How to taste beer like a pro!
Learning to taste beer properly, like anything in life, is worth spending a bit of time perfecting. If you do you’ll increase your knowledge, enjoyment and beer cred to a whole new level. Here’s four simple steps to becoming a beer tasting guru:
LOOK – Just like wine should never be drunk straight from a bottle you should avoid drinking beer straight from a bottle or can whenever possible. This is because the look of the beer as it’s poured into a glass can tell you a lot about it long before it gets anywhere near your nose or mouth. What colour is the beer ? If it’s light, bright and highly carbonated it might be a lager. If it pours dark brown with a thick soapy head you might be looking at an ale. Some beer styles, including wheat beers and gueuzers, are unfiltered and so the beer is cloudy. That’s good, but if you see lumps floating around in your beer it can also be a sign that the beer’s gone bad. Remember that the brewers have gone to a lot of time and effort to make your beer look the way it does so take a few moments to check out your beer.
SWIRL AND SNIFF – Some people may accuse me of crossing over into pretentious wine territory here but there is in fact good reason to swirl your beer before smelling it. Swirling beer in the glass increases the surface area of the liquid, actually making it easier to smell. The aromas will concentrate at the top of the glass making it easier for you to pick out certain smells. Once you’ve given the beer a good swirl (trying to avoid spilling it along the way) put your nose directly above the glass and take a few deep sniffs. Does it smell floral, piney, or citrusy? Then it might be a beer high in hops. If it smells of chocolate, tobacco and toffee then the beer will probably have a big malty character.
The smell of a beer plays a crucial part in our perception of the taste of a beer, so take some time to think about what you’re sniffing. Don’t be afraid to try and verbalise what you’re experiencing. If you get wet dog or rubber tyres (I hope not but if you do) then tell the others at your tasting. It makes the whole experience more fun!
TAKE A SIP – That’s right a sip, don’t down the glass in one. The golden rule here is: Don’t just drink. Think!
Make sure to move the beer around in your mouth a bit to ensure it coats the entire tongue. That’s because your tongue is divided into tasting ‘zones’ and we want hit every one of them. Sweetness is detected at the very tip of the tongue, bitterness at the back (which is why you have to swallow your beer), while sourness and acidity is picked-up along the sides.
Remember to try and breathe in at the same time as you take a sip. By doing so you’re activating your smell and touch senses simultaneously – both of which are crucial elements in helping your determine flavours.
How does the beer ‘feel’? Is it thick or thin, flat or fizzy, cold or warm? Does the beer taste sweet or sour, or bitter? What flavours are coming through – is the beer fruity, spicy, yeasty or does it taste of very little at all? Just like in wine we also talk about length of taste, so does the beer start brightly but then quickly fade away or does it leave a long, refreshingly bitter aftertaste?
Again here’s your chance to shine. Don’t be afraid to put words to what you’re experiencing. If you taste cigars and cherries then tell the other tasters. Remember you can never be wrong because you’re the only expert in your own tastes!
EVALUATE – Take a few moments to think about everything you’ve experienced. How did the beer look, what did it smell, feel and taste like? Did you and your friends enjoy it and would you like to try a similar type of beer again? If you want to make some tasting notes to remind you of a particular beer do it now while it’s all still fresh in your memory.
Remember that practice makes perfect. Use these simple steps every time you try a new beer and it won’t be long before you’re an expert beer taster!