The beauty of running an Oktoberfest website is that there is always an opportunity for fun. The only problem with trying a number of different beers is that most beers come in no less than a six pack. What do you do with the extra beer? Have a tasting party of course!
This year I had twenty-two different beers for my friends to try. A large number I did not try in previous years. The setup for the party is actually relatively simple. All you need is cold beer and glasses to serve the beer in. That is the very basic but a number of things can be added to make the tasting party even better.
First off, I ran the tasting party as if I were a bar tender. I had four buckets set up with the beers in there and all grouped together nicely. I filled each bucket up with an ample amount of ice to insure that the beer would stay cold for the entire tasting. Each participant was given a packet with instructions on the history of Oktoberfest beer and a simple description of what a proper Oktoberfest/Märzen beer should look, smell and taste like. Each beer was to be given a rating from 1 - 10 on aroma, appearance, taste and mouthfeel. If the tasters were so inclined there was room for a written review that would be added to this site.
The beers were served in the order that the tasters wanted to try them. Most opted for starting from the beginning and going to the end. Some jumped around, mostly to try beers they have never had before. Each taster was given a small glass that was roughly 6 ounces big but each tasting portion was roughly 3 ounces. I bought bigger glasses to account for the extra room needed for the proper head to form. The glasses I bought were actually candle holders from Hobby Lobby and I was able to get them for 50 cents a piece which was a great deal. Avoid buying plastic glasses at all costs. The faint smell might get in the way of the tasting.
In addition to the beer I served a number of different snacks that would not only help cleanse the pallet but also keep the tasters from getting too inebriated. I offered giant soft pretzels, hard pretzels, little sausages and cheese. There was also a lot of water so the tasters could cleanse their pallet as well as clean out the glasses. Even though all the beers were the same style, I insisted that the tasters rinse their glass after every beer to ensure that the previous beer would not affect the next beer.
In my opinion, the best way to run the tasting is to have a dedicated person pouring the beer. I did that for my party and things ran very smoothly. Also, it insures that each person gets the correct pour so as not to over pour and have others miss out on trying a beer because they are all gone. This also helps make sure that each glass will have the right amount of head to bring out the aroma and flavors.
One downside to the tasting is of course the price. Each six pack runs usually around $10 a piece and some beers can only be bought in larger cases. Donations from participants is recommended to help offset your cost (unless you want to be really generous). Another downside is your geographic location. I'm from Illinois and I have access to most of the international German beers, most widely distributed US beers and Midwest beers, including a couple that rarely make it out of Wisconsin. This made my tasting pretty easy and gave every one a broad scope of beers to try. Your location may vary your tasting experience. I did not have access to New Glarus Staghorn or Yuengling Oktoberfest because they are not distributed to Illinois and I did not feel like driving out of state for two extra beers. Maybe next year, or maybe I can have someone ship me some.
One thing about beer tasting is it is very subjective. Someone may love one beer while everyone else hates it. Don't let that get to you. Write your honest opinion of a beer. Aggregate averages and overall scores just aid people to try and determine what beers they should buy. To that point though, go into the tasting with an open mind and try every beer, even if you didn't like it in the past. Who knows, they might have changed the recipe and now you may like it or maybe your pallet has changed. You never know until you try.
With everything above being said, the main point of a beer tasting is to have fun with your friends and try a number of different beers. I know I had a blast at my party and it makes me more likely to have one again next year.
The results from our tasting party, as well as a full list of the beers, can be found here:
It has been suggested that if you would like to truly rate the beers there should be a blind taste test so as to not have brand preference get in the way of tasting. I agree, but only if you want your tasting to really rank beers.
As always, I would love to hear your opinions. Have you run a tasting before? How did you do things differently? Where did you buy your tasting glasses from and how much did you spend? Please fill out your answers in the comment section below. I appreciate your input.