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Tasting menus stretch party budgets

With Independence Day just around the corner, summer is in full swing and it’s party time. Here’s an easy strategy to host a grand party without a grand budget: Throw a tasting party.

Doesn’t everyone enjoy sampling food and drink? It gives people a chance to interact, share and find new favorites. The concept is basic and versatile. Offer a selection food or drinks within a theme and let people enjoy tasting them side by side. The money savings come from inviting your guests to contribute to the party by bringing food and drink to share.

The most popular tastings involve wine and food pairings. If your crowd doesn’t imbibe you can opt for tastings of artisanal sodas or a choose a food for tasting. Some ideas would be cheeses, hot sauce, salsa, chili or chocolate. Recently, I attended a kombucha tasting party that was a hoot.

Send invitations letting people know the theme of the party and be specific about what you want them to bring. People love to help with parties, so don’t be shy.

I’m going to focus on the current hot trend in tasting parties: beer and food pairing. With the national explosion of craft breweries, beer has become comparable to wine in its variety, complexity and ability to pair with food.

Let’s break this party plan down.

The drinks: Ask each friend or couple to bring a six pack of their favorite beer and a snack to share. You may wish to narrow the field to a specific kind of beer (like stout) or specify a region (like Belgian beers). Alternatively, do blind tastings to see who can identify the variety of beer or identify and compare individual elements within beers like hops, barley, yeast or malt.

The supplies: You’ll need a large cooler or container filled with ice and a bunch of small glasses for tasting; juice glasses are great and they’re cheap at thrift stores. You could provide print outs for tasting notes depending how serious the “foodies” are in your crowd.

The food: Beer is enormously food-friendly, so you have many options. A selection of salty, crunchy snacks like pretzels, chips and nuts is perfect. Pub grub like burgers, pizza, sliders, wings, sausage and peppers are crowd pleasers.

For more specific tastings, here are some varietals and suggested pairings.

Lagers: The most popular domestic style, crisp and refreshing, pair with brie or mozzarella cheese, spicy food, seafood, grilled chicken, Asian food, burgers and salads.

Wheat beers: Brewed with wheat and barley, often with citrus or fruit added, smooth and light, these pair with chevre and Swiss cheese, soup and salad, sushi, chicken wings, citrus and fruity desserts.

India pale ales (IPAs): The most popular craft variety, with a strong (sometimes bitter) hops flavor, pair well with blue cheese, barbecue, steak, Mexican food, fried foods and caramel apples.

Amber/red ales: With strong flavors of malt or toasted malt and a dry and crisp finish, pair with Port-Salut or other tangy cheese, grilled chicken, pizza, fried food, smoked pork, sausage and apple tarts.

Porters: Made with roasted brown malts giving the beer strong notes of chocolate, caramel and coffee, pair with Gruyère cheese, smoked meats, game meats, chili, coffee-flavored desserts and chocolate.

Stouts: With black color and roasted flavor with hints of chocolate and coffee and silky-smooth texture, pair with aged cheddar, roast meats, barbecue, Mexican mole and chocolate desserts.

The moral of this party is, as with any tastings or pairings, the only opinion that matters is your own. There is no right or wrong. We’re all different, so eat and drink what tastes good to you. Then share.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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