So You Want to Throw a Tasting Party…

Last night, we had a few friends over and shared some great craft brews paired with several different cheeses.  It was a fantastic success and we thought we’d share a few helpful hints in case you too are interested in recreating a “Cheesy Beer Wench” style event in your home.

First and foremost, keep the guest list small.  We invited only 5 people to join us.  We decided this based on two factors.  One was the amount of beer we would have to purchase.  In order to present what we felt were above average craft brews, we kept the guest list down so we could spend more money on the best we could buy.  Second, we wanted to be able to discuss the tastings amongst ourselves, and the more people you have, the more likely it is that someone won’t get the chance to voice their opinions.

Next, decide how many beers you’d like to pair and what styles.  Do you want to do all of one style from different breweries?  Do you want a sampling of current seasonal beers?  Or do you want to focus on brews from a particular state, region or country?  The mix of beers is entirely up to you. We limited the number of beers to 6 as they were all really high ABV (all above 7.5-8%). Plan on serving a tasting size. Since we’ve been to several beer festivals, we pulled out the glasses we received at those events. They hold the perfect amount of beer: enough to taste and enjoy with the cheese, but not so much that anyone becomes drunk.

After you’ve decided what beers you think you might serve, you’ll need to decide on the cheeses for the pairing.  Here are a few of my suggestions based on style of :

  • Stouts and Porters: unless they are smoked, triple crème brie or and cheese with shaved truffles will be great.  If smoked, try a chipotle cheddar as well as the brie.
  • Saison/Farmhouse Ales:  sharp cheddars, but some could pair nicely with aged goat cheese (such as Humboldt Fog)
  • IPAs:  if it’s a bitter bomb, I have not found a cheese I like.  However, there are some very nice IPAs with floral or citrus notes that pair nicely with fresh goat cheese. The only exception I’ve found is black IPAs.  You can get away with some triple crème brie because of the malty, roasted notes in the beer.
  • Sours: the sharpest cheddar you can find is usually your best bet, but sometimes a fresh goat cheese will stand up nicely to a Flanders style sour (such as Duchess de Bourgogne)
  • Lagers: any mild cheddar
  • Belgian Quads or Tripels:   a goat milk brie or a mild cheddar

Even though I’ve given you a few ideas about pairings, the best thing to do is experiment, experiment, experiment.  If you have a favorite cheese, grab some and a bottle of your favorite beer.  If you aren’t sure what you like, see if you have a local cheese shop nearby where they will let you try samples. Some larger stores such as Whole Foods routinely put out samples for you to try. This is a great way to really get a feel for a wide variety of cheeses without having to buy them.

Once you have your menu set, send out the invites!  We highly recommend telling people to have a light meal before they come.  This is especially important if you know there will be people attending who are not used to drinking high alcohol beers.  If you have time, cut up the cheeses into bite size portions, usually about an ounce or so. In the case of brie or extremely soft cheese, portion them out on thin unflavored crackers or wafers to make it less messy. If you don’t have time, set all the cheeses out and have guests help themselves before each pairing.

We hope you find this helpful and are encouraged to try this yourself! We have had a great time travelling around as The Cheesy Beer Wench, but sometimes, just hanging out with our friends and sharing is even better.

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