How to make beer the guest of honour at the table

It's time for beer to take centre stage at the dinner table argues our Beer Sommelier Maggie Cubbler. Here she provides a few tips for a successful dinner party

Beer is not a drink that should be served for formal dinners.”
“Beer is fun when hanging out with friends, but wine is the perfect companion for a special dinner…”
“If you’re having a fancy dinner party, [beer is] kind of suck in the etiquette department.”

Do a quick Google-search for ‘beer’ and ‘dinner party’ and these are some of the things you’ll find on the internet. Suffice it to say, wine seems to have the reputation of being for those who are sophisticated, intent on impressing a date and devoted fans of Come Dine with Me. Yet, there’s no reason why beer can’t have a seat at the head of the table as the guest of honour.

Hosting a dinner party is all about creating an enjoyable atmosphere around the table – and many of your guests will surely enjoy a beer. But how can you present a beer in its best light so that those guests won’t feel like it is an afterthought?

"Big, chewy English barley wines will look stunning in an oversized wine glass"

We all know the assertions about how ‘beer pairs with food better than wine’ and ‘beer is so much more versatile than wine’. While there’s some truth to that (well, a lot of truth), I think that beer is as fine of an accompaniment to food as a glass of wine. When served properly, a delightful blond ale for the first course and a velvety imperial stout with dessert, for example, will create an exciting dining experience that will surely impress your friends. And maybe even that special someone.

If you’re having a hard time knowing where to start, look to the masters of beer and food pairing: the Belgians. Belgium is arguably the capital of beer-and-food gastronomy. Belgian beers run the flavour-gamut from sweet, sour, spicy to bitter – a versatility that lends itself perfectly to pairing with food and will allow your guests to discover and try new flavour matches. Just remember to build your intensities throughout the course of the meal; you wouldn’t want everything your guest tastes after the first course to be bitter.

Whatever you choose to serve, selecting proper glassware is very important and will make sure that the beer is presented flawlessly. Proper glassware plays up the flavours and aromas while also highlighting its appearance. Glass shapes vary between a delicate stemmed tulip to a chalice or snifter. Flutes, wine glasses and Pilsener glasses are all options for your beery dinner table as well. Serving beer at your dinner party doesn’t mean you’ll have a bunch of clunky German steins around the table, unless, of course, you’re serving a German doppelbock.

The Belgians are rather particular about their glassware with many beers poured into branded chalices, snifters or tulip glasses. Lambics and sour ales can even be served in a flute – wouldn’t that look great on the table for an aperitif? Glassware isn’t relevant only with the Belgians, however. Many other beer styles will be equally beautiful on your table. Big, chewy English barley wines will look stunning in an oversized wine glass while a zesty Hefeweizen belongs in nothing other than a sleek Weizen glass. With a bit of research, clearly you don’t have to limit your menu to wine if you’re concerned about your table looking like a pub during the World Cup.

The finest glass in the world, however, is worth very little if the beer isn’t poured correctly. The proper glass shape should show off sparkling bubbles, hidden colour highlights and a creamy head, if appropriate. Before your guests arrive, it might be worth practising how to pour a beer to see how it reacts in the glass. Tilt the glass and pour the beer along the side, slowly bringing the glass upright so that you can achieve a proper head. You should also note whether the beer is bottle-conditioned and has any sediment in the bottom—something normal that would quickly turn a crystal clear beer murky! (Note: make sure you store these bottles upright so that the sediment stays on the bottom.) This way, you know what to expect when you’re pouring it for them or you can warn your guest if you’ve presented the bottle for them to pour themselves.

Finally, these days much care is put into a bottle’s design. There should be no reason why, if there’s space, a beautiful bottle can’t sit proudly on the table. Beer is available in 750ml bottle – perfect for sharing – and often sealed with champagne corks, covered with foil, wax seals or wire cages. While many brewery labels won’t have you reminiscing about your last trip to the Bourgogne, they are nevertheless fashionably designed and worthy to be admired. I’d double-check, however, to make sure that a beer name like Shart Pants or Snozzberries (actual beer names) aren’t hidden behind curly writing. Unless your friends have that sort of humour.

Proper care and a bit of planning means beer should definitely be on your guest list. With dinner party season starting up, it’s time to open your homes to your friends, family and loved ones and let beer, beautiful beer, take the place of honour. Cheers!

Maggie Cubbler is an accredited Beer Sommelier and resident expert for Alongside writing about beer, beer and food and industry events, she also leads guided tastings, judges international beer competitions and has been featured in publications such as FHM and The Telegraph.



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