WITH THE LONG Independence Day weekend around the corner, now’s the time to get ready for some backyard (or roof-deck) entertaining.
A few cases of summer ale are a good start, but to make the party even more memorable, get in touch with your inner-Martha Stewart. For inspiration, I tracked down Denise Sabia, an interior decorator from Ambler whose own backyard beer garden was recently featured in a photo spread in Country Living magazine.
“You don’t have to go crazy, spending $20,000 on a project,” Sabia told me, explaining that “we’re not talking about wine – this is beer, and it should be simple . . . There’s plenty of easy, creative stuff that any person can do very simply. “
Sabia makes use of everyday objects around her house – Mason jars, baskets, toolboxes, even an old pair of cowboy boots. The idea is to repurpose these objects to hold beer or food or table plants to create a unique look that will have your guests complimenting you on your creativity.
Indeed, that’s a reason to go to the trouble of decorating. You’re aiming to turn your space into a fun, sociable environment.
“The whole idea of a beer garden is to socialize with your friends,” Sabia said. “So you want to design a space where people can gather and face each other, and talk. “
Don’t store your beer in that extra fridge hidden away in the dirty garage. Put it in a metal bucket, overflowing with ice, right in the middle of your gathering space.
“You don’t want your guests to have to go back inside every time they want a drink,” she said. “Keep them outside where the fun is. “
Sabia used an old metal trough for the beer, then found a wire basket and packed it with Philly soft pretzels. I’m fond of the fresh, bite-size “rivets” from Philadelphia Pretzel Factory, served with a selection of mustards that I doctor with horseradish, honey or Sriracha.
To keep the guests circulating, create small gathering “stations” with a focal point.
For one table, Sabia used an empty wooden cable spool that she picked up for free from a local electrical supply shop. She sanded it down (“You don’t even need to do that, if you don’t mind a rough surface,” she said) and stained it to look like a distressed bar top.
Your local hardware store is another source of cheap decorations. Sabia took a bunch of iron plumbing fittings and shaped them into hooks for jackets and beer mugs.
Don’t forget beer ornaments. A bunch of empty German malt sacks – the sort of thing breweries toss away daily – made an attractive backdrop, clothespinned to a laundry line.
“You want the decor to be guyish – this is not for a girls’ night out. Not that girls don’t drink beer,” Sabia said. “But we’re talking about simple, stupid stuff, and you don’t have to be a decorator to do that. Just have fun. “
To see more from Sabia, check out her blog at paintedhomedesigns.com.
What to serve at your summer party? Here’s a sixpack of summer beers made for outdoor party fun:
- Evil Genius I Love Lamp (West Grove, Chester County): A pineapple hefeweizen? Yes, and before you mutter something about the sanctity of the Bavarian beer purity law, know that this excellent, thirst-quencher was one of the top beers in the Inquirer’s recent Brew-vitational. Local supplies are limited right now, but you can grab a taste tomorrow when I’ll pour it during Happy Hour Yoga at Yoga on the Ridge (493 Domino Lane, Roxborough). Tix $25, yogaontheridge. com.
- Two Roads Worker’s Comp (Stratford, Conn.): Brewery founder Phil Markowski, one of America’s leading experts on farmhouse ale, has turned out a rather fruity (a hint of mango?) refresher with this saison.
- Liquid Hero Schweet Ale (York): This newcomer to Philly beer shelves is a strawberry wheat ale that’s not overly schweet – I mean, sweet. Look for it in cans.
- Victory Kuhl Kolsch (Downingtown): In these hop-crazed days, Kolsch – the traditional ale/lager hybrid from Cologne, Germany – gets little respect. But this light, crisp, lemony brew seems ideal for dousing sweaty foreheads, especially when pulled from an ice bucket.
- Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit (San Diego): Two years after its introduction, people still can’t get enough of this unique West Coast IPA. The grapefruit only adds to the ale’s assertive array of citrusy hops.
- Heavy Seas Smooth Sail Summer Ale (Baltimore): This hop-forward wheat beer brewed with orange and lemon peel is available in cans only. The brewery suggests using it as a base for “beer-mosa. ” Just add fresh ginger and orange juice and serve over ice.