Take a minute and go look up some wine reviews on sites like Wine Spectator or tastings.com. Notice how many of the reviews gush about flavors, the smell look and even mouthfeel of something essentially made from fruit. Watch a sommelier taste wine and they spit it out! It all seems a bit pretentious doesn’t it?
Beer isn’t like that, it’s the easy going drink that is perfect for pub nights and hanging around with your friends. In the past, this was true, but with the recent explosion of the world-wide craft beer scene, beer has quickly become one of the most varied alcoholic drinks out there.
With the incredible amount of choice out there, beer drinkers should be able to taste beer. Why you ask? Most people do so to increase their overall enjoyment of the beverage. The reason I delved into tasting beer actually comes from me learning how to properly taste wine. As I was learning to taste wine, I realized that you could take the general ideas of tasting and apply them to beer. When I did, I found I was not only enjoying my drink of choice – beer – more, but also actually taking time to enjoy my surroundings and was willing to discover more beer. From there, tasting allows you to actually define what makes a good beer to you, and also find the styles you aren’t too keen on.
Using the 5 Ss to taste beer
If you have learnt the basics of wine tasting, you would know that most experts follow the 5Ss: Sight, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Spit. Well, tasting beer is actually quite similar, only you would be mad to actually spit beer out. On that note, here are the 5 Ss I user when tasting beer:
I like to break this into two sections. First, before you pour the beer into a glass take a look at the bottle or can. Look for any cracks in the glass or dents in the can. Also, pay attention to the expiry date. While beer generally won’t expire, a beer past its date will not taste the best, thus influencing your tasting.
After you pour the beer into your glass, raise it up and look at it. Marvel in how tasty it looks, paying attention to the color of the beer, the head and its overall consistency. If the beer came from a corked or older bottle, take a look for any pieces of cork or debris that shouldn’t be in the beer. Note: Some beers have yeast in the bottle, and you may see white flakes. This is ok, it’s just the yeast that was added to the bottle to cause a secondary fermentation.
Grab a firm hold of that bad boy and give gently move your wrist in a circular motion. This will cause the beer to move within the glass (be sure to not swirl too hard, as you may spill some of that precious, precious libation).
The reason you swirl your glass is that it will actually increase the smell and stimulate carbonization or the release of bubbles.
Just after swirling your beer, stick your nose into the glass and take a big whiff. Inhale through your nose only, then inhale with your nose and mouth open, finally with just your mouth. By doing this, you will get a good idea of what the beer smells and tastes like.
As you may know, smell actually dictates almost 90% of what we taste, if we can get a good sniff you can more accurately taste, and enjoy, the beer. When smelling beer, most experts will try to smell for three main things: Yeast, hops and malt. Yeast will smell anywhere from fruity to sulfuric while hops tend to smell like citrus, pine and grass, and malt will smell like grains e.g., coffee, corn, wheat, etc.
Over time, you will develop an idea of what beer smells good to you, and what smells you like and don’t like.
Once you take a few sniffs, it’s time to do what we are meant to do with beer: Drink it. Take a sip, but not a big one, and slowly swish it around in your mouth. Try to hit all taste areas on your tongue and notice what the beer tastes like. Think about whether it’s bitter, sweet, salty (hopefully not) or sour. You will definitely notice other flavors come in, try your best to describe them.
Take another sip and focus on the consistency of the beer and how it feels in your mouth. Breath out as you do this, and you will likely notice that you can better taste the beer. While experts will come up with a list of different tastes, you are really looking for a few basic ones and trying to answer whether you actually like the beer or not, and why.
Finally, swallow your beer and note how long the taste lasts. If it lingers, the beer has a long finish. If it disappears quickly, the beer is considered to have a short or no finish.
If you are looking to take it to the next level, consulting a tasting chart or style guidelines like those found on the Beer Judge Certification Program website may will help to refine what you are looking for in each step. For the rest of you, just make a note about whether you like the beer or not, and try to explain why.
Don’t worry about not being able to taste much at first, it will come with time. But above all, be sure to actually enjoy the beer rather than focus solely on tasting it.
Wish of the week
Birra del Borgo ReAle
When one thinks of Italy, pasta and wine probably spring to the mind. But beer? Could there possibly be good beer coming out of the land that gave us wine? The answer is yes! This beer is an American Pale Ale that has a slightly citrusy aroma and a rich, malty taste. True to most American Pale Ales, there is a nice, long finish that makes for a great beer!