Hot on the heels of last month’s Great American Beer Festival, beer festival season is officially underway! Fall and winter is when styles start to get really interesting — sure that raspberry hefeweizen was damn refreshing, but have you tried a cherry stout? Delicious! Two great ways to try a variety of beer styles is by going to a beer festival or staying home and doing a bottle share with friends.

Festival-wise there are some good ones coming up, like Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Festival taking place in Boston, MA in March 2014. It'll be an awesome opportunity to taste some really rare beers in one setting. Festivals happen all the time, and sites like Beer Menus and Brew York are a huge help in locating exactly what beer or event you’re looking for when you’re looking for it.

If you’re deterred by the weather or your wallet from hitting a bar or festival but still want to taste a wealth of delicious beers, get your friends together for a bottle share so you can split the cost and try a ton of great stuff. If you are doing a bottle share, as I like to do weekly with my friends, there are some crucial things to know:

Save the hops for later
Even experts are convinced that light to dark is how you should drink beer during a tasting. That’s simply not true: it’s more about understanding the hop, alcohol and acidity in each variety. Look at sites like Beer Advocate, Rate Beer or breweries' websites to get an idea of what characteristics you'll be looking for. A lighter-colored, hoppier beer may seem less daunting but it will completely destroy your palate. 

Higher-ABV beer needs time to sit
Chances are, a bar or festival won’t have temperature-controlled lines (unless you’re at Tørst!) In that case, you’ll want to drink stouts or barleywines at about 55 degrees or warmer, which means they need time to warm up. Order them first so you can fully enjoy their complex malt flavor — it’s worth the wait!

Cleanse your palate!
As a rule, you should cleanse your palate between beers, but it’s even more important when the beers are so radically different. Think about switching from a sour to an IPA. Gross. Have a salty snack and grab some water. If you’re at a beer festival, make sure you rinse your glass before your next pour.

Eat before you drink
Eating something simple like pretzels or crackers during a tasting is a good palate cleanser, but that’s no excuse to bypass a meal beforehand. Load up on carbs an hour or two before you start drinking so there’s something in your stomach to absorb the alcohol. While this should be straightforward advice, there’s always someone who forgets and winds up on the floor at 6 p.m. — not a good look.

Pace yourself!
If you are doing a vertical tasting of 10% stouts, do not try to chug all the tasting glasses at once. You will get smashed very easily. Attack them with small sips and have a little water in between varieties to refresh the palate and hydrate. Now you're tasting like a pro.

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