How To Taste Beer
Beer tasting is not about grabbing a bottle of beer and check if it tastes good. It is an art to find out how the beer actually tastes, how it smells, what all ingredients are used to make it and how it appears.
Most people, when asked to taste beer, will simply order a beer from a bar and proceed to drink down as much as they think they need before rendering a hasty assessment. But what this ignores is that there is a subtle art to tasting beer, one that relies on knowing as much as possible about the variety of different beer styles out there.
Remember – artisanal craft brewers are creating incredibly complex beers these days, and they are taking steps to ensure that every aspect of a beer – its colour, its clarity, its taste, its aroma and its head – is perfect. So take these basic steps below any time you feel the inclination a taste a beer and tell others what you think about it.
Step 1: Pour the beer into a glass
Even if you prefer to drink a beer directly from a bottle, you will not get the same taste or flavour experience as when you pour it into a glass. And not just any glass, either. You need to choose the appropriate glassware for your style of beer. Beers with more carbonation, for example, need to be served in a long, slender glass. The two classic beer glasses – the pint glass and the beer mug – can be used for just about any type of beer. But any beer with very defined aromatics, or with very pronounced effervescence, is best tasted with an appropriate beer glass.
Step 2: Examine the appearance of the beer
The look of a beer is an important consideration. Raise the beer up to near eye level and consider its overall colour and clarity. Just don’t hold the beer up to direct sunlight, as that will impact the overall presentation of the beer. Even in a darkened taproom, there is a lot that you can tell about a beer by the way it looks.
Step 3: Gently swirl
You want to unlock the true flavour and aroma potential of your beer, right? In order to do this, you will need to swirl the glass a bit. This will help to unlock some of the aromas and flavour nuances. It will also stimulate a bit of carbonation. And, finally, it will test the ability of your beer to retain a full head.
Step 4: Smell the beer
Yes, smelling the beer is part of tasting the beer. That’s because your olfactory senses (that is, your sense of smell) can account for as much as 90% of your total enjoyment of the beer. So, given the importance of smell, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is a proper way to do this. First, start by smelling the beer only with your nose. Usually, two quick sniffs of the beer will suffice. Then follow by smelling the beer with your mouth open. Finally, smell with your mouth only.
This three-step process will ensure that you pick up all primary and secondary smells. Just make sure that there are no surrounding aromas to get in the way. For example, it’s best to taste beers in a room without any other food nearby that might impact your judgment. If needed, agitate the beer one more time and smell, just to make sure you have fully examined the beer in all its full richness.
Step 5: Sip the beer
It is better to sip beer than to swill down beer in a giant gulp, the way you might do while watching a sporting event on TV. By sipping a beer, you are giving your taste buds and your palate plenty of time to pick up all the flavour of the beer. And, by letting the liquid linger in your mouth, you are also letting it warm up gradually. This is important because it is easier to detect the entire flavour and taste of a beer when it has been slightly warmed, not when it is ice cold.
While sipping the beer, pay attention to mouthfeel, which is what beer-tasting experts use to describe the consistency of the liquid. Is it smooth? Is it slightly dense?
And don’t forget to gently exhale as you taste the beer. The act of breathing out while tasting is known in the beer industry as retro-olfaction, and it is very important. It helps to unlock even more of a beer’s true potential.
Remember – your taste buds are particularly good at detecting tastes such as sweetness, saltiness and bitterness. So pay particular attention to these as you go about tasting the beer.
Step 6: Write down your tasting notes
If you are going to write a review of the beer later, it is very important to write down your tasting notes immediately. It might be very difficult to reconstruct the entire tasting experience in your mind a few days later. You might remember that you liked a certain beer, but you may not be able to describe “Why.” And it is this “why” that is so important. Once you know why you like a particular beer, it will help you find other beers that are similar, or that may exhibit even more of the characteristics that you like.
Just remember – it is preferable to taste a beer after it has warmed up slightly. You will never be able to deliver a true assessment of a beer if it is served ice-cold, or if it is being served in a chilled or frosted glass. You don’t want to be drinking warm beer, of course, but you should aim for 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit for lighter beers and 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for darker beers. Doing so will let you unlock all the rich flavours and aromas inside and contribute to a much-improved overall tasting process.