First published in All About Beer Magazine - Volume 32, Issue 4
September 1, 2011ByOwen Ogletree
Twenty craft beer lovers, all wearing the same T-shirts,
walk into a bar. No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke―it describes an
organized pub-crawl for charity. Across America, people are realizing that
craft beer can form the impetus for switching off the TV, getting off the
couch, heading out of the house and bringing people together with informative,
entertaining, beer-centered activities.
It’s fun to get together at the local pub for a couple of
pints and appetizers, but with a little energy and imagination, the exploration
of notable beer styles can lead to exciting new places and levels of
understanding and appreciation of gourmet beer. Read on for creative
suggestions in making craft beer a focus in many social events outside the
The group pub-crawl idea mentioned above forms a wonderful
way to connect with a variety of pubs in a town, and groups have the option of
making the activity a benefit for a local charity. Pick a day for the crawl,
choose a list of walkable pubs with great beer, speak with the pub managers in
advance, come up with a schedule for the pub visits, invite participants and
print up an inexpensive T-shirt for everyone. Work with pub managers to decide
on one distinctive beer for the group to enjoy at each stop, figure out the
total cost (including gratuity) of beer for the group and collect funds from
the pub-crawlers in advance. If the jaunt benefits a charity, some pubs may
even provide snacks or a price break on the beer. It’s helpful to have a ticket
or token for each beer on the excursion.
Get on the Bus
Beer tourism is a hot trend these days, so why not arrange a
beer-themed vacation for a group of friends? With the Internet making it
extraordinarily simple to e-mail breweries for tours, make lunch and dinner
group reservations, and book inexpensive hotel rooms, anyone can put together a
memorable beer trip in a snap.
After choosing a beer-rich destination and getting RSVPs
from your fellow beer sojourners, decide on a mode of transportation. Will
participants fly or drive to the site and then walk and utilize public
transportation from place to place? Should a van be rented and a designated
driver decided upon from day to day? Could the group hire a local tour provider
to furnish a bus and driver for the trip? Choose the option that best suits the
size, budget and specific needs of the gathering.
Contact breweries, brewpubs and gourmet beer bars to set up
group visits based on a leisurely schedule, taking into account extra time for
traffic and delays caused by die-hard beer aficionados not wanting to leave
favorite places on time. If interested, remember to include a sampling of
non-beer activities for the group―museums, walking tours and outdoor markets
make for welcome breaks from long days of beer consumption.
Choose brewery tours and beer tasting locales for group
trips based on top ratings and recommendations from any number of
websites―including Ratebeer.com, Beermapping.com, Classiccitybrew.com, the
“BeerFly” section of Beeradvocate.com and the “Find Your Beer” pages of
Allaboutbeer.com. For affordable hotels, Biddingfortravel.com offers tips on
the best current deals on Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, and sites like
Mobissimo.com and Kayak.com provide effortless, comprehensive searches for the
cheapest airline tickets.
No better beer guides exist for western European beer
destinations than the books and resources available from the U.K.’s Campaign
for Real Ale (CAMRA). Check Amazon.com or click on the “books” tab of
camra.org.uk to preview available titles. To aid in navigation for the best
pints of real ale in the U.K., CAMRA also offers inexpensive GPS and mobile
phone app downloads of thousands of the best breweries and pubs featured in
their annual Good Beer Guide.
Many individuals just starting down the road of craft beer
appreciation have yet to visit a beer festival. Subscribe to e-mail lists of
the best fests in the local area, grab a block of tickets and take along a
group of friends. Festivals offer fun and convenient atmospheres in which to
sample a huge variety of different beer styles, speak to brewers and interact
with other beer lovers. After the event, friends can meet at a pub or
restaurant to compare notes of favorite beers.
Mini beer fests for friends at an apartment clubhouse,
mountain cabin or beach condo make for a delicious and enjoyable afternoon or
evening―simply head to the best retail beer store to stock up on several
six-packs from a variety of craft breweries. Invest in few plastic storage bins
to use as ice trays and set up the cold brews in several areas of the facility
alongside potluck appetizers. Each guest gets a tasting glass and sips
different beers while mingling.
There’s no better way for a loving couple to share their joy
of beer than by incorporating a craft beer tasting into their wedding
reception. Order small, commemorative goblets printed with a unique message
from the bride and groom, and put together a descriptive menu of favorite brews
grouped in creative themes. Just for fun, organize the beer menu into
interesting categories such as “warming,” “pensive,” “invigorating,” “playful”
or simply “the bride’s favorite ales.” Add an extra sparkle of interest with a
bite of cheese paired with each craft beer. Online sources offer a tremendous
range of beer and cheese pairing recommendations; provided with good
suggestions of beers and cheeses, most caterers comply happily with special
niche requests such as this.
Remember to include craft beer in holiday outings, cookouts,
camping trips, bike rides and hikes. The promise of a unique beer tasting at
the end of the day makes for effective motivation to walk that last mile or
bike over one more hill. Bring bottle openers and clear plastic cups (it’s a
travesty to drink aromatic craft beers straight from the bottle). Plan for a
way to transport the brews without breakage or excess weight in anyone’s
backpack. Be responsible as well―pack in the beer and pack out the empties.
Many craft beers now packaged in plastic-lined cans make for highly convenient
additions to river rafting trips and pool parties.
With a focus on craft beer styles, it’s possible to add an
interesting flare to local pub visits with friends and tasting groups. Call the
pub ahead of time to check on interesting beers on draft, choose six to eight,
then click on the Beer Judge Certification Program’s website at bjcp.org to
cut, paste and print style guidelines that match the beers. When your group
arrives at the pub, give the bartender your “secret” list of draft beers to
pour in order in 15-minute intervals or so. Split the pints into plastic taster
cups for your group, provide sets of style guidelines, and have everyone
discuss the nuances of each mystery beer and try to guess the style. The person
getting the top score in this version of “beer bingo” maybe wins a plate of
wings or a free beer from the group.
A similar idea would be to designate one person as
note-taker, and have the group discuss observations of each beer, based on
aroma, appearance and flavor. Run through three to four different brews and
post the comments on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Better yet, have a
tech-savvy member of the bunch start up a website to include photos and notes
from each tasting. For the sake of saving trees and easy reference, the BJCP
world beer style guidelines are now available as a super-cool mobile phone app.
Bracket championships don’t just work for basketball―try a
few rounds with beer. When visiting a pub with an expansive selection, choose a
broad style of beer such as “stout.” Divide a group of 10 friends into five
teams of two and assign a different pair of stouts from the pub’s menu to each
team. Each team tastes and evaluates their two stouts for appealing
characteristics and outstanding craftsmanship (perhaps using BJCP style
guidelines) and picks one to move on to the next round and go head-to-head with
the winning stout from another team. Teams can be shuffled around and combined
as the brackets progress―until all 10 friends are tasting and evaluating the
final two beers. Pubs might even be persuaded to place a note or award next to
the winning brew on the beer menu or chalkboard.
In many cities, beer dinners have become remarkably popular
in recent years. It’s a breeze to organize your own beer dinner at a local pub
or restaurant that offers top-notch beer and food. Pay a visit to the pub in
advance to take a gander at the menus. Choose four to five courses for your
group, pair each with a beer that’s currently on draft and share your plans
with the manager, who can alert the kitchen and reserve space for your group.
On the evening of your beer dinner, be sure the server knows to bring out each
course and beer at the same time and separate each course with an appropriate
amount of time to allow the group to savor and consider each pairing.
Pairing craft beer with food isn’t rocket science. Common
sense wine guidelines also tend to be analogous for beer―red meat goes well
with American amber ales, IPAs and English bitters; whereas delicate fish and
chicken dishes pair better with the likes of Bohemian pilsners, golden ales and
Belgian-style wit beers. But when pairing craft beer with food, strict rules
simply do not exist―most of the fun comes with experimentation. Try malty
Vienna-style lagers, bocks and brown ales with sweet, earthy Mexican dishes and
pizza; sip a peppery Belgian-style saison or tripel alongside spicy Thai or
Indian cuisine; and savor a clove-like hefeweizen next to a refreshing, acidic
summer salad. Beer and cheese form an ideal harmony, so be sure to take
advantage of cheese platters for your group meal.
Don’t skip dessert! Select a porter or stout to accompany
custards, fruit-topped cheesecake, ice cream or chocolate. The best fruit beers
go well with pastries, and nothing tastes better with rich chocolate cake than
a Belgian strong dark ale or toffee-ish English-style barley wine.
Why let wine snobs have all the fun with their tastings,
gatherings, evaluations and spitting? Craft beer can become a dynamic,
gratifying and evolving part of one’s social scene. It can strengthen bonds
between friends and groups and provide a rallying point to forge new
Owen Ogletree is a BJCP National Beer Judge and Georgia beer writer who runs the Athens' Classic City Brew Fest and the Atlanta Cask Ale tasting.