Beer has always been a beverage best enjoyed in the company of others. It helps spark conversation and has the potential to bring people together and form new friendship. A festival or an event at a bar can be some of the few places where complete strangers interact and get along as if they've known each other for years. The reason, the social lubricant known as beer. At that point in time you have at least one thing in common with everyone else in attendance. You have a beer in your hand, and you are enjoying it.
The sense of community in craft beer is very strong. It is an industry and community built on knowledge sharing and, of course, sharing beer. One of the best illustrations of this community is a bottle share. This is an event where beer geeks and enthusiasts get together, open bottles, and share the awesomeness inside.
The idea of the bottle share has taken on a life of it's own. What might have started with two friends splitting a couple of bottles on a given night has grown into events of varying sizes. Kitchens, garages, bars, festivals and even waiting in line are all prime spots to partake.
Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds is a festival marked for the release of the beer that brings out thousands of people. At the core of the festival (other than metal music) is bottle sharing. People stake claim to picnic tables within the main tents and grounds, while others pitch canopies and small camps outside of the gates and open up some rarities and unique finds. The festival is a good time on it's own, but it would only be a fraction of what it is without the tasting.
IT'S ALL ABOUT LEARNING AND TRYING SOMETHING NEW
Bottle shares can expand your knowledge of beer as well as open avenues for you to try some beers you may otherwise never be able to. Each attendee has their travel schedule and network. Certain bottles are acquired while visiting parts of the country and others are done through trade. Everyone has access to something different from one another and it makes more a wonderful selection of bottles being opened.
Unless there is a defined theme for the event (stouts, Belgians, IPAs, dark beers, etc.) each beer opened will be different, so you are guaranteed to have a wide variety of styles and iterations of beers. The person bringing the beer will probably have a few nuggets of information about the beer and could tell you a little bit about it. Even the most seasoned of beer geeks have room to learn something new.
EVERYONE IS WELCOME
The idea of a bottle share can be a little intimidating to someone new to the scene. The thought of sitting down with a bunch of complete strangers and having very little knowledge of what is going on can be scary, but there is really no reason to be afraid. Since it is such a strong community, new faces are always welcome and most seasoned beer vets enjoy the opportunity to grow the craft beer love with new people. Asking questions about styles, specific beers, breweries, or whatever comes to mind are just ways of starting a conversation. You will take in a fair amount of knowledge and feel far more encouraged when it's all over.
One thing to remember is that there is no wrong way to taste a beer. You might not be able to pick up, or be able to describe, certain flavors or nuances. You may have no background knowledge on how certain hops taste or what a good example of a specific beer style is, but that is ok. The cool thing about a tasting such as this is that everyone has a different perspective and taste so you will get a lot of discussion from everyone on what they pick up from a certain beer.
ATTEND A BOTTLE SHARE
Putting together a bottle share can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it. Sometimes it is literally just a few people getting together and bringing some beer and congregating around a table. Other times the host may have a spread of cheeses, meats, chocolate and crackers to pair, water pitchers for rinsing, and preset tasting glasses. No matter what the setup, there are no requirements (other than the beer) and the fundamentals are the same. As long as you have a location, a few people, and some bottles of beer, you will be set.
If you're planning to attend a bottle share and aren't sure how they work, here are a few things to keep in mind.
TAKE GOOD BEER - Any beer is welcomed, by Steel Reserve, Colt 45 and stuff you need to drink out of a brown paper bag aren't candidates for this specific occasion. Some attendees will have beers from their cellar and could be very old or very rare. Bringing something old as dirt or rarer than a unicorn isn't mandatory, so if you don't have a cellar or special bottles, no worries. Grab something from your local store that you feel is special and bring it along with you. Just avoid something that costs $11 for a 30 pack and you should be good.
BRING ENOUGH BEER, BUT NOT TOO MUCH - If you can get a feel for the size of the crowd, plan for everyone to get about 2-3 ounces of beer. Usually a large format bottle (22oz or 750ml) will do fine. Do NOT show up with a full cooler of beer or your entire collection. You don't need that much and there will be plenty of other opportunities to bring other bottles.
IF IT'S ON THE TABLE, IT'S FAIR GAME - Don't bring beer that you really don't want to open. If you bring it out and put it on the table with the rest of the offerings, expect it to be opened. People who bring the beer are generally the one who opens it, otherwise someone else may ask to open it before proceeding. Some bottle shares have a host that leads the tasting and opens each bottle, otherwise you can just play it safe and only open the bottles you bring.
HAVE AN OPINION, BUT DON'T BE AN ASS - Some beers have been aged and may be past their prime. Some might be infected. Others you might not like the taste of them. No matter what it is, don't be outward with anything insulting or degrading to what you are drinking until others have weighed in, especially the person who brought it. In some instances, people will bring out bottles of home-brew and if you shoot your mouth off, you may hurt someone's feelings. Home brewers like feedback, especially real constructive feedback, so don't lie and say it's great just for the sake of it, but voice your opinion with tact.
TRY TO BE ON TIME - Everyone's schedules are different. Depending on what time the share starts, people might be getting off of work or have some sort of hang up at home. Being punctual is more in your favor because you can't expect people to wait to open something special or you might miss something fantastic and be lost on parts of the conversation later in the evening. This usually isn't a big deal, but if the tasting is a planned out event with a certain theme, you might be getting only half the story if you show up 45 minutes in.
BE MINDFUL WITH YOUR POUR - Save some for others. Gauge how many people are in attendance to the size of the bottle, take your 2-3 ounces and leave the rest. Don't over pour yourself, and don't take the last several ounces of a bottle unless you ask if everyone if everyone is done with it or wants some more.
YOUR BOTTLE MIGHT NOT GET OPENED - This isn't a knock to your choice or pick of beer. There are usually more bottles than needed brought to a bottle share and sometimes you can't make it through all of them. If 10 people attend and each bring a few bottles, that's over 20 bottles of beer and drinking through all of them can be difficult. If yours doesn't get opened, no worries. Bring it next time, or consider leaving it for the host.