Tasting beer should be fun – plain and simple. If it isn’t, you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd.
You don’t have to make a science of it, but a few simple guidelines will only make the experience more memorable, and ultimately, better.
So, here are a few guidelines to help you squeeze that little bit more out of every pint. But remember, if it ever stops being fun, it’s time to take a good look in the mirror. You don’t need to become a caricature of those beer connoisseurs we hear so much about; you just need to learn how to appreciate the different flavors and apply your own context and experience to them.
First up, let’s start with appearance:
Gently pour your beautiful beer into the recommended glass and take a moment to appreciate how it looks; after all, appearance is part of the experience. Be sure to take note of the beer’s color, clarity, carbonation, and the head. The head, in particular, can make a huge impact on a the appearance of a beer with constancy ranging from light and fluffy to compact, dense and focused. Some will dissipate, others will linger; many will even cling to the glass – lacing the surface as you drink.
Once you’ve soaked up all the beer has to offer visually, it’s time to move on to our next sensory experience. Our sense of taste and smell are intrinsically linked, and therefore smelling your beer is imperative to experiencing the full impact and flavor on offer.
Gently swirl the beer in your glass – allowing the bouquet of aroma to be released. As you swirl, it’s time to dip your nose in the glass to inhale the delights locked within. The great thing about fragrance is that it interacts so strongly with our memories; even a beginner can get starting straight away by drawing from their own experiences and memory. There are no right or wrong answers, but as you gain experience, you’ll soon start to build a more eclectic range of aroma references from which to draw inspiration.
With the pre-show now wrapped up, it’s time to move on to the main event. Take a mouthful – not just a sip – and take a moment to wash the beer over your tongue – taking note of the texture and mouthfeel. Does it feel weighty and thick, or light and effervescent?
As you take reference of the mouthfeel, you’ll also start to build an impression of the initial flavor. Generally speaking, you will detect the initial sweetness at the tip of your tongue, while the bitterness starts to reveal itself at the back of your tongue as you swallow. Allow time to appreciate the different flavors as the beer moves from one place to the next – note the change in flavor as it transitions from front to back.
Tasting more that one beer at a time
If you’re tasting multiple beers, it pays to think about the order in which you move from one to the next. For example, if you’re tasting two beers, and one of them is stronger than the other, it makes sense to start with the lighter beer first. It usually makes sense to start with the lighter, less complex styles and move up from there. If you really want to geek up your tasting session, a little water and some cashew nuts between each style will help to cleanse and refresh you palate.
For our more advanced article on tasting, check out our guide to conducting a beer tasting.