If you've been reading for a while, I'm sure you've noticed by now that Matt is a big fan of craft beer. I wanted to surprise him with a beer tasting at home, so after a little research I found Mike from New Jersey Craft Beer, and he was more than happy to come host the event for us. Matt was so surprised when he came home to this!
I had originally set everything up outside, but just before the guests arrived it started to drizzle (and then downpour), so we had to move everything inside. I was bummed because it was so picturesque outside, but what can you do. We had about 20 of Matt's beer-loving friends for the tasting, so we had just enough room to squeeze everyone into our sunroom. I also had just enough glasses for everyone; plastic will work but can alter the taste of the beer, so pint and tulip glasses are best when you're drinking good beer.
While we were waiting for Matt to arrive, people sipped on white peach and red wine apple sangria and picked out their place cards.
And once the birthday boy arrived, it was time to taste some beers! Mike and his assistant Heather poured beers for us and explained each one as we went along. They were very knowledgeable, so the tasting was both informative and a lot of fun. We had 8 beers on the tasting list, which was actually plenty since it took us about two hours to get all the way through them, and many of the beers were anywhere from 7 - 11% alcohol. Whew!
Mike's personality was really easy going and fun, which was awesome; it made for a really relaxing afternoon rather than a formal one. He was also really helpful in coming up with the beer list; I gave him some ideas and let him know the kinds of beers Matt enjoys, but he took it from there. He also had us drink the beers in a nice progression, the same way you would drink white to red in a wine tasting, which allowed us to start out easy and work our way to the stronger beers.
During the tasting I served unsalted oyster crackers and pieces of torn French bread as palate cleansers since it's important not to kill your palate with really flavorful things as you're tasting. About halfway through the tasting, though, we were all ready for a little snack and leg stretch so we took a short intermission. We gulped citrus water and nibbled on garlicky white bean dip with homemade crostini, and our friend Terry's homemade shrimp ceviche - which went unpictured because it was inhaled so fast. That stuff was amazing and so refreshing!
After a short break we resumed the tasting and finished off the list. It was a great time and we all enjoyed it - it was fun to do something a little different, and I'll definitely be staying in touch with Mike for more events like these!
The tasting took about 2 hours, and after it concluded a bunch of our other friends and family came over for an afternoon/evening BBQ. Since the tasting included quite eclectic beers, people who aren't beer fans opted to just come for the party afterward.
By this point most of us were starving, so we put out a big spread of grilled meats, grilled shrimp with pineapple salsa, penne vodka, mac & cheese, potato salad, corn, tomato & arugula salad, and a million other things. Matt's mom cooked a bunch for the party, which was a huge help! Some our friends also brought stuff to share, which was great. One of the favorite dishes I made was a Greek-style couscous salad with veggies, balsamic, feta cheese and toasted walnuts I got from Recipe.com. Everyone loved it!
For dessert, I made Matt a toasted coconut tres leches birthday cake, which also got devoured. This cake took a while to make, but everyone liked it, especially Matt, so it was worth it. I'll be sharing the recipe at some point!
I also made a S'mores Buffet with all different kinds of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows. I got the idea from Pinterest and loved it!
The party was a great time. We played horseshoes, ran around with the kiddies and built a fire for the end of the night. I love our group of friends and we always have so much fun with them. Some of our friends that we don't get to see often were also able to come even though it was a holiday weekend, so Matt was really surprised and excited to see them.
Happy birthday Matt, I love you!