As many (if not all) craft enthusiasts know, beer is much more than aroma, color, taste and body. Beer has long surpassed its literal form of being a beverage that we all enjoy. It’s evolving into a foundation for community, culture and conversation. It is a drink best enjoyed with company — with that company, ideally, also recognizing beer’s power to evolve, transform, and challenge its drinkers. This truth is why the bottle share has quickly established itself as a pillar within craft culture.
Bottle shares give us the excuse to question, discuss, explore and to (of course) toast with fellow beer lovers and friends. Luckily for us, we are offered a delicious opportunity to explore a new line-up of beers and styles as we transition into a new season. There is no time like the present to plan your own bottle share.
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To better prepare you for your hosting responsibilities, we sat down with Chuck Shin, owner of celebrated Seattle bottle shop Chuck’s Hop Shop, and Kendall Jones, the mastermind behind the Washington Beer Blog, to get their thoughts on how you can make the event your own. So without further ado, take some notes, crack a beer, and dust off your tasting glasses.
1) Start with the Basics
There’s a handful of must-haves for hosting your own share: snacks, materials, and, of course, beer-loving guests. These will serve as the skeleton for your share (we’ll get to the meat in a second).
Stacking up on snacks is crucial. With all of the taste testing, you’ll want something in your stomach, and having nibbles in between brews can also make for a natural wiping of the slate. Jones explains, “Do palate-cleansing snacks that are more plain, even just bread or pretzels, just to help cleanse the palate between tastes. I would let the beer do the talking.”
You’ll also want the bare-minimum materials as well. Have two to three tasting glasses set and ready for each guest, one ideally filled with water as a second palate-cleanser. Having a fridge or cooler near to keep the beer at an ideal temperature is also a necessity. Some way to document the beers is also key, but we’ll get to that later.
Finally, you’ve got to have some participants. And as Shin will tell you, there is a definite sweet spot for how many people you want to clink glasses with. “Seven to eight people would be the perfect number,” he says. “We’ve done 10 people before, and it gets too crazy.”
2) Narrow Down the Field
Ok, so you’ve got the basics ready. Now it’s time to focus on the most important part of the share: the beer. With endless styles to choose from, Jones and Shin both recommend narrowing down your options by picking a theme or a style. By focusing on one style, such as stouts, you are giving your guests the opportunity to get intimately familiar with the style by exploring its ranges and limitations through color, aroma, body and flavor.
“It’s easier to compare with similar profiles,” explains Shin. “In my mind, if you do too broad of a selection without having a theme in mind, it’s hard to compare the beer. ”
Jones takes it one step further by adding a beer that serves as the quintessential representation of the style into the mix to make comparing easier.
“If you’re doing any style, you should have one beer that is your control unit,” he says. “If you’re going to do stouts, have one beer that is a really good representation of the style. Then you can educate yourself and judge other things based on that. Say, ‘Here is the standard of the style and we are going to base everything that we say and everything that we think of the beers off this.'”
3) Do Some Research
This one is two-fold, because you’ve got quite a bit of research to do. It’s time to acquire a basic understanding of your theme, but also to pick out your beers.
Lucky for you, there are fantastic resources at your fingertips for getting familiar with (keeping with our example) the stout. We recommend starting at CraftBeer’s Beer Styles page to get familiar with the style. You’ll be able to get familiar with the brew’s appearance, ingredients and history. From there, get off the computer and into your local bottle shop.
“Come to any of the bottle shops and tell any of the employees or the staff, ‘I’m doing a bottle share! What should I be getting?’ and we’ll tell you exactly what you can get,” says Shin, who knows from experience at his own establishment. “That’s our most fun job. We’ll give you lots of options.”
4) Keep it Local
This is a tip hardcore traders won’t like, but Jones says it’s key.
“Beers that are actually possible for you to get wherever you’re at are best,” says Jones. “I don’t like the idea of doing a share about beers you can’t get [where you are]. I don’t smile upon the act of getting beer from third parties – from individuals – in other parts of the country. I trust the distributor to get the beer here in proper condition better than a guy I don’t know. I have too much respect for the beer.”
If you’re up for a challenge, bring local beers that might be harder to find, or made in smaller quantities. As Shin will tell you, the best way to enjoy these gems is with a group.
“When you get a rare beer, or a one-of-a-kind beer, the best way to have it is to share,” Shin says.
(LEARN: Get to Know 75+ Popular Beer Styles)
5) Go in Blind
OK, so you have your guests. You’ve set your parameters. You have your beer. You’ve done your research. Now it’s time to drink it up. And Jones has a suggestion for this step: Don’t tell your guests what they’re drinking.
“I would brown bag it. Make everyone bring their beer in brown bags and not disclose what beer they brought to anyone but the host,” Jones says, noting that each guest should contribute two or three beers. As the host, you’ll assume the responsibility of numbering the beers so you can go back and learn more about the specific beer and brewery after taste testing. But in the meantime, focus on your beverage – and take note of your thoughts.
“Everyone takes notes on the different beers as you drink by number,” continues Jones, as the end goal is to reveal the beers and who liked what, and for what reason. “The blind tasting is a fun way to do it.”
6) Take Note
With seven to eight people at your share and everyone bringing at least two to three beers, you’re going to be drinking a lot of beer – and likely beer that you’ll want to remember in detail.
Jones challenges you to stay away from popular apps, like Untappd, for your notes. “Untappd is more about earning badges than documenting the beers,” he says. Instead, Jones suggests you hand out notebooks where your guests can scribble down their thoughts.
And when it comes to your thoughts, Shin suggests that you go crazy. “Just write down whatever comes to your mind. We want people to enjoy [the beer] and write down a few things to talk about. You’re there to enjoy the beer – don’t analyze it too much.”
7) Remember What’s Important
Once you’ve worked your way through the line-up, it’s time for the big reveal. As you disclose the beer’s information to you guests, ask one another some important questions: What did you get out of this aroma? What flavors were lying beneath the surface? Did you expect the color to be this dark, or light?
As you discuss, remember what brought you together: the beer. So enjoy your conversations, stay open minded, don’t worry about impressing, and follow Shin’s last bit of advice: “Just enjoy it! Kick back and enjoy it.”
That we will. Cheers!
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