Learn From Louise
You don't have to spend a lot for excellent quality. I typically won't include wines that cost more than $30 per bottle or beers that run more than $12 per six-pack in my events.
• I try to buy local wine and beer. They're an eco-friendly choice, and they complement regional cuisine quite nicely.
To truly theme an event to wine or beer, hold it in a winery or brew pub. Today, wineries can be found in both city and country settings, while beer venues can be found in most urban landscapes. Many will let attendees tour their bottling facilities and will even custom-label bottles for your group.
Wine and beer can add to the vibrancy, interactivity and flavor of any gathering. Planners can serve either or both to enhance menu selections, or even make them the focus of a tasting event. Following are tips for making the most of varietals and brews at meals and receptions.
Traditionally, beer has been served at casual events, picnics and barbecues, and wine at more formal events. Today, F&B pros are eschewing these old stereotypes by mixing things up with unexpected and delicious pairings. For example, wine can be an extremely gratifying match for grilled cheese, hamburgers and other grilled meats. Similarly, specialty beer can be served with a haute cuisine dinner, with a different brew to enhance each course.
Following are some general rules for pairing wine and/or beer with food.
• Salty foods. In this case, beer is almost always a better choice than wine.
• Sushi. Foods with dominant soy flavoring go better with beer.
• Meats and poultry. Steak, lamb and duck are complemented by wine, particularly reds.
• Spicy foods. Indian, Thai and Mexican foods pair well with both sweeter beers such as Belgian white and wines such as Rieslings.
• Desserts. Dessert wines like Port pair well with most sweets, but surprisingly, beers like sweet stout pair well with chocolate and caramel desserts.
Wine-tasting and beer-tasting events, where attendees not only imbibe but also learn about the history, variety and properties of the beverage, are a great way to engage guests. To really upgrade the event, bring in a professional to conduct the tasting. (For more advice on this, see M&C's recent checklist, "Planning a Private Wine-Tasting Event".)
For wine events, consider hiring a sommelier to serve as the master of ceremonies. To find one, check with your favorite upscale restaurant or ask a hotel contact for recommendations. Some wineries and wine companies also have sommeliers who can run tastings. For VIP events, consider bringing in a master sommelier, an expert who has received training and certification from the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers.
For beer tastings, consider working with a top beer expert; Cicerone is considered the most prestigious group that certifies such authorities.
Another option is to organize a "grape and grain" event, where a wine pro and a beer pro together lead guests through a tasting of their respective beverages with similar qualities, such as sweet, acidic, bitter, fruity. Have guests vote on their preferred wine or beer in each grouping, and then serve just the winning brew and varietal for the rest of the evening.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is an event producer and writer who specializes in strategic global event marketing. She is based in Pacifica, Calif.