Selection of Beers A casual tasting will
usually include a variety of styles with the beers tasted in "spectral" order,
lightest to darkest, comparing beers of like type and character. A professional
tasting evaluates one style of beer with up to ten different examples within
Pouring the Beer Approximately two fingers of foam at the finish of the pour is
desired. Pour the beer gently into a tilted glass to determine the amount of carbonation
then continue slowly or rapidly. Finish pouring with a straightening of the glass.
Glassware Some experts recommend the use of a brandy snifter because its shape
provides access to the characteristics of the beer. Others recommend glassware according
to the beer style being tasted. For example, a wheat beer would use the famous Weizen
glasses, shaped like a bulb vase, to hold the larger head of this higher carbonated beer.
Whatever is used, the glass should be clear to check the appearance of the beer. A clean
beer glass is essential The glassware should be cleaned with a good detergent that does
not have an animal fat base. Oils and fats leave residues that will ruin the head. A
solution of baking soda and hot water, allowing the glasses to air dry, works well.
Water is the best way to cleanse the palate but the more casual tasting may
include crackers and\or food. Tasting the beers alone without food will allow the
individualities of the beers tasted to better express themselves without being overpowered
by the food.
A Way To Taste Beer
Every style of beer has its own balance of characteristics. If one wishes to taste a
beer and convey this opinion to others, a common beer terminology must be employed.
Although many terms can be substituted, the characteristics of appearance,
and taste\finish will do fine. These characteristics can each be controlled
and varied according to the ingredients and procedures used in the brewing process.
Understanding beer requires a basic understanding of the entire brewing process, including
malting, the nature of fermentation, the earthy character of malt and the bitter quality
of the hop. The most difficult aspect for many will be getting used to not serving the
beer too cold. An over chilled beer will not reveal its true character. The subtleties
and aroma will be hidden in a beer that is too cold. (One caveat, some
beers of a certain type need to be served very cold.)
Appearance: You may think, "what does how the beer look like have to do
with how it tastes?" A lot. Color, carbonation, and turbidity are all good
indicators of the "health" of the beer and how closely it matches the style
it was brewed for. Raise the glass to the light. Beer color can range from a very light
greenish-yellow (straw) color as in pilsners, to the deep chocolate browns, sometimes
opaque, for the stouts and porters, to the pinks and reds of the fruit flavored lambics,
with almost every color in-between. Does the color fit the style? The color of beer is the
result of a blend of malted grains. The length
of exposure of the grain to the kilning process determines the color of the
malt and the beer.
Color: Take note of the color of the beer. There are guidelines
for the color of each style of beer, and a beer whose color falls outside
those guidelines may not taste exactly as you were thinking it would.
Carbonation: is also an important vital sign of the health and
quality of the beer. A good all-malt beer should, on average, retain half
of its head for a minute and then leave "Brussels" lace on the side of the
glass as the head falls.
Turbidity: (cloudiness) of a beer is a quick way to determine if
a beer has spoiled or not. Bottle-conditioned beers should be cloudy, but
if the beer has been filtered and you notice "floaties" in there, you had
better dump it.
Aroma: When evaluating the aroma/bouquet of a beer, be careful to
take your time with each sniff as your perception of smell is dulled after
about four sniffs. Scent also helps deepen the taste and flavor of a beer so
never drink beer straight from the bottle. The scent of beer can be broken
down into three separate parts: aroma, bouquet, and odor.
Aroma: is typically determined by the malt, grain, and any
fermentation by-products. The aromas that originate from the malt and
grain are often described as nutty, sweet, grainy, and malty. The
fresh, earthy quality of malted barley combined with the bitter, apparent,
antiseptic aroma of hops gives the beer it's aroma or bouquet. Immediately
after the pour, smell the beer in the glass to capture the volatile aromas
as they are soon on their way out of the glass and the beer. Do the aromas
reveal the raw ingredients of the beer or have these been muted? Is there
a strong hop or faint hop smell? Is there a malt character? Is it full or
light? Alcohol and yeast add to the bouquet, but to a smaller degree than
malt and hops, in most beers.
Bouquet: Hops alone determine the bouquet of a beer. Their aroma
is best noticed right after a beer has been poured as its scent dissipates
quickly. Different hop varieties contribute different qualities to the
bouquet, and some hops may not be appropriate for some styles. Terms used
to describe the hop aroma include herbal, pine, floral, resin, and spice.
Odor: is reserved for the scents that are attributed to defects
in the beer. A very common defect, which is not the brewer's fault, is "skunkiness."
The oxidation of the beer from light infiltration will cause beer to
develop a skunky odor. Other terms used to describe off-aromas are butter,
sulphury, cooked-vegetable, fishy, oily, and chlorine.
Taste: is by far the most subjective and important factor when evaluating
a beer. After tasting five or six beers your palate will become confused, so
be sure to "clean" your palate with bread or crackers between different
beers. Taste, like appearance and scent, can also be broken down into three
categories: mouthfeel, flavor, and finish. Raise the glass to the lips and swallow enough of the beer to allow it to
wash the entire tongue. Try to separate the hop taste and the malt taste. Are they well
balanced for the style? Balance is the blending of all of a beer's properties -
bitterness, acidity, esteriness, hoppiness, etc. The more malted barley used (in relation
to the water), the more full and powerful the taste. Is the body full or thin? Beer
can be dry, (lacking sugar) and with a usually strong bitter hop character, or fruity
(the presence of sugar), or rich (a full taste of malt and fruit). How is the aftertaste?
The aftertaste should confirm the taste. Is it clean and pleasant? You want to experience
a slight degree of aftertaste. Alcohol strength has little to do with the overall quality,
but alcohol does play a part in the taste of the beer. Can you taste too much of the
alcohol? Feel the carbonation. Is it distracting? Yeast:
There are many different strains of yeast, each with their own characteristics. Fed
more maltose, yeast provides a smoother beer; more glucose and it makes a
"winey" beer. Fermented slowly, the yeast also releases more "elegant"
flavors; fermenting quickly, it will also make a more "winey" beer. Water:
The quality of the water effects greatly the quality of the beer. Water can be hard or
soft; alkaline or acidic. Each of these characteristics will effect the final beer.
Mouthfeel: is the perception of body in the beer and is caused by the
residual proteins and dextrins in the beer. For each style, there is an
appropriate amount of body to be expected. Body is generally classified as
light, medium, or full. Body is how heavy or how light a beer feels in the mouth. This is a result of how much
malt sugar has been converted into sugar. Full bodied beers have more residual sugar than
light bodied beers.
Flavor: By far the most important and enjoyed element of drinking a beer
is its flavor. To best taste all the flavors of a beer, make sure the
liquid visits all four areas of your tongue: bitter, sour, sweet and salt.
Take special notice of the orchestration of the balance between the hop
bitterness and malt sweetness.
Flavor as "Maltiness"
Malt provides the yeast the food to make much of the beer flavor. This can be
described as a sweetish or dryish "earthy" flavor. A heavier roasted malt will
also contribute a degree of "roasted" taste to the beer. What grapes are to wine, malt is to beer.
Flavor as "Hoppiness":
Hops provide an "herbal, crisp, bitter, palate cleansing" effect to beer.
Aromatic hops provide the herbal "grassy" nose, while bittering hops provide the
gentle bitterness or "bite" in beer.
Finish: (Also called after-taste.) The lingering sensation after a beer has been swallowed is
called the finish. Again, depending on the style, a beer might have a long
lingering bitter finish, or it might completely disappear without a trace.
The Taste and Odor Flavor Wheel
This is a narrative description of the "Beer Flavor Wheel," an attempt to list
the basic taste, smell and texture descriptors found in beer in an
organized way, around the circumference of a circle or "wheel," with closely
related descriptors placed near each other on the wheel. For purposes of
this summary, simply imagine the following list of descriptors as arranged in a
circle, beginning at noon and moving around the
circle in a clockwise direction back to the top at the finish. The wheel is
divided into 13 broad categories, each of which contains numerous more specific
descriptors. This list may be useful in beer tasting as a way to jog your
memory in identifying specific subtle elements in the beer's aroma and taste.
1. Aromatic, Fragrant, Fruity, Floral (ODOR)
0120 Solvent-like (plastic, can-liner, lacquer)
0130 Estery (banana, apple)
0140 Fruity (citrus, berry, melon, other fruits)
0160 Floral (flowers, roses, perfume, vanilla)
2. Resinous, Nutty, Green, Grassy (ODOR)
0210 Resinous (sawdust, resin, cedar, pine, spruce, seasoned wood)
0220 Nutty (brazil nut, hazelnut, walnut, coconut, sherry-like)
0230 Grassy (fresh-cut grass, straw)
3. Cereal (ODOR)
0310 Grainy (raw grain, husk-like, corn, grits, flour)
0330 Worty (fresh-wort aroma)
4. Caramelized, Roasted (ODOR)
0410 Caramel (caramel, toffee, treacle, molasses)
0420 Burnt (burnt-sugar)
5. Phenolic (ODOR)
0500 Phenolic (scorched, hospital-like, pharmaceutical, bakelite)
6. Soapy, Fatty, Diacetyl, Oily, Rancid (ODOR)
0610 Fatty Acid (tallowy, goaty, cheesy)
0620 Diacetyl (butter, butterscotch)
0630 Rancid (rancid butter)
0640 Oily (vegetable oil, gasoline, machine oil)
7. Sulfury (ODOR)
0700 Sulfury (rotten egg)
0710 Sulfitic (burnt-match, choking, burnt rubber)
0720 Sulfidic (sewage, natural gas)
0730 Cooked Veg. (overcooked greens, cooked corn)
0740 Yeasty (fresh yeast, meaty)
8. Oxidized, Stale, Musty (ODOR)
0800 Stale (old beer)
0810 Catty (skunky)
0820 Papery (cardboard)
0840 Moldy (damp cellar, wet soil)
9. Sour, Acidic (ODOR, TASTE)
0900 Acidic (pungent, sharp)
0910 Acetic (vinegar)
0920 Sour (lactic, sour milk)
10. Sweet (ODOR, TASTE)
11. Salty (TASTE)
12. Bitter (TASTE)
13. Mouthfeel (TASTE)
Mouthfeel (TASTE, ODOR)
1330 Metallic (coins, inky, iron, rusty water, tinny)
1340 Astringent (mouth-puckering, tannin-like, tart)
1350 Powdery (dusty, chalky, particulate)
1360 Carbonation (flat undercarbonated, gassy overcarbonated)
1370 Warming (spicy, alcoholic, winey)
14. Fullness (TASTE, ODOR)
1410 Body (thin, bland, full, viscous, creamy)
Always use safe judgment and never
abuse alcohol. Do not drink and drive.