Part of the fun here is in steering your crowd away from everyday ales to find new favorites. To please every palate but not overwhelm with options, choose five flavor categories from the list below and pick one beer from each.
Crisp: Light and clean, like a Pilsner. Try Victory Prima Pils, $10 for a six-pack, victorybeer.com for stores.
Hop: Herbal and bitter, like an India pale ale. Try Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA, $14 for a six-pack, firestonebeer.com for stores.
Malt: Bready and nutty, like a dark lager.
Roast: Dark, with coffee or cocoa flavors, like a porter or a stout. Try Bell's Kalamazoo Stout, $11 for a six-pack, bellsbeer.com for stores.
Smoke: Spicy and meaty, like a Rauchbier.
Fruit and Spice: Bold fruit or spice flavor, like a Dubbel. Try Westmalle Trappist Tripel, $6 for an 11-ounce bottle, merchantduvin.com for stores.
Tart and Funky: Sour and earthy, like a lambic. Try Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, $11 for a 25-ounce bottle, at liquor stores.
For a party of 20, get two six-packs of each brew, suggests Greg Engert, the beer director for the restaurants Bluejacket and ChurchKey, in Washington, D.C.
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As for food, stick with Biergarten fare that you can buy, like sausages and soft pretzels. Hang the pretzels on a pasta drying rack ($10, casa.com) so they don't get soggy. And prepare a few quick condiments, like sauerkraut and relish, plus a stout-infused cake.
Chill the beer in ice-filled tubs lined with garbage bags to prevent leaking. Ten minutes before the tasting, put all the bottles you'll be using, plus a few openers, on a table. If a beer is too cold, it's difficult to evaluate the flavor, says Greg Engert. Arrange the beers from lightest to darkest, and lead a round of tasting for each. Guests can stand or sit at tables nearby. A "taste" is four ounces, so you'll want to pour about a half glass each time. (A standard 12-ounce bottle will serve three.) Instruct everyone to first sniff the beer, then sip it, letting it briefly sit on the tongue before swallowing. Keep in mind: A beer's foam is what allows the full aroma to come through, so instead of tipping the glass as you pour to reduce foam, rest it flat on the table. Any kind of glass is fine, but it's easier to swirl the brew and release its aromas in a bowled, tulip-shape style. (Engert's pick: the Teku glass by Rastal, $12, truebeer.com.) Keep a bucket and a pitcher of water on a side table so that people can empty and rinse their glasses after each tasting. Give each guest one scorecard for every beer. (Download the design shown here.)
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Prompt pals to host the next tasting at one of their houses by giving out these cool, hefty mountable bottle openers. $7 each, etsy.com.