How to taste Beer
Firstly, make sure,
that the product you are tasting has been stored to manufacturers recommendations, which should be on the label. This should also include the temperature at which the beer should be served.
Follow any pouring instructions. All tasting should be done from a clean glass, ensuring that the temperature of the glass does not contradict the pouring temperature of the beer.
Once poured, check that the initial head does not sink quickly. If it does then the may have been served too warm or the glass may be badly washed or not rinsed so remains of washing up liquid may still be present.
Different types of beers will produce a different head. For example:
• Unfiltered beer types have large heads because of the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
• All malt beers like Irish stout have “creamy” heads because of large quantities of proteins.
• “Hoppy” beers produce a large head because the hop resin binds the head, enabling the head to grip the side of the glass.
• English bitter forms a head because of the low carbon dioxide level.
The colour of beers vary considerably. This is all down to the type of malt used, so a Pilsner would be yellow/golden because it uses a pilsner malt. Roasted malts can vary the colour from caramel to dark chocolate colour.
Most of todays beers have been filtered so they will be crystal clear. Some, however are not filtered but are cloudy when drunk, with living yeast still in the beer.
Filtered beer will become cloudy with age – but if the beer is stored in a too warm or too light environment, then clouding will occur sooner.
To smell a beer you follow a similar process to that practised for smelling wine.
Hold the glass by the base or stem and move the glass in a circular movement, allowing the beer to rotate around the glass. The helps release the smells.
Once released, smell immediately, breathing in small amounts rather than one large go.
There is no limit to the range of smells. Beers smells can vary between such things as bread, fruit, honey, butterscotch or even spices. Aromas of coffee, Ovaltine, chocolate, toffee and caramel all come from the malts.
The final process is the tasting itself. Take a large gulp (rather than the sip you would take at a wine tasting) and roll the beer across your tongue and palate. Like wine tasting, draw a small amount of air at the same time to maximise the taste experience.
Look for a “balance” between some or all of our primary tastes – sweet, salt, bitter and acid. A good brewer will achieve a good balance between the elements within the beer so that the taste would be interesting.
It is important not only to grade your beer sample, but also understand when the beer would be best to drink. When tasting, prepare some different food types. Sample the beer after each mouthful of the various foods so that you can equate what beers go with what types of foods.
Hop rich beers like pils or bitter ales have a strong hop aroma while the taste itself is discrete. The hops pleasantly reappear again in the after taste. Beers other have after tastes which can be sweet, acidic malty or even roasted.