For many people, there is no sweeter, or more refreshing indulgence, than drinking a cold beer in the summer sunshine. Mirella Amato is a beer nut, and turned her passion for the sudsy libation into a career as a professional sommelier. In fact, Amato is a Master Cicerone, the first Canadian to achieve the rarefied distinction. She's written a new book called Beerology, a guide to exploring and appreciating the vast and diverse pleasures of beer. Amato stopped by All in a Weekend to offer tips on how to host a great beer-tasting party, even if you have little experience with the beverage.
Tip 1: Offer a range of flavours.
"People are starting to notice all the craft beers, and all the flavours, and they're intrigued but it seems a little overwhelming," she said.
Some basic lagers (lower alcohol content, crisp, on the sweeter side) can be as affordable as a couple bucks a bottle, while other speciality beers, with much higher alcohol content and unique ingredients, can cost as much as $40 a bottle. Having a more expensive beer doesn't necessarily mean you'll like it better, so feel free to experiment with different lagers, ales, and fruit-infused wheat beers, in prices range you're comfortable with.
"Take this opportunity to taste beers that you have never had before," she suggests.
Tip 2: Line them up from least intense to most intense.
In terms of set up, beer tastings are "really quite similar" to wine tastings. Start with the lighter, sweeter beers, then progress to the heavier, more bitter ones. She recommends checking out her book Beerology for a detailed breakdown on how to line up beers based on their intensity.
Tip 3: NEVER pre-pour.
This is where beer tasting deviates from wine tasting.
"You do not want to pre-pour that beer because carbonation is such a huge attribute to beer," she said. "If you pour all of your beers before you start, the first two or three beers will taste great, but if people start chatting, and the evening draws out a little bit, and you don't get to those last beers until 45 minutes or an hour later, they will have gone flat."
When Amato organizes a beer tasting, they're usually larger affairs with hundreds of guests and servers to continuously open fresh bottles. If you're beer tasting is a small, backyard affair, she recommends just opening bottles in the middle of the table as the guests progress from one sample to another.
Tip 4: Appreciate the beer.
Take a moment to analyse each beer and hone in on its unique qualities.
"When I'm tasting beer, the technique is very similar to wine tasting," she said. "Obviously we start by looking at the appearance, and with beer, we're looking for colour, clarity, carbonation, and foam. "
Colour, clarity and carbonation are indicators of style, not necessarily of quality. Foam, apparently, can tell us quite a lot about a beer.
"If you have a nice full head of foam and, as you're drinking, you get lacing on the sides of the glass, you know those sort of white stripes that appear with every sip on the side of the glass, that is a sign of a well-brewed beer, brewed with quality ingredients," she said. "Having said that, if you don't see foam, it's not the end of the world, because there are lot of things that can eliminate foam. Some styles don't have foam naturally or have very little foam naturally. But beyond that, lack of foam can be a sign that you've been eating chicken wings, and the grease has knocked the carbonation out. Oil will break down carbonation."
Amato actually has a nifty beer tasting comments card on her website which you could print out for your guests to fill out. You can check it out here