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Here I am: a relatively secure, educated, grown man, heading into a low-key bottle share with a few other friendly, beer-loving adults -- and yet, somehow, I feel like I’m walking into my junior high homecoming dance. “What if no one likes me?” is an actual thought that tugs at my ego more than once.
Invited by my chef friend and Cicerone extraordinaire Jensen Cummings, I’ve been tasked with bringing a sour beer. While I feel good about my selections (three Brett beers that include Devils Backbone / Parkway Brewing Sixth Circle Sour IPA and a SweetWater 20th Anniversary imperial IPA), all I can do is second guess myself. What if the room is filled with stuck-up beer snobs who’ll judge me for the beer I’ve brought? What if I don’t know enough about beer? What if they douse me with pig’s blood??
As it turns out, the event I’m describing ended up being an absolute blast -- and I didn’t even have to awkwardly slow dance with anyone to “My Heart Will Go On.” Most importantly, I got to try a ton of beers I never would’ve normally been able to acquire on my own! But there are a few things I wish I would’ve known before I’d gone, and I also got some solid advice from some “share vets.” (Pretty sure that’s not an actual term...but sounds like it should be.)
Here’s what I learned from attending my first bottle share.
DO bring unique beer
“The stranger the better!” says John Little, a chef. “If it’s a bottle share for one style of beer, bring something unique and memorable. Like, we have a sour share tonight, and everyone brought Brett beers. That’s fine, but you have to think through what other people might drink and program around that.” Yeah...about those three Brett beers I brought.... Oops. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
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DON’T show up hungry
This meetup was scheduled for 6pm. I thought that instead of eating dinner before, I'd fill up after -- and what a dumb-dumb I was for thinking that. There were snacks, including some Korean BBQ pork bites -- but I’m trying to eat more veggies lately, so I passed. Even if I had indulged, there wasn’t enough to constitute a full meal, so definitely put some food in your stomach beforehand. Any decent bottle share is going to have a serious selection of beers, and you’re going to be drinking quite a bit.
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DO be friendly
Unless you’re hosting a share with a group of your close friends, chances are you’re not going to know everyone in attendance. But there’s also a good chance that everyone you meet will be a beer nerd. Introduce yourself! Maybe you’ll meet your next best friend. Or your next sworn enemy! Part of the excitement is figuring out who will become who...
DON’T be intimidated...
My bottle share was filled with chefs, beer industry folks, and homebrewers -- most of whom knew more about food (and beer!) than I did. It was a good lesson in learning to keep my ears open and my lips zipped. “Listen to the knowledgeable people around you and try to latch on to whatever intelligence they’re dropping,” said Brandon Jacobs, a brewing manager at Great Divide Brewing Co. I did manage to say something not-stupid when people were having a hard time recalling where The Alchemist was located. Duh...it’s Stowe, VT. DUH! (Good thing I’d happened, by chance, to look up that info an hour prior to the party...)
...but DO chime in!
Hopefully you’re not at a party with a bunch of douches who’ll look down on you for not being a beer supernerd. While my palate isn’t nearly as developed as those of the chefs in attendance, I was proud of myself for commenting, “I hate the term ‘horse blanket’ to describe a farmhouse beer, but this really smells like a horse blanket.” There: I set the bar super low for you. Now you can go to a bottle share and feel good about saying practically anything!
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DON’T be cheap
“Bring a nice bottle!” says chef Darian Maclin. “The whole point of shares is to [enjoy] pricey bottles with a lot of people. It gives everyone a chance to taste beer they’ve never had, or maybe never will.” He’s right. If you bring something super cheap, you might feel horrible when your friends crack open a rare bottle that they’ve been cellaring for 10 years.
DO bring something you’re excited to drink
Considering the fact that I was at a bottle share in Denver, it was probably a little tougher than usual to impress those nerdy, nerdy beer nerds. “I’m almost a little worried my bottles weren’t as cool as everyone else’s here,” says John Giarratano, who runs Denver yeast lab Inland Island Yeast. “But I’ve been sitting on a couple of bottles from customers who aged their barrels at my facility. I was excited to drink them.” Giarratano ultimately offers up a great point: bring something you’re stoked to drink! If you get excited about it, others will likely follow suit.
DO drink slowly
“People typically bring a lot of extra beers to a bottle share,” says Arianne Clark, a seasoned homebrewer. “So pace yourself!” A bottle share isn’t a beer pong tournament. Enjoy the beer! Talk about it! Think about how much more fun this is than all those dances you went to by yourself in junior high! You’ll do just fine.
Note: Devils Backbone is a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.