who's a beer geek or grab an employee in the spirits aisle for advice on the top craft beers. Either source will be able to help you pick a broad spectrum of lagers and ales for your craft beer party.
A good rule of thumb is to choose three to six flavor categories and then pick one craft beer from each:
CRISP: Clean, light, and refreshing — like a Pilsner.
HOP: Bitter, herbal, and intense — like an India Pale Ale (IPA).
FRUIT & SPICE: Bold fruit or spice flavors — like a Hefeweizen or Wheat Ale.
TART & FUNKY: Rustic, earthy, and winey — like a Red Ale.
MALT: Sweet, nutty, and full-bodied — like a Dark Lager.
ROAST: Dark, with cocoa or coffee flavors — like a Porter or a Stout.
If you roll with three flavor categories, a couple of six-packs will do the trick. We are BIG fans of the SMALL O'so Craft Brewery. Their Hoppin' Whoppin IPA is stellar and O'so American Wheat Ale (The Big O) paired with an orange wedge is another local favorite. Couple these two personal favorites with O'so Night Rain Stout and you've got an awesome trio of flavor for your craft beer sampler.
Earlier this year, our family toured O'so Brewery and the peek behind the curtain was inspiring . . . Owner Marc Buttera spoke with us about his freestyle brewing approach and how supportive the local craft beer community is as a whole. During the tour, Marc's giving nature coupled with his passion for craft beer — and his community — made me an O'so enthusiast. We love that Meijer offers such a wide variety of local craft beers, including O'so.
If you want to play with more variety (four to six flavor categories), consider getting a Craft Your Own 4-Pack (or two!) for diversity. Browse a wide variety of options. Then use the list above to help narrow down and choose your individual favorites.
We have so many great Wisconsin craft breweries and Midwest options. Support your state's craft breweries by showcasing as many local varieties during your craft beer party as possible. Learn a bit about each of the breweries, how they began, where they're located, and what varieties they offer. Then share with your guests.
As you sample, you could make plans for a day trip to attend a brewery tour together in the future. We had fun making a day trip out of a tour at O'so Brewery with out-of-state family members the last time they visited!
2. Decide if you want a full-on, seated beer-tasting party OR a more casual, craft beer bar setup.
Prep a table with beer-tasting glasses at each seat, some snacks, and your top craft beers for a full-on, seated approach. Or, if you prefer, people can casually mingle about as they sample an informal, craft beer bar setup with snacks.
On summer holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, having a seated craft beer party outside on the patio picnic table can be a blast. It's a fun opportunity to turn your backyard into an impromptu beer garden!
On more formal family holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, an informal craft bar setup can be a fun way to break up the afternoon between other, more traditional family activities.
Whether you're sitting or standing, you'll need three things when setting up your beer-tasting party:
- A collection of tall shot glasses work perfectly for beer sampler glasses. Friends and family can enjoy small samples and then pour themselves seconds (or thirds!) of their favorites. (If any of the craft beers you're offering have a citrus note, be sure to have orange or lemon wedges available too.)
- Glasses for water, so people can cleanse their palate in between beer samples.
- Small notepads and pencils, so guests can remember beer names, write beer reviews, or rate beers.
3. Bring on the PARTY FOOD — The best beer snacks, an awesome cheese platter, plus additional beer and food pairings!
Offer your holiday guests bite-sized foods that are easy to munch on as they enjoy their beer tasting. In general, the best beer snacks are salty, sweet, and savory. Think popcorn, nuts, and chocolate; these are all great choices.
If you're pulling together a last-minute craft beer-sampling party, you can even get by with a simple bag of pretzels. Butter Braids are my favorite.
That being said, a light cheese platter is always a hit (says this Wisconsin girl!) if you're planning a full meal for later in the day. Depending on your guests and the formality of your beer-tasting party, go gourmet or offer a platter of local favorites.
A gourmet cheese platter can provide delicious pairing opportunities for all your top craft beers. You'll want to include a mix of fresh, aged, hard, and soft cheeses. In the deli section, Meijer has an amazing selection of unique local and international cheese choices. Dress up the platter by scattering in a few grapes, dried cherries, figs, pecans, walnuts, crackers, and baguettes.
A Wisconsin cheese platter is an entity unto itself. I'd recommend dabbling with a sharp aged cheddar, a buttery Parmesan, and a mild white cheddar served with dried cranberries. You can "dress up" a casual Wisconsin cheese platter with a wide variety of options from mini-pickles and local summer sausage to bits of rich chocolate.
At our house, we usually roll with a combination of gourmet mixed with a dash of Wisconsin tradition.
If you're hosting a seated, craft beer-tasting party in your backyard, consider showcasing the gourmet cheese platters as edible centerpieces. If you've set up a pre-dinner craft beer bar on the countertop, a Wisconsin cheese platter is perfect for on-the-go snack mingling.
BONUS TIP — Grab the right beer glasses for your family's favorites.
Tall shot glasses are great for beer sampling because guests won't feel bad if they don't like one. Since it's just an ounce or two, they can dump it and move on GUILT-FREE. However, if you want to give your guests the full experience of a craft beer, you'll need to serve it in proper beer glasses.
We have mostly pint glasses on hand, so I was excited to come across a Six-Piece Craft Brew starter glass set when I was picking up local beer for our beer-tasting party. The set includes beer glasses for Belgian Ale, Wheat Beer, Pale Ale, Stout, Hard Cider, and IPA.
While my husband is open to trying new craft beers, wheat beers often end up being his favorite. The Weizen glass in our new beer glasses set was perfect for O'so Big O American Wheat Ale.
When we do craft beer-tasting, my father-in-law loves Pilsners and my sister-in-law prefers bold with a fruity undertone, while I'm partial to a good Hefeweizen with lemon. One time, my mom joined us and shocked us all by declaring she's a "Stout Woman."
What I love most about sampling craft beer with my family is not the taste-testing, but the conversations, the silliness, the facial expressions, the laughter, and the openness to playfully experiment together.
This simple adult activity is a fun way to kickstart a holiday get-together — any season of the year — that fosters a sense of connection and, best of all . . . celebrates our differences.
(Besides, my family has so many diverse opinions that we'd never agree on ONE movie for us all to go to at the theater anyway!)
Happy safe and responsible sampling,