There are many books and articles written on how to properly taste beer, and most of them consist of the same basic steps. Pour the beer properly, look at the beer’s appearance, smell the beer to get the aroma, and taste the beer for its flavors and mouthfeel. Below are the basic steps broken out on what you should be looking for, but first a quick lesson on how your brain uses your tongue and olfactory system to taste beer.
About 90% of what you taste comes from the aromas you smell. You’re olfactory system is very complex and can perceive about 10,000 aromas. There are two sets of olfactory sensors. The ortho-nasal receptors are high up in the nose and serve as an analytical tool, where aromas are categorized and eventually identified. The retro-nasal receptors are in soft tissue at the back of your mouth and is the channel that connects the mouth to the nose, and perceives less “aroma” and more as “flavor”. These are engaged by exhaling through the nose while taking a sip of beer.
Your tongue and gustatory system can detect far less than the olfactory system, but is still powerful. Your tongue is sensitive to 6 different flavors: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Umami. These palate zones help distinguish all the flavors you perceive in different beers and foods. Sweet is present in most beers as a balancing element and primarily comes from the malt, but may be overshadowed by hops, roasted malt, or acidity. Sour is the detection of pH, acidity, or lack of. Most beer is moderately acidic with a pH of 4.0-4.5, Belgian beers can be as low as pH 3.4-3.9, American sours can be even lower. Salty is a flavor not usually found in beer but if it is present from mineral-rich water it can make flavors richer and bigger. Bitter or bitterness is usually an acquired taste for humans and builds in the mouth and takes longer to leave the palate. Umami translates to “deliciousness” in Japanese, and is used to describe savory, or meaty qualities. It’s found in aged meat, oily fish, fermented foods, aged cheese, ripe tomatoes, seaweed and many other foods. Fat is also detectable but it’s not clear if it plays a role in beer tasting as beer is usually a fat-free product.
On to guided steps for actually tasting beer.
- Pour the beer properly.
The beer should be poured into a beer clean glass at a 45 degree angle until ¾ of the way full then tipped up right pouring straight down to give the beer some head. The head helps the beer look nice for presentation and keeps the aromas in your beer longer.
2. Look at the beer for its appearance.
· What is the color? Is it pale, straw, brown, black, amber
· Look at the clarity. Is it hazy, clear, is there anything floating in the beer?
· Look at the carbonation and head/head retention. What color is the head, is it foamy, light, how long does it last?
3. Smell the beer.
First take two quick sniffs of the beer, then dive in and get your nose in there. What aromas do you get? You may need to agitate the beer a bit, by covering it and swirling it a bit then uncovering it to release more aromas.
4. Taste the beer.
Then take another sip and while swallowing exhale through your nose to get your retro-nasal receptors involved. What flavors do you perceive? Are there more flavors developing as the beer goes over your tongue and down your throat? How does the beer feel on your mouth? Is it sticky, thick, well carbonated?
5. Overall impression.
What is your overall impression of the beer? Did the aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel go well together? And most importantly did you enjoy the beer?
6. Does the beer change flavors as it warms up?
Let the beer warm up a bit, are there more flavors and aromas you get out of it as it gets closer to room temperature?