Beer tastings are a great way to gather some friends, discover new beers, and gain knowledge & insight into the world of beer. Tastings range from a few casual samples at the pub to highly structured and seriously judged competitions. Below we’ve outlined what you’ll need and how to conduct a tasting at home.
This goes without saying, to run a beer tasting you need beer. The main question is what kind?
There are several ways you can go about choosing your types of beer, you can be methodical and have a purpose or randomly select different kinds you want to try. Outlined below are some ways you can structure your selections based on:
- Food Pairing
- Odd Ingredients
- Region or Country
Once you’ve selected your beer, make sure to get enough so each person will receive 3-4 ounces. That’s a good amount with which to try a beer and explore its flavor.
Taking notes isn’t essential in a casual tasting, but it can lead to interesting discussion and debate. If you choose to take notes, you could start with a blank note book and simply write down what you notice about each attribute (appearance, aroma, flavor, aftertaste, etc.) and use those notes to discuss with your guests. Although this is an easy way to get started, some people may feel at a loss where to begin. If you want to avoid this, grab a free downloadable tasting sheet to guide you through. You’ll find a basic, intermediate, and advanced sheet available below.
- Tasting Card from our free “Beer Geek Tool Kit” eBook
- Tasting Record from “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher (check out this book: CAN US UK)
- Beer Judge Certificate Program Scoresheet
Pens & Pencils
Naturally, if you are going to take notes, you need something to write with. What may not be so obvious is that some pens & pencils omit odors that can affect how you perceive your beverage. Wood pencils tend to be the most common offender as you will likely be holding it in the same hand as your beer while smelling. Naturally, you’ll attribute an undeniable woody scent to the beer that doesn’t belong. Mechanical pencils and basic ballpoint pens are suggested to eliminate potential odor issues.
A palate cleanser is used to avoid having flavor contamination from different beers when tasting. It’s quite common for this to happen when moving from radically different beers, such as drinking lager after stout. The resultant mix may be good or bad, but it’s not true to the beer being drank. As for what can be a cleanser, a simple jug of filtered water or saltines would do well.
Glassware can actually have a surprising amount to do with how you experience any brew. Different styles of glasses are made specifically to accentuate specific qualities of the beer style they are named after (i.e. the new IPA glass works to enhance the hop qualities in aroma and flavor of this hoppy style). You can watch the video Marc (the UK half of TA Brews) has created to better understand how glasses can affect your experience. If you want to know which glass is best for each style, check out our learning page on glassware.
Realistically, most people don’t have the specific glasses, or enough of them, for beer tastings. That’s okay, there are options! Stemmed wine glasses are usually found more commonly in a household and work well as substitutes. They serve to amplify the aroma and enhance the mouthfeel of most beer due to their curved nature and thin rims. Alternatively, if you find yourself in short supply of wine glasses, any other type of glass can suffice, just make sure to leave a few inches at the top. This is to allow aromas to gather and stay within the glass.
Where you set up your tasting will have an effect on how well it goes. You don’t want a cramped area filled with loud noises or strong smells. Those conditions will interfere with the fundamentals of the event: discussion and tasting. Find a room that has ample space, is odor-free, and you can control noise and heat.
Conducting the Tasting
As we’ve established, tastings can range from casual to formal and vary in their structure. Regardless of what form a tasting may take, it is important to make it accessible and enjoyable for those involved. To start you off we’ll go through the basic 5 steps to tasting beer and then describe 3 types of common group tastings. Once you’ve had a chance to experience these different tasting styles, experiment to better fit your event and style.
5 Step Tasting
Look at the beer as it’s poured. Take note of its color, head, and haze (the amount of floating solids)
Put your nose right up to the glass and inhale deeply. What smells can you pick out? What’s your overall impression?
Take a generous amount in your mouth and let it wash over your tongue and the rest of your mouth. How does the flavor change as it coats your mouth?
The flavor will change as it travels down your throat. Wait a few moments for the aftertaste to take hold. Notice how not only the flavor changes, but the feel within your mouth.
Take a few moments before you sip again and think about the experience. Afterwards, do it again and try to pick out new characteristics you missed.
Refer back to these steps to help guide you through each tasting.
This is the basis of each type of tasting. You’ll need to gather some different beers, 3 or more, enough tasting sheets or note pads and pencils for each taster (if you’re taking notes), enough glasses for each person to sample each beer, and your chosen palate cleanser.
Now that you have all the supplies, let’s set it up. About 20 minutes before tasting, take the beer out of the fridge and let it warm up a little. We do this because standard fridge temperature is far too cold to allow the full aroma and taste to come through. Once everyone arrives, pour all the samples, distribute them, and follow the 5 steps to beer tasting with everyone. Discuss any points that come up as each person goes through at their own pace.
A lead tasting is very similar to a basic tasting, except one person is designated to provoke discussion and lead everyone through the 5 tasting steps. Follow the same setup and procedures as with the basic tasting, but have one person volunteer to lead the discussions and direct the conversations. To maximize effectiveness, have that person do some light reading on each beer. This will make the tasting process go smoother as they lead everyone through what they should be smelling or tasting.
Once you’ve had some experience, a blind tasting is a great way to test your new knowledge. This is exactly like a basic tasting, but it adds the blind element by hiding the bottles of each beer, usually inside a numbered bag. This will tend to give your palate freedom from preconceived notions and challenge how much you can actually smell and taste. Once everyone has gone through their rounds and the discussions have ended, remove the bags and take a look to see what you were actually drinking.
If you want to take this a step further grab a tasting kit. We recommend the “Beer Tasting Tool Kit” by Jeff Alworthy, which includes tasting sheets, blind tasting bags, twine to tie up the bags, quick reference card, and a book to guide you through beer styles and your tasting. Definitely a great way to get started on your tasting adventure. Check it out in your respective country: CAN US UK
To get a deeper understanding of tasting as a whole through more than the tactile senses, Randy Mosher, a well known beer author, teacher, and columnist, has written a book entitled “Tasting Beer” (mentioned above with the downloadable tasting cards). It’s the standard for anyone looking to improve their appreciation of the pint. This is recommended for those who want to get into the nitty gritty of what makes each beer, well, a beer. Check it out in: CAN US UK
Don’t forget, this is all about increasing your enjoyment of beer and these are just guidelines to help you along. If you want to try mixing different beers together or explore how a single beer changes when tasted from different types of glasses, do it! Adding your own rules to any tasting keeps it fresh and interesting to those doing it with you as well. Above all else, remember, enjoy your drink and don’t get hung up on the details.