Published on April 22nd, 2010 | by tiffany0
Let’s get ready to taste beer
If you’re familiar with how to taste wine, tasting beer is similar; however…
“Wine snobs may spit, but
beer geeks must swallow.”
With beer you must swallow because its flavor also includes the aftertaste left in your mouth! If you’re not familiar with how to taste beer, let’s get ready to taste…
Step 1: Look
Look at the head, the color, and the sparkle. Is the head foamy and persistent, or does it shrink? Does the head stick to the side of the glass like lace? Is the sparkle quite effervescent or still? Is the beer a shade of yellow, brown, red, or black? Appearance may give you an idea of what’s to come. For example, a strong sparkle may tell you the beer will feel prickly on the tongue and give a cleansing affect; a beer that sticks to the side of the glass may be viscous, sticky, and thick on the tongue; a course foamy head may indicate more bitterness, while a fine delicate head may present a more balanced flavor.
Step 2: Smell
Take a few sniffs. The aroma of beer tells you about the yeasts and malts used, the bouquet, and also indicate errors present in brewing or storage. Swirl the beer in your glass, or better yet use a glass with a nucleation etch, to release the aromas, loosen and stimulate carbonation, and test the head retention. Really use your olifactory senses when experiencing the bouquet: First, breathe in through your nose, then through your mouth only as you inhale the beer’s aroma.
Did you know?The sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. The human nose has 5,000,000 smell receptors and can distinguish up to 3,000 different smells; the “professional nose” may distinguish up to 4,000 smells.
A fruity smell can result from two things: fruit added to the beer or molecular compounds or “esters” created during fermentation. For example, banana = yeast; orange = wheat malts or spicing with dried orange peel; lemon = presence of lactic fermenting agents; green apple = high temperature fermentation.
The spicy, clove-like aroma of a hefeweizen or Belgian ale is often produced by the yeast, but some beers have spices added.
Plant-like aromas give clues about the ingredients used and/or how they were used in the brewing process. For example, hay-like or grassy = wheat or corn; citrus = hops; floral = hops or flowers; maize = corn or short boiling of the wort; sweet corn = wheat or corn; vanilla = wood or vanilla; almond or hazelnut = malts and cooking time; cooked cabbage = low fermentation with wort cooling too slowly; barnyard funk = wild yeasts such as Brettanomyces.
A candy smell often originates from the malts, but sometimes candy sugar, honey, or chocolate is actually used as an ingredient or the aroma is indicative of the brewing process. For example, chocolate = special malts lightly roasted, high alcohol content, or chocolate; caramel = malts, bacteria, or rapid fermentation.
Then there are smells of cheese, bacon, medicine, char, dirty feet and rotten eggs! These odd smells don’t necessarily mean bad beer. And keep in mind that with beer, the aroma can be quite different from the flavor! For example, sweaty cheese = aged hops; bacon = excessively high fermentation temperature; smoke = smoked malts; burnt or char = roasted malts and grains; dirty feet or rotten eggs = specific yeast strain or very high fermentation temperature; medicine = astringent grains or clovey yeasts; mineral = brewed with water of high mineral content.
Aromas that may indicate faults with beer include wet cardboard = exposed to oxygen or stored at too high of temperature; mold = matured in barrels that were too old or bad corks were used; medicine or green beans = possible yeast infection; plastic = poor rinsing of bottles; cooked corn = exposure to unwanted wild yeasts.
Step 3: Taste
There are three components to taste: how the beer feels in your mouth, the flavor of the beer while it’s in your mouth, and the aftertaste of the beer after you swallow. Allow the beer to coat your tongue. Is the body thin or full? Is the beer dry, bitter, fruity, or rich? Is the aftertaste clean and pleasant? Can you taste the alcohol?
The mouthfeel of the beer is caused by proteins and dextrins (or how much residual sugar is in the beer); it’s described as the “body” of the beer and is defined as light, medium or full.
To get a true representation of the beer’s flavor, make sure the beer visits the four taste areas on your tongue: bitter, salt, sour, and sweet. Consider the balance of the hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Malts are described as sweet, earthy, roasty. Wine drinkers, think of malts as your grapes. Hops impart flavors that are bitter, crisp, citrus, herbal, grassy—and give a palate cleansing effect. In particular, notice how the beer tastes at its recommended serving temperature (keep in mind, the colder the beer, the more your tastebuds are numbed and the less flavor you’ll get).
The aftertaste, or finish, is the lingering flavor after swallowing the beer. Is it clean and disappear quickly or is it long and lingering on the palate?
Taste like a professional
Professional beer tasters carefully consider the characteristics of the beer style when tasting. They use a clean glass and may start with a standard for the style to acclimate the palate. They carefully cleanse the palate between tastes, often with unsalted cracker or water, and make sure each beer receives a clean, rinsed glass as not to dilute its appearance, aroma and flavor. For tasting order, they start with the lightest (in flavor) and progress toward stronger, more flavorful and bitter beers.
References & More Reading
Alabev / Birmingham Beverage Company. “Tasting beer” from http://www.alabev.com/taste.htm
Beer Judge Certification Program. “BJCP Style Guidelines: How to tell your ale from your lager” from http://www.bjcp.org/stylecenter.php
BeerAdvocate. “How to taste beer” from http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/taste
Eckhardt, Fred. “Drinking 101—Advice for lifetime drinkers” from All About Beer magazine March 2010, Volume 31, Number 1, http://allaboutbeer.com/live-beer/people/beer-enthusiast/2010/03/drinking-101%E2%80%94advice-for-lifetime-drinkers/
Guinard, Jean-Xavier. “Use your common senses” from Brew Your Own magazine April 1996, http://byo.com/component/resource/article/1583-use-your-common-senses
Home Brew Zone. “Common homebrew off-flavors and aromas” from http://www.homebrewzone.com/off-flavors.htm
Lyke, Rick. “In search of softness” from All About Beer magazine January 2010, Volume 30, Number 6, http://allaboutbeer.com/full-pints/2010/01/in-search-of-softness/
Marshall, Alan. “Learning about beer and tasting” from http://brewery.org/brewery/faq/TastingFAQ.html
Osterlun, Edmund. “Professional beer tasting” from http://brewery.org/brewery/library/PrJudgeTr.html
Smagalski, Carolyn. “What causes weird flavor in beer?” from http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art62387.asp
Stevens, Mark. “Introduction to beer judging, tasting, and evaluation” from http://brewery.org/brewery/library/Tintro.html
Taste Your Beer. “Common terms used to describe beer” from http://www.tasteyourbeer.com/researchterms.php and “Hops in beer database” from http://www.tasteyourbeer.com/researchcommercialbeers.php
Unibroue. “Beer 101: How to taste beer” from http://www.unibroue.com/beer101/degustation.cfm