This past weekend I hosted another party about beer. This time the theme was 22-ounce bottles of beer. (Yes, I decided that can be a party theme. Hear me out.)
You know when you go to a restaurant that has a lot of craft beer and you start reading through the list and you want to try a bunch of them but realize that they’re all sold in the big bottles so you could barely commit to finishing one let alone trying more than one of them – partially because of the volume of liquid in the bottle and partially because the level of alcohol is usually higher in the big bottles beers. Well this party was designed to help with that.
I asked everybody to bring a 22-ounce bottle of beer that they wanted to try and decided that we would all share them. That way you could try a bunch of high-quality beers in one night at a minimal cost with minimal damage to your liver. (See, I told you it could totally be a party theme.)
This party was a little bit different than most for me. I’ve been looking at and reading many different sources of party inspiration recently. I’ve been pinning up a storm, recently just bought the book Great Get-Togethers by Anna and Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute, and have been talking to a handful of friends about parties that they want to host. So my brain has been spinning out of control with party ideas. I decided this was going to be the party I implemented all of my new ideas at. And you know what? It kind of made me feel like a brand new party hostess again. I was anxious/nervous/excited before the party started, and when everybody left I found myself with a decent-sized list of “I would totally do this differently next time” items. First, let me set the scene.
Sending the Invitations
I sent the invitations for this party two months ahead of time because my schedule was filling out quickly, so I had a feeling other people’s schedules would be filling up quickly as well. Evite has been my go-to way to send invitations recently. I’ve found it has the most successful response rate because it goes to everyone’s inboxes. I also like that it makes it very easy for guests to see who was invited to the party. I set the party start time to 7:00pm hoping that people would realize that they should eat dinner beforehand and made sure to include on the Evite that everybody should bring a 22-ounce beer for the party.
Making the Guest List
Usually when I get inspired to throw a party there is a specific set of people in my brain that I am already thinking about inviting. When I have tea parties I tend to think of the bloggers. When I have alcohol parties I tend to think of the folks I went to college with. I usually invite the core group I was thinking at the time that I sent the party list, plus a few folks from different groups that I think would get along well with them.
I set the party start time to 7:00pm and I invited 40 people. I usually invite 40 people to my parties. What usually happens is that I invite 40 people, 16 say yes, and the day of the event 10 show up. Well, it went a little bit differently this time. I invited 40 people, 18 said yes, and 15 showed up. That’s five extra people in my little row house. I was nervous. Especially because we just recently moved the futon from the first floor to the second floor as a guest bed so my living room only had one small love seat in it. And a dining room table right in the middle.
Preparing for the Party
The first thing I do after I invite the guests is make a list of food I want to serve. I decided to try to keep it to simple snacks to munch on for this party. I was once at a party where a friend had chili and really enjoyed that, so I added Trader Joe’s vegetarian chili to my list. I was inspired by a pin to recreate making pumpkin patch dirt for dessert (oreo crumbs, chocolate pudding, and candy corn pumpkins). I decided instead of pretzels this time to make corn muffins as my main carbohydrate to absorb the alcohol. Then I filled in the remainder of the food with cheeses, raw vegetables and hummus, brownies, and berries.
Once I had my menu, I went shopping a week beforehand for 95% of the groceries leaving fresh flowers and berries for later in the week closer to the party. I bought ice immediately before the party started.
The first issue I needed to deal with was the fact that I would have more people in my house than I’ve ever had before. I decided it was about time to buy some folding chairs. I purchased four, all of which we used throughout the course of the night, so that was a good decision. In addition, I decided I should make the back patio presentable in case the house got too crowded. We never actually ended up using this space.
I also made a party preparations list that was sorted by room. This is the first time I have ever done it this way and I really liked it. It looked a little bit like this:
- Outside Front: Sweep front steps, Turn lights on
- Back Patio: Weed, Sweep, Turn lights on
- Living Room: Set buffet, Create a table centerpiece, Flowers, Set out cups and markers, Set out ice bin and water, Turn on music
- Kitchen: Clean, Set out ice bin and water
- Guest Room: Use as coat room, Turn lights on
- Bathroom: Clean, Light a candle before the party
This was an incredibly useful list to have. It helped me to realize things earlier than I normally would during the week; for example, I remembered that the front porch light had recently gone out so I needed to find a new bulb before the party. Also, it was super useful to have this list the hour before the party started because most of these things were things that needed to be done in the last little bit of time.
I also divided the food into four categories that arranged it by room, what needed to be done ahead of time, and what I needed specific servingware for.
- Living Room: Cheese, crackers, carrots, hummus, snap peas, candy
- Kitchen: Chili, dirt, berries, corn muffins, chips, salsa, hide beer I don’t want being drank
- Make the night before: Oreo crumbs, pudding, corn muffins
- Serving: Cups, dirt bowls, chili bowls, appetizer dishes, napkins
This was also an incredibly useful list. That said, I bought cookies that never actually made it onto the list so I didn’t remember to put them out. We also bought some extra beer because we were worried that 22 oz. per person wasn’t going to be enough. (Because remember, if everybody brings 22 oz. of beer and you split it evenly that means everybody leaves having had 22 oz. of beer.)
Kicking Off the Party
As the guests started to arrive I told them they could put their coats upstairs and offered them a beverage. Around 7:30 most of the guests had arrived and I interrupted everyone to explain how the evening was going to go down. This is something that you will pretty much always see me do at my parties. I think that it sets the stage to let everybody know what to expect and also gives you the chance to point out important things to everybody.
During my introduction I explained that there was food both upstairs and downstairs and downstairs guests could find ingredients to make their own dirt (I figured they’d be confused if they just saw all the ingredients, I know I would have), I told them there was chili downstairs, and I told them that the plan was for each of us to try all of the beers. I then reminded them that that meant that everybody should only pour about 1-1.5 oz. of each beer in their tasting cup.
Then we did an icebreaker. Everybody went around, said their name, how they knew me, and what the biggest lie they told as a child was. We got the inspiration for this question from a Table Topics game that I opened and put on the table right as the first people were walking in. A friend pointed out to me that since my parties are usually activity-based it’s always good for people to know everyone’s names before the party starts.
We kicked off the evening with Pliny the Elder, which was given to us by our Napa tour guide the week prior after we told him about the party. This was a beer that beer connoisseurs love that’s hard to get on the east coast because they only sell it in bottles from the brewery (which is in northern California). So it was awesome to get to start off with this one. We cheers-ed to our tour guide, Doug and the evening began.
What I Thought Was Going To Happen vs. What Happened
Here’s what I thought was going to happen. I thought that I was going to split all of the beer between an ice bin in the living room and an ice bin in the kitchen (which are on two different floors) and that was going to keep the circulation of the party moving. What actually happened was that everybody made themselves comfortable in the living room and we just passed the beer around and each poured it into our own glasses with the exception of three folks who setup shop for the evening in the kitchen. In fairness, there weren’t any more seats in the living room. Which was okay. It didn’t make for quite the mix and mingle atmosphere that I had hoped for, but considering that the purpose of the party was to drink beer, that was probably a mission accomplished.
Also, I was originally going to try to get the names of the beer from everyone beforehand so that I could make up tasting cards for everybody, but I realized about a week out that there was no way I was going to get this information ahead of time, which I realized was fine. However, a suggestion was made during the party to turn one of the walls in my living room into a chalkboard wall so that we could write important party facts and voting right on the wall. I think this is brilliant and I really hope we can make it happen soon.
What I Would Do Again
- I thought it worked out really nicely not having a specific type of beer that everyone was supposed to bring. It left us with a good variety. When we started tasting, somehow we ended up having the strongest, darkest beers last, which was a bit much for the end of the night. That said, if we had had them earlier in the night, we may not have appreciated the flavor of the lighter beers. So I’m not actually sure what the best way to facilitate this would be going forward. It might actually be to have less overall beers, but what fun would that be?
- I really liked having a designated coat room with the lights on. I think it was good to have that set apart from where everybody was hanging out – mostly because there actually wasn’t any room in my living room for the coats.
- I really liked having the candle lit in the bathroom. Yes, it helps to make it smell nice, but there were also way fewer “where’s the light in the bathroom” questions yelled down the stairs because people were at least able to see a little bit.
- Having music on in the background was really nice too. It made it seem like more of a party atmosphere. I didn’t have time to curate a playlist beforehand, but whatever Pandora playlist Ben chose worked out pretty well.
- I put out small quantities of some of the food and just kept refilling the plates. This worked really well for me because I could use smaller serving dishes and keep the rest of the food in my not-as-pretty storage containers in the kitchen. This worked great with crackers, brownies, and corn muffins.
- Keeping the pitcher of water out and on the table was a solid choice. It kept people hydrated during the party.
- Having the extra folding chairs was great. I love that they’re easy to move and that they pull up to the table nicely. This was a solid long-term investment.
- I would absolutely consider just putting all the beer in the fridge to not need to deal with the ice bins. We only opened one at a time anyway. I could have kept it way less complicated.
What I Would Do Differently Next Time
- I would buy 3 cheeses for 15 people instead of 2 cheeses. I figured since the focus wasn’t cheese that we didn’t need that much of it. False. I should have had 3.
- This next one was poor form for an Italian. I only bought 5 cans of chili from Trader Joe’s, which was essentially 10 servings. I was originally thinking that chili would just be something that some people would want on the side. We actually ran out of this. In the future I would have definitely just gotten 10 cans and assumed that I would eat whatever didn’t get eaten for lunch during the week. That said, I ran out of food and the world didn’t end, so that was at least good to confirm.
- I tried to be fancy and make corn muffins instead of buying my usual pretzels, but at the end of the day I think the pretzels absorb the beer better. Plus, I think they pair with beer a little bit better.
- I would put the flowers in a different location. Before everybody got there I worked hard to set flowers all around the house and made a nice centerpiece in the middle of the table. However, almost immediately after the beer was broken out we moved all of the stuff off of the middle of the table to replace it with food. I’m not exactly sure where I would move the flowers to, but in the middle of the table didn’t end up being practical at all. People like food way better than flowers. (Understandable.)
- I would open the windows with the screens instead of open the door for air. This is probably obvious to people, but I kind of forgot I had windows. The amount of bug bites I now have is actually ridiculous.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, here’s all of the beers we tried in order:
Hosting Your Own Party
- Create an attending party guest list of 10-15 people. Any more than that and it’s an oddly small amount of alcohol to try. Any less than that and it’s not allll that many beers to try.
- Have everybody post what beers they get so there aren’t any duplicates.
- Find a quick and cheap dinner that you can make in a crock pot to serve.
- Set your attendees up for success: get carbohydrate-y food and put out water pitchers.
- Put out enough snacks to keep people well fed. Buy things that when you’re left with them you like the leftovers.
- Lay out the rules for the games right at the beginning and everybody will get involved.
- Come up with an icebreaker came right a the beginning so everybody will learn each other’s names.
All in all, the party was a lot of fun. It was great to try new beers that I normally wouldn’t get to try. It was really fun to watch people meet new people. And everyone said that they had a great time. So that was cool. Mission accomplished.
Do you have any favorite 22 oz. beers? Have you ever hosted a party like this? I’d love to hear what you think or any new ideas!