I admit I wasn't aware bottle sharing was a thing until we stumbled along one at Beer:30 San Marco a while back. We were in just to drink a couple of pints when someone walked in with some bottles and shared with us.
Shortly after that, we went to a bottle release at Aardwolf and people were walking up and down the line pouring samples. It was pretty awesome and I really didn't know that was a thing then. I marveled at the array of empties that lined the front walk, many of which I didn't know or ones I knew but had never tried.
Basically, Bottle Shares are BYOB events, where you sample all the "B's" brought by others. The "B's" can be crowlers, growlers, cans, bombers or even a 4 or 6 packs. Its a great way to try something you have never had before or perhaps drink a 'vintage' you haven't had before.
Recently I attended a Birthday Party Bottle Share for John Baumeister, who runs the social media for the Jax Beer Society. He held his party at Hyperion Brewing Company. I asked him why he chose to do a bottle share.
"I found them to be good reasons to get together." he said. "During my time in the local craft beer community, I've found bottle shares to be a nice social gathering, with opportunities to meet new people, have conversation and, of course, to sample beer."
John has held two events at local beer establishments and sought approval from the owners before he sent out invitations. He adds, that he encouraged everyone to patronize the establishment. In the case of Hyperion, he purchased a Big Jim Sampler, allowing everyone to see which beer they'd like from Hyperion.
"Although your birthday is a great excuse to get some new faces in a local spot, you don't want to leave with no one having spent any money there." John said.
Bottle shares can also pop up at public events, like brewery bottle releases. Aardwolf's Sunday afternoon bottle releases. Check to see how it is running, before you do like I did and opened my bottle. There was a tent up front, where the bottles were gathered, then systematically opened and poured by "the Curvy Beer Lady".
The assortment of beer was staggering and ranged from local and statewide bottles, some fun variants we rarely get in town and some out of state breweries with interesting offerings. If you decide to show up early for the next bottle release I'd encourage you to not be stingy and bring something unusual or rare. Also make sure you bring a tasting glass! (see below for more specifics!)
With the Holidays here and parties popping up, hosting a bottle share party could be a fun way to celebrate with your craft beer friends.
So what do you need to consider as a host? I spoke with a friend, who preferred to remain anonymous. He founded one of the largest Bottle Share Clubs in town. I'm sure anyone in the craft beer community probably knows who he is, but I'll call him Bottle Share Joe for the sake of this article.
First you need to determine your theme. If you have experienced guests, suggesting a specific type of beer would make it a comparison tasting. If your guests are less experienced, you definitely need to give them a little guidance. For a holiday party, seasonal beers are the obvious choice.
"Joe" suggests trying a blind tasting, bottles are put in bags and identified only by numbers. This works particularly well if all the beer is in the same style. Then everyone samples and discusses each beer. In this case, someone will need to be in charge of opening and pouring the beer.
He says, "I think a discussion on why a person likes a particular beer can be fun, particularly if there is a willing expert to guide the conversation."
Glassware is key, small tasting glasses are the best. Most craft beer folks have a collection of tasters, like the ones you get from beer festival. Last week at the Aardwolf White Russian release, we brought our Brew at the Zoo glasses. They are plastic and we would not be upset if we lost or broke them. Small wine glasses, brandy snifters, even juice glasses will work if you'd rather not have your guests bring a taster glass with them. Most groups, like "Joe's" just bring their own tasting glass.
As a host, "Joe" suggests having bottle openers for all kinds of bottles, many of the bottles people bring for bottle shares have cork tops or wax coated bottles. He suggests having a couple of tubs or coolers with ice to store bottles.
Going with that theme of sampling, provide water for both drinking and rinsing your glass, including a dump bucket of some sort. Not everyone is going to like every bottle. There should be food as well. If you want, make it a pot luck, bring a bottle and a dish. However food is a key element, you need to provide something to put in your guests stomachs or you might have overnight guests!
"Joe" also suggests limiting the number of bottles each guest brings. Say a two bomber per person limit. In his experience, "Someone, or several, always disregard the 2 bomber limit". Having enough beer is not a problem. On that note, he advises that everyone either take an Uber or Lyft to get home or use a designated driver.
I asked him what the allure of Bottle Share parties is for him, he said, "Getting to try beers others have brought to share, often from faraway places. Hearing the stories about how they were acquired." He laughingly adds, "the comraderies of beer geeks."
So if you are a guest, what are your responsibilities?
- If it is an open share, if you didn't bring it, don't open it!
- Don't be stingy, bring something special. Local is great, especially with so many of our breweries offering special bottle releases that don't always make it on tap for long.
- Crowlers and Growlers of specialty beers are also great. Crowlers offer a much longer shelf life and at 32 ounces can supple a fairly large party.
- Speaking of size, if you are a small group, you can get by with smaller bottles or cans, but if it is a large crowd, don't show up with one 12 ounce bottle.
- HAVE FUN! Enjoy the beer and the sample. Perhaps even leave the phone in your pocket and talk with the other guests.
- If your bottle doesn't get opened, leave it for the host as a gift.
There are a lot of groups that bottle share and it is very likely that prior to one of our breweries timed bottle releases they will be lined up and sharing bottles.
Blind Rabbit Whiskey Bar at Jacksonville Beach is remodeling to add a brewery. They are remodeling in the existing space, but adding additional square footage. Keep an eye on our Facebook Page for updates.
The Brooklyn neighborhood is adding a new brewery. In early stages, the plan is to remodel the old Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Spruce Street. Plans include a restaurant and beer garden on the property. This is in the very early planning stages.
Speaking of historical buildings, Lake City is now home to Halpatter Brewing Company, which opened its doors to the public last weekend in the Historic Downtown district. It is a large building that has space for events, a large tasting room and a beer garden.
If you are in St Mary's keep an eye open for Brackish Beer Company. They are supplying various restaurants in the area and periodically open the brewery for events.
In Macclenny, Crooked Rooster Brewing is scheduled to start serving their own brews on New Year's Eve. Good excuse for a party!
Head on over to our Facebook page for daily event lists and new brew news!