Continuing on with our series on learning to taste beer, it is now time to put together all of the individual identified flavours and aromas to evaluate the beer in the glass. Like when developing your flavour and aroma library, it requires lots of practice.
The tasting environment
This is important when learning to evaluate beer mainly to limit distractions and allows you to focus on picking out the individual flavours and aroma. The environment also becomes essential in a competition setting. The disturbances to limit are sounds, smells and previous tastes — a quiet room without external smells like what’s being cooked for dinner. Also, cleanse the pallet before tasting beer your perception for bitterness and roast and be skewed significantly if you have large coffee before trying to evaluate a beer. Cleansing can be done by drinking fresh filtered water and eating a couple of water crackers.
It may surprise many people that the type of glassware used when tasting can influence the perception of a beer while tasting. The ideal glass for tasting is primarily a clean glass, then a stemmed tulip glass is the international standardisation organisation’s (ISO) standard glass for tasting. The outward turn rim of the glass helps to invite beer to the mouth while the inward tapper below the rim helps to hold aroma in the glass ready for your nose to decipher. The stem on the glass stops our fingers from unnecessarily warming the glass, and these glasses present the beer beautifully.
Writing a tasting sheet will also help to organise your thoughts while you taste and ensure little is left out. There are many different tasting sheets available which vary in the level of detail needed to complete the tasting sheet. When new to tasting or if you wish to keep your tasing somewhat informal then I recommend the BJCP checklist score sheet or the craft beer.com beer tasting sheet. For more formalised tasting then the BJCP scoresheet is well suited.
Writing a tasting sheet will also help to organise your thoughts while you taste and ensure little is left out. There are many different tasting sheets available which vary in the level of detail needed to complete the tasting sheet. When new to tasting or if you wish to keep your tasing somewhat informal then I recommend the BJCP checklist score sheet or the craft beer.com beer tasting sheet. For more formalised tasting, the BJCP scoresheet is well suited.
Smell the beer
When finally tasting the beer it is best to smell the beer before anything else. Many aromas are very volatile and will only remain in the glass for a minute or so before they are gone for good. Start by smelling the beer as your nose passes over the glass, this allows you to gather the aroma but lowers the risk of oversaturating some of your smell receptors. Take a moment to allow the aromas to sink in and register with the aroma in your library. If you are getting very little from the glass, try covering it and swirling it gently to release the aroma or if the beer seems overly cold, cup the glass in your hands to release the aroma.
Observe the beer
Make notes on the colour, head character and retention and clarity and ask how these are relevant to the style. There’s not much information that can be gained by the visual appearance of a beer. Don’t be fooled into tasting something that isn’t there based on the colour. Not all dark beers have roast notes! Taste the beer and allow the beer to sit in your mouth, note the basic flavour of sweetness, acidity and wait a few moments as the bitterness develops.
When we taste beer, we generally swallow the beer, unlike the wine people. Therefore, we can follow the retronasal tasting technique of slowly swallowing the beer while gently breathing out with your lips closed, picking out the flavours and aroma perceived. Then think about if there are any off-notes like buttery or carboard flavours and what the mouthfeel of the beer is like. Lastly, think about the beer overall, does it fit the style and is it drinkable, would you recommend it to a friend who likes this style.
If you want to get started on your brewing journey, check out our Brewing 101: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Beer at Home.