We all enjoy a good beer, but do you know how to taste beer like a brewer? Here's a five-step guide to tasting beer like a pro.
1. The drive by
Before you start, make sure you've poured your beer into a glass so that the aromas can be released. Hold the glass up in front of you and observe the beer's color and clarity. Then pass the beer in front of your nose in a “drive by” sniff. This is very important as some aromas can blind your olfactory senses almost instantly, which might cause you to miss the aroma.
2. Give it a swirl
Before going in for another sniff, hold your hand over the top of your glass and give it a gentle swirl. This will agitate the liquid to release the volatiles, which are trapped and concentrated in the glass. This is what you'll then be able to smell.
3. Go back for a deep sniff
Once you've had a good swirl, remove your hand from the top of the glass and raise to your nose. Take a deep sniff and you'll notice more lively aromas this time.
Some of the aromas you may notice, depending on the beer, could include:
- Malt aromas: these can range from grains and corn to roasted coffee or dark chocolate (stouts).
- Hop aromas: generally citrusy, floral, or grassy.
- Yeast aromas: fruity or sulfurous
Much of your experience of the taste of your beer is influenced by its smell. So cover and swirl again if needs be, to fully experience those aromas.
4. Take a sip
Finally take a big sip and enjoy the sensations in your mouth for a few seconds. Let your palate explore the flavors and texture as you let the beer roll over your tongue.
Try to identify the broad flavors: Do you experience sweetness, saltiness, acids or general bitterness?
Then assess the more subtle notes that come through and try to identify them. You may taste cloves, fruit, caramel, coffee, molasses, biscuits, nuts, chocolate, oak … the range is extensive!
There are a few flavors that, should you taste them, are a cause for concern. One such flavor is sour which is indicative of a bacterial contamination. Generally, if your beer tastes sour, papery or metallic, then it's likely spoiled. You'll need to know what beer you're drinking in order to make this judgment though as some beers, like Belgian Lambics, are intentionally sour.
Also note the mouthfeel. Your mouth has many touch receptors, and will thus be sensitive to the subtleties in texture of the liquid. Carbonation too has an effect, stimulating a slight pain response in your nerves, which feels quite nice in your mouth.
5. Reflect on your beer and enjoy it!
By paying more attention to the beers you drink, you'll begin to get a better understanding of your own preferences around flavor and style. The more beer styles and brands you explore, the more complexities and nuances you'll uncover. Why not invite your friends round to enjoy a beer sampling session together?