So you want to have a beer tasting?
If you’ve never had a beer tasting before there are a few very simple steps that can improve your experience and help you on the way to becoming a better beer taster.
But before we begin getting up close and personal with the beers there’s a few things you need to think about before you start:
Where is the tasting taking place?
Tasting beer is both a physical and a psychological experience, so the environment in which you sample beers can have a bearing on your appreciation of them. Try to avoid tasting beers in a noisy, crowded or smoky room. It’s much better to be somewhere comfortable where you can relax and try some great beers surrounded by great people.
What temperature should you serve the beer?
If a beer’s poured too cold it can numb your tastebuds and dumb down the subtleties of the brew. Too warm and certain unwanted tastes and smells will be amplified and the carbonation will quickly fade, making the beer go flat. As a general rule aim for: 7 °C/45 °F for “light” beers (pale lagers); 8 °C/46 °F for Berliner Weisse and other wheat beers, 9 °C/48 °F for all dark lagers, altbier and German wheat beers; 13 °C/55 °F for regular British ale, stout and most Belgian specialities and 15.5 °C/59.9 °F for strong dark ales (especially trappist beer) and barley wine.
How many beers should I try at one tasting?
I’d suggest you taste a maximum of six beers at any one time. This is because unlike when you taste wine you shouldn’t spit the beer out (if you do you’ll miss out on the bitter bite of most beers) which means the effects of alcohol will inevitably blunt your tasting ‘tools of the trade’ the longer the tasting goes on. It’s best to taste a few beers on several separate occasions rather than lots of beer all at one time.
What type of glasses should I use?
Many types of beer come with their own unique glasses which have been specifically designed to capture and heighten the experience of a specific beer. However not many people have these glasses at home so I’d recommend a standard red wine glass or brandy snifter, as their ‘balloon’ shape holds in aromas and makes it easier for you to swirl the beer without spilling it down your front!
Should I serve food with my tasting?
Unless you’re planning to host a beer and food dinner I don’t recommend you serve food during your tasting. You want to give your tastebuds a bit of room to do their thing without confusing them with strong flavours and smells from crisps, peanuts, cheeses or other snacks. However it’s always a good idea to have some cold water on hand to cleanse the palate and if you’ve really can’t resist munching then some unsalted crackers can also help ‘reset’ your tastebuds (and get a bit of food in your stomach to help absorb some of that alcohol too!)
I’m worried I’ll taste raspberries but my friends will taste strawberries. Who’s right and who’s wrong?
The answer is no-one! One of the great things about beer tasting is that you can never be wrong – tasting beers is very subjective and everyone translates taste according to references from their own personal experiences. There are some objective characteristics of beers that are roughly measurable and experienced by the majority of people in the same way (for example if a beer is flat or fizzy, sweet or bitter). The rest is open to interpretation – your interpretation.
So now you’re ready to begin your tasting. You’ve got your beers, you’ve invited you friends (or you’re keeping your beers all to yourself) and you’re wondering what’s next?
Now all you have to do is learn the 4 steps to becoming an expert beer taster!