Life is full of special events — weddings, reunions, holidays, birthdays, etc. And what goes better with a celebration than beer? At some point, you will probably want to serve your homebrew at a special function. This can be a very rewarding experience or it can be a disaster. Here are some tips to guide you towards the former.
Is It Feasible?
You should first determine if serving homebrew at the event is even possible. In the United States, homebrewing is now legal in all 50 states. However, laws regarding transporting and serving homebrew away from the home differ among the states. Start by checking on the legality, then move on to planning.
If the event is being held in a commercial venue, or catered by a business, check to see if you can bring alcohol to the event. The alcohol licenses for some venues do not allow people to bring in outside alcohol. And even if they could, most businesses won’t want to lose revenue in alcohol sales to someone giving away beer. They may want to charge corkage fees for serving your brew. You’ll save yourself a headache if you confirm with both the venue and the host that you plan on bringing beer to the event, and work out any wrinkles ahead of time.
If you can’t bring beer to the event, you may be able to create your own side event. Due to the liquor license at the site, I wasn’t able to serve homebrew at my wedding — but I did serve it at a dinner for friends and family the night before.
If you can legally bring beer and have the blessings of everyone involved, give the guests of honor the added gift of being self-reliant. Show up with everything you need and get set up in a way that doesn’t interfere with the host’s preparations or work of the event staff. Don’t expect, for example, that there will be lots of ice at your disposal. Bring everything you need to serve your beer unless you have made prior arrangements with the hosts or event coordinator. Also, depending on how elaborate the function is, you may also need to discuss where you will set up and serve from before hand.
If you’re planning on keeping the beer cold with ice, keep the length of the event and the ambient temperature in mind. More often than not, people underestimate the amount of ice they’ll need. You’ll help yourself out immensely if the beer is as cold as possible when you arrive at the event. It’s also a good thing to take note of the nearest store that sells ice, and when they close.
Serving homebrew at a party can be as simple as bringing a cooler full of bottles and opening it up. If the beer is bottle conditioned, expect to spend a lot of time explaining the need to pour it into a glass. However, you can also serve kegged beer through a jockey box or bring chilled kegs and serve at a portable bar. If you’re serving kegged beer, make sure your CO2 tank is full or you have a spare on hand. Also, bring whatever wrenches or other tools you’ll need to set up, swap tanks and maintain your dispensing setup.
As a courtesy to the guests, label your beers with their estimated alcohol content.
When deciding what types of beer to bring, there are a number of considerations. Of course, if the guests of honor have a preference, it would be nice to brew something they would enjoy. You’ll also likely brew a different set of beers depending on whether the crowd is expected to be craft beer savvy or not. You might also choose a different lineup of beers if the event is held at a ski lodge in the middle of winter compared to out in a field in Texas under the hot summer sun.
If you expect a high percentage of people who are not knowledgeable about craft beer, there may be a temptation to brew a “crowd-pleaser” — frequently a cream ale or helles or something else seen as a substitute for fizzy yellow lagers. My advice would be to avoid this temptation unless you enjoy this kind of beer and are accomplished at brewing it. In my opinion, you’re much better off brewing something you’re good at, especially if fizzy yellow lagers are also being served at the event. If part of the reason for bringing your beer is to turn people on to homebrew or craft beer, put your best foot forward and brew beers that you have brewed multiple times, tweaked and consistently turn out well. (If you were a baker trying to interest people in artisanal bread, and you made a killer rye bread, you wouldn’t try a stab in the dark at baking a Wonder Bread clone, would you?)
As with anything, you’ll get better at this with practice. The second time you bring beer to a special event, you’ll have the experiences from the first time around to guide you. If it’s your first time around, you can help yourself out by trying a “dry run” before the event, even if it’s only setting up your jockey box in your garage and noting everything to need to set up and serve a few pints. Also, if you’re a first timer, consider the scale of your plans. The more elaborate they are, the less time you’ll have to enjoy the event itself.