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A blue-collar tasting party

Caramie SchnellVail, CO Colorado
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“[I recommend] … bread, meat, vegetables and beer.”-Sophocles’ philosophy of a moderate dietDespite a pronounced lack of pretension, suds reign supreme around the world – from convivial beer-soaked gardens in Germany to Sapporo-heavy sushi spots in Japan. But despite a casual image, beer can be as varied and complex as wine – just ask a brewmaster. Beer can range from the palest yellow to burnt caramel to midnight black. It can taste fruity, evoking apricots or peaches; citrusy, reminiscent of lemons or limes; or spicy, with hints of cloves or coriander. Some beers are hoppy, some skunky and some downright sweet. Because of beer’s ultimate versatility, variation and affordability, it’s the perfect beverage for a tasting party, said Dina Cheney, author of Tasting Club (DK Publishing/Penguin).

“People don’t realize how varied and interesting beer is, especially if you always drink light beer. There’s beer that tastes like chocolate, beer that tastes like raspberries. “Artisinal beers are so hot right now, it’s definitely a new trend – it’s sort of catching up with wine and deserves to be respected,” Cheney said.Even high-end hotels like L.A.’s Sheraton employ full-time beer directors, Cheney said. A friend recently told her Pottery Barn’s Catalog features a spread on beer tasting parties – “that really shows you it’s getting mainstream,” she said.

First timer’s guide”Beer 101″ is how Cheney refers to what a first time beer tasting should encompass. Try different types of beer – an ale, a lager, a lambic, a fruit beer, a steam beer – to familiarize people with the main classes of beer. Save expensive, complex beers like Trappist ales (beer made in Belgian or Dutch monasteries) for a few parties down the line, Cheney said.A good way to structure a tasting is to try the beers in order of mildest to strongest. Try the lighter beers, like a wheat beer, first and the darkest beer, maybe a stout or porter, last. Cheney said rinsing out glasses between tastings isn’t necessary, but she recommended having a bucket on the table or nearby for people to pour out what they don’t want to finish. Each taste should equal about 1/3 of a cup, she said.”The good thing about beer is it has about half the alcohol content of wine, so basically people are going to have two cups of beer per tasting so you don’t have to worry about sobriety issues.”Rather than putting out baskets and bowls of salty potato chips and pretzels during the tasting, which can interfere with how the beer tastes, Cheney recommends bland crackers and maybe some crusty bread to cleanse the palate between samples. Before and after the tasting is a different story though. “In the book I recommend cheese balls, whether store bought or homemade, and serving assorted sausages with mustards and maybe a salad. Afterwards, maybe chocolate dipped strawberries and pretzels.” “It should be fun and nothing pretentious – it is beer, after all.”Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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