Sunday, April 8, 2012

A black & white beer tasting party with dear (and thirsty) friends

If you are interest in Beer Tasting Party Printables, check out our "Biergarten" Beer Tasting Collection here!
I love to go out and try new bars and restaurants, but lately, with two little boys in our lives, it's getting much harder to do (and truly enjoy) so. Since most of our friends are in the same situation, the best thing these days is to have them over for some "adult conversation" (not always the case, we get silly too... often.) while the kids play together.
Since we are beer lovers and the weather was threatening to get warmer, I though a beer tasting party was an event no one could say no to :-)  Each couple brought a few different bottles to share, and we split them into two categories: light-colored and dark-colored beers.

When I purchased these French fry holders from Crate & Barrel for my son's birthday party, I also spotted the "newspaper" basket liners at another store and immediately thought of a little get-together inspired by them.  They were perfect to hold crunchy potato chips to munch on... and an inspiration for an all black & white décor.

For the food, I wanted something simple, yummy and easy to eat.  Basically some typical "bar food".

Inside footed glass bowls I served traditional bar counter snacks: mixed nuts, salty snack mix and popcorn. As mentioned on the previous post, I used empty beer bottles as vases holding wheat sprigs, a reference to the ingredient sometimes used in the beer making process. I wanted to fill tall glass cylinders with hops, barley, etc, but I think at the end the simplicity of the wheat "arrangements" did the trick ;-)

 Baked potato chips in different flavors: jalapeño, mesquite barbecue and sea salt & vinegar
I also used the basket liners to hold sandwiches I made with freshly baked sourdough bread: smoked salmon, capers, chives & whipped cream cheese; roasted red pepper, homemade pesto & artichoke; and maple-roasted turkey, Iberico cheese & sun-dried tomato mayo. I've never been a big fan of mayonnaise - except the fresh homemade kind.  But in a pinch, "seasoned" mayo has been a good friend of mine when I need to quickly dress up a sandwich.  For this one, I just mixed chopped oil-marinated sun-dried tomatoes with regular organic mayo.  Reeeeally good!

I used small slate "trays" to write down the name of the dishes.  The Buffalo-style chicken meatballs, paired with a gorgonzola-sour cream dip sauce were a favorite of the crowd!
  I made "tasting place mats" with black & white dots and stripes border.

Now, the main star of the night - the beer.  We went to our local BevMo store and I felt like a kid in a candy store!  We got some of our mainstays, new takes on old favorites and some curious ones (for us), like the Kenyan "Tusker" and the Tahitian "Hinano".   

These were our "dark" selections - American strong ale, red ale, double bock, dunkelweizen, IPA and a smoked porter.

And the "light" ones - a couple of Belgian strong pale ales, lagers, a hefeweizen (wheat), and a quadrupel (actually misplaced here, it should be in the "dark" bucket.) If you want to know more about each one of these beers, go to the Beer Advocate website. They have this great feature where you type the name of the beer and they give you a short "bio", scores and reviews on it.
Perfectly cold beer (or, as we say in my native Brasil, estupidamente gelada) arranged in separate beverage tubs according to their hues.  Head over to the previous post for more on that.

Since I was clearly on a chalkboard mode, I wanted to have that same effect on the main table.  After a little research, I found this chalkboard oilcloth/fabric from Vogue Fabrics and just had to have it!  You write (and erase) on it just like you would on a chalkboard.  Great for keeping "scores", writing down the foods' names, messages, doodling... my oldest kid loved it too!

Empty bottles... happy guests :-)
As a "party favor", I had a bowl holding bottle opener "rings" for guests to use during the tasting and to take home with them (see detailed picture.)
I displayed the beer bottle caps I had in glass containers, and that also served as a place for guests to drop in their caps as well.
I wanted to bring our dartboard from the storage unit for that "pub feeling", but we simply couldn't find it and gave up.  Then I found an inexpensive toy magnetic dartboard (think clearance from TJ Maxx) that the kids loved to play with.  It kind of made them part of the event as well - they even had their own "beer": I bought some root beer for the first time, but no one could drink it, it was so nasty!!  To me it tasted like bad, bad, bad cough syrup!!
The tasting glasses "labeled" with black contact paper and a condiment cup full of chalk for guests to mark their own glasses.

I made whole wheat soft pretzels (with the help of my favorite sous chef, my hands all over hands-on son) and wanted to display them in a novel way, but didn't know how... I went through my kitchen cupboards, bedroom closets, bathroom (I look everywhere for inspiration!) and finally found the perfect "pretzel holders": my two espresso cup holders. It looked so cute not only holding the pretzels, but also the cheesy beer dip I made and placed where the saucers would be.  So proud!
Scroll down to the end of this post for the pretzel recipe!
We had seven different varieties of mustard, plus horseradish sauce and a smokey jalapeño pepper jelly for topping the pretzels (in case someone wanted something besides the beer-cheese sauce.)

This was fun and easy (although messy - I recommend using a pipping bag) to make.  The Mexican-style 7-layer dip consists of layers of refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, smoked tomato salsa, roasted corn & mango salsa and a blend of Mexican cheeses. To top it all of, fresh tomatoes and antioxidant-rich blue corn tortilla chips. In the center of the tray, I "sprinkled" some multi grain chips as well, for color contrast.

Gorgonzola, roasted pears & honey-glazed walnuts in a phyllo shell
I borrowed this chalkboard from my son's bedroom (which was originally mine anyway...) and used it as a "scoreboard".  I gathered a few plain magnets, and as we opened each beer, we would stick the bottle cap on a magnet and give it a 0-10 score.  Because the caps are made of metal, no glue was necessary to guarantee they would stay in place.  Notice that the root beer got all zeros?
We had a blast and are already thinking of a new tasting party...  Perhaps wine, sake, cachaça, cocktails?

Cheers to you all!!

whole wheat soft pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm water (100-115ºF)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar (or honey)
2 tsp salt
4 cups white whole wheat flour
8-10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
pretzel salt (or coarse salt)
1 large egg + 1 tbsp water OR 4 tbsp melted butter

Attach the dough hook to your stand mixer.  In the mixing bowl, combine warm water,  sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.  Add the flour and run the mixer on low-medium speed kneading the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl (forms a ball around the hook.) If needed, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until the dough feels smooth.  Otherwise, just coat the sides of the bowl with oil and put the dough back in it.  Cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line two baking sheets with a silpat or spray with oil and set aside.  

Punch dough down to remove bubbles and transfer it back to working area.  Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each one into a 24-inch strip and twist to form a pretzel shape (I promise to come back and add step-by-step pictures next time I make pretzels!)  Place the pretzels on prepared baking sheet and leave it at room temperature for another rise, about 15-30 minutes.

Pour the water into a large and shallow pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the baking soda and dip one pretzel at a time, for 30 seconds, then transfer them back to the baking sheets using a slotted spatula.  

Now you will have two options for "glazing" the pretzels: you can use an egg wash (beat egg + water), to brush the pretzels and then sprinkle the salt.  Or, you can bake them first, then brush on the melted butter and top with the salt.  

Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Serve them with melted butter, dijon or grain (à l'ancienne) mustard, beer-cheese sauce or anyway you like it!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Beer Tasting Party Prep

Ok, done with kids parties for now.  It is time for some adult fun :-) So... we are having some friends over for a "Beer Tasting Party".  Just what mom and dad need...
Inspired by these food safe newspaper-like basket liners from World Market, I am decorating the buffet and main table all in black & white.

Used (and clean) beer bottles will serve as "vases" for some wheat sprigs "flowers".  I already had the sprigs from my Cheese & Wine birthday party years ago, and the beer bottles?  Well, those were really easy to collect...

I am so loving this chalkboard-like Con-tact paper!!  I used my "fancy square" paper punch to cut labels for the tasting glasses and the beverage tubs.  On the glasses I plan to write down each guests' initials or assigned numbers so we always know where our glasses are and whom they belong to.  
On the beverage tubs, the idea is to have one bucket filled with LIGHT-colored beers (such as pilsner, wheat, lager, pale/white/Belgian-style ale); and another one with DARK ones (amber/brown ales, IPA, dubbel, dunkelweisen, stouts, porters...) 

I made some "chalkboard" coasters as well, which are pretty straight-forward, but here's a DIY step-by-step just in case :-)
To make the numbered chalk paper coasters:

1. Find some coasters, ideally free :-) You can just ask your friendly bartender for some. I couldn't bear to part with my modest "collection" of beer coasters pinned through the years and different countries, so I was really glad I found these at my local Ross store, for $2 or so.
2. Stick it to black "chalkboard" adhesive paper (Amazon sells them, or try your local Target or craft store.)
3. Cut around it and repeat with the back side.
4. Now write or draw whatever you please!

To find out how the beer tasting turned out, head over to the next post here.
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