Right before I start on this one I just want to mention I’ve only been properly tasting beer since December 2016 so everything I’m about to mention is not based on years of experience, however it is based on what I’ve learnt from the training I’ve been on (at the Beer Academy) and the various pieces of literature out there. It’s all solid theoretical knowledge with a bit of experience thrown in. What I’m hoping is that this will help beginners out there, like me, go from just drinking to dissecting the beer and really appreciating it.
Flavours to expect
The first thing to appreciate is that are 3 main ingredients that are giving aroma and flavour to the beer, these are:
- Malted Barley (Malt)
That being said the water profile make a massive difference to the beer, which is why Burton was once the brewing capital of the world, and why Pilsen water is great for brewing lager. There are also adjuncts, which are alternative sugar sources to malt, such as rice which give Budweiser it’s distinct flavour. Finally there are also sorts of other flavourings that are being used today, mainly by craft brewers, including fruits and vegetable beside other things. I will only be looking at the main 3 ingredients in this post though.
So what are some of the flavours that each ingredient imparts?
- Malted Barley
- Pine Needles
- Citrus (grapefruit, lemon, orange)
- Fruit (apple, banana)
So how do you go about tasting?
First you need a good clean glass, a stemmed tulip glass works very well for tasting or you can buy specifically designed tasting glasses.
Second, make sure the beer is at the correct serving temperature, which is roughly as follows:
- 4.5-7°C for pale lagers, some wheat beers, belgian pale ales, blonde & cream ales, tripels, nitro stout (eg Guinness) and lambics
- 7-10°C for dark lagers, some wheat beers, American pale ales, IPA, some stouts/porters and some lambics.
- 10-13°C for strong lager, real ale, dubbels, some stouts/porters and some lambics.
Now for the actual tasting, you should break it down into 5 sections.
- Colour – From white-gold-amber-black.
- Clarity – From clear & bright to cloudy.
- Carbonation – From still to champagne like fizz.
- Cling – Does the head lace the glass, or does it leave it clear. Guiness for example leaves a solid mark after each drink, where as a thin lager like Carling won’t leave much. What is the head like, substantial or thin?
- Swirl the beer around the glass and take 2 short sniffs.
- Take a longer sniff, about 2 secs.
- Try to identify the smell based on the above list.
- If you’re getting nothing than the beer may be too cold, slightly warmed beer will release more aroma so hold the glass in your hand a while.
- At this point you should know pretty well the style of beer you’ve got in front of you, taste should confirm it though.
- Take enough in your mouth to ‘float’ your tongue. This will make sure all the different areas of the tongue are being hit (bitter, sour, salty, sweet & umami)
- See if you notice all the flavours you smelt, and if there are any others
- Take a note of the intensity of flavour.
- Do you get the warming affect of alcohol (generally above 6% abv)?
- Is the drink thin or full and heavy?
- Is it a smooth drink or astringent?
- What level of carbonation do you feel?
- Is the beer dry?
- Does the taste linger or is it short?
- Is the after taste sweet or bitter?
- What are the flavours you are getting?
- Is the after taste intense?
That’s the basic process, at first you may find it difficult to differentiate the flavours. I can’t recommend enough actually going out and buying the various foods for the flavours you’re looking for, if you don’t know the flavours well you’ll find them impossible to pinpoint. This is something I did and it hugely helped me develop. Apart from that just keep tasting beer, and with experience, as with everything, you’ll improve.
Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink – Randy Mosher