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Don’t have tickets to the Great American Beer Festival? (This year’s festival did sell out in a record 45 minutes.) Don’t fret: Hold a mini-GABF at home. We spoke with Ian Clark, who operates one of Colorado’s tiniest commercial breweries, for tips on how to put together a beer tasting in your living room.
Pick a style: Although it might seem like a good idea to try as many different beers as you can get your hands on, Clark suggests sticking to one style, say, IPAs or stouts. By focusing on one type of beer, Clark says, you’ll learn more about that particular style and what flavors you prefer. “Whatever the style, it’s amazing when you sit it down side by side; it’s a very unique experience,” Clark says. “I love the education behind it.”
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Quantity: GABF is all about quantity, but for smaller at-home tastings, Clark has found seven different versions of one style of brew works well. That number offers variety, but also ensures that you won’t completely blowout your taste buds.
Write it down: Clark jots down notes on each beer in a small notebook, including things like appearance, hop character, and mouthfeel. That way, he says, after the tasting is over, you’ll remember which brews you liked.
Blindfold: Put each of the beers you intend to taste in a small paper bag and mix up the order. Tasting the beer blind—not knowing which beer you’re tasting—is a good way to remove any preconceptions you might have about a beer. You may think you’re in love with Avery’s IPA, but, if you taste it blind along with six other India Pale Ales, you’ll know for sure. “I always like to go blind,” Clark says, “You never know what you’ll like the best.”
Glassware: Although a standard pint glass will do the trick, Clark says you should use something like a snifter or a tulip glass (these both have wide bodies and narrow tops). This type of glassware helps force the aroma out of the beer, and smelling a beer is an important part of tasting it.
Snack time: Along with water, have a few snacks available to help cleanse your palate between tasting each brew. Clark suggests roasted nuts, crackers, or a light cheese.
Branch out: “Don’t be afraid to buy beer that you’ve never tried before, from breweries you’ve never heard of,” Clark says. “You’d be amazed what you find out there.”