Bottle Share Basics
So much craft beer. So little time.
With thousands of amazing breweries spread across the planet and a constantly-expanding range of styles from which to choose, you can never sample every great beer that’s available. Attending beer festivals or ordering flights of beer from bars are great ways to expand your knowledge and palate. These opportunities provide several small pours of beer instead of the traditional method of ordering full-size glasses.
Or, you can essentially throw your own mini-beer festival by organizing a bottle share.
Bottle shares socially engage your fellow beer drinkers while simultaneously providing the benefit of getting “special occasion” beers out of your own cellar. Inevitably, we craft beer lovers become collectors, hoarding away favorite bottles for aging or finding ourselves too hesitant to drink a rare bottle obtained from a trade or one-off bottling. Calling up a few like-minded friends to engage in a Saturday beer tasting is a perfect excuse to intermingle different circles of acquaintances and tick a few new beers off of your own “must try” list, as every attendee brings some of their own personal stock to pour.
If you’re interested in organizing your own bottle share, here are some guidelines for planning the event.
1. The more the merrier.
While your initial instinct may be to keep your tasting group small, expanding the number of participants means that you’ll have more varieties of beer to try. Different people have different preferences and this will force you out of your comfort zone to try beers that you typically may not purchase on your own. A larger group of attendees also increases the number of rarities or beers acquired from regional travel and trades.
2. Bottle limits strictly enforced.
Along with the invitation, place a limit on how many different bottles invitees can bring. It’s easy to get carried away, especially if you’ve taken the time to assemble an impressive cellar of rare beers that you’d like to show off. But, to imbibe responsibly, make sure you and your attendees follow a bottle limit policy. This keeps the pours small and allows the group to enjoy the beer without things getting out of control.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Keep things interesting by cultivating a bottle list that spans styles and geography. As the organizer, ask everyone what they plan on bringing in advance. That way, you can help prevent duplication of bottles or too many beers representing the same style or from the same brewery. The exception to this rule would be planning a themed party, such as Russian Imperial Stouts or beers from Oregon, for example.
4. Sequence your drinking “playlist”.
When deciding the drinking order for the beers, think about each beer as a song in an epic mix tape. While traditional logic may indicate you should save the best for last, the fact of the matter is that your taste buds aren’t going to be as fresh at the end of the night. Start off with something exciting, put another big beer in the middle and, yes, finish strong. In between those key bottles, mix up the styles to keep everyone guessing.
5. Take your time.
A bottle share is not a race. Depending on the number of bottles being shared and size of the pours, you will probably want to allot the majority of the day to slowly drink through your supply. The goal here is to taste and enjoy these different beers. You do that by sipping slowly, taking notes and discussing the flavors with your peers.
6. Hydration, hydration, hydration.
Drink water. Drink lots of water. A good rule of thumb is to drink a full glass of water for every sample pour. This staves off the symptoms of dehydration like headaches and stomach issues as well as prevents the ever-dreaded next day hangover.
7. Snack attack.
As the host, leave out serving bowls filled with pretzels, nuts or chips so that participants have a little extra on their stomachs. If you are hosting an all-day event, be sure to make a plan for take-out or pizza delivery during meal times. Palate-cleansing snacks like unsalted crackers and mild fruit allow you to taste the next beer with a fresh tongue.
8. Show your appreciation.
From the newbie who brings an uninspiring shelf-warmer to the experienced trader that shares a rare, hard-won prize with the group, encourage each other and say thank you. Craft beer drinkers are an altogether supportive community. That comes from sharing knowledge, personal experiences and, of course, beer. While having a few of those hard to acquire “holy grail” beers make a tasting memorable, those beers can taste even more amazing when following a more pedestrian, average brew.
9. Take care of each other.
Even with the best intentions, people can sometimes get carried away and drink too much. Watch out for each other by encouraging those who may need to slow down or take a break. Be supportive and create an atmosphere of personal and group responsibility. And make sure everyone has made arrangements for a designated driver to get them home.
10. Why so serious?
Beer is supposed to be fun. Don’t take yourself or your beer too seriously. Laugh, be humble and enjoy the company of your fellow drinkers. While sharing exciting, different beers was the impetus for organizing your bottle share, what you’ll find is that the real benefit is quality time spent with good friends.