The Beer Counselor Is In: How To Taste Beer

178110-libbey-belgian-taster-b1_2You are wondering, why would I read something to teach me to drink beer?  I already know how to drink beer.  You put the bottle, can, or glass to your mouth, sip and swallow. Not hard.

A good beer should be evident without going through all the affectations I will describe later.  A good beer tastes good the moment you put your glass to your lips.  There really is not any need to hold the glass up to the light, sniff it, and then swirl it around in your mouth before you swallow it just to enjoy a good beer. That is why you taste, however.

Part of the reason craft beer has taken off like it has is the deeper you get into it, the deeper you get into it.  All the flavors and aromas you get in a good craft beer makes you curious.  The first time you taste a hefewiezen your mind wonders, “Is that bananas I’m tasting.” You begin to marvel at the different components in beer and how they work together to make a good beer.  This guide is for that.

I will describe two ways of tasting.  One is more pretentious looking then the other.  The first will get you the raised eyebrow and shake of the head in a bar while the other is reserved for times when you are alone or with close beer friends and trying to do really dig deep into the beer (see it already sounds pretentious).

You go to your favorite beer bar, you scan the tap wall and you see a beer you’ve never had before. Your bartender sits it down in front of you.

  • First, let it set for a bit. You want it to warm up (we serve craft beer way too cold in this country) just a touch so that the aromas and the flavors come more to the forefront.
  • While you wait, look at it. What color is it in the glass (hopefully you are served in a clear glass)?  What does the head look like, is it fluffy or thin, does it match the color of the beer?
  • Then bring it up to your nose and take a short sniff. What is your first impression?  Do you get hops, do you get fruit, do you get bread?
  • Then take a drink. Let it roll around to all parts of your mouth.  You don’t have to swish, just move it around so that it touches all the taste buds on your tongue. You are also trying to figure out how it feels on your tongue:  heavy, medium, light, oily (viscous), tart, drying, etc.

That’s it.  That is all you have to do.  It takes less than a minute and you have done a quick exploration of how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes and how it feels.

The more complicated tasting will involve proper glass ware, taking notes, lighting, etc.  Not really.  The only thing you really need to do is take notes.  The cool thing, is it is basically the same as the first way.  Here is how I break it down:  What does it look like, What does it smell like, What does it feel like, What does it taste like.

  • First, pour the beer into your glass. Fill the glass about half way.  Ideally, if you don’t want to spring for a set of Belgian goblets, just use a wine glass because the shape of the glass holds the aromas in better.  When you pour make sure you get a nice head.  You’ll want to inspect the features of the head and a good head releases more aromas.
  • Now, what does it look like? What is its color?  Is it clear or hazy?  Is the head big and fluffy or thin and sporadic?  Does the head match the color of the beer:  white, off-white, etc.?
  • What does it smell like? Now swirl it around with your hand on the bowl of the glass to help warm it up. Take a short sniff, then take another short sniff.  What do you smell first?  Grassy, piney, verdant hop aromas. Bready, toasty, caramel, malt aromas.  Yeast esters like banana, clove, or dark fruit.
  • Next, write down what you see and what you smell immediately. This gives your nose a rest (yes, I’m serious) and you need to gather your thoughts on what you are drinking.  Your nose can pick up hundreds if not thousands of smells you literally can’t put into words so it needs to rest.
  • Now, take another couple of sniffs and describe what other aromas you can pick up now.
  • Here is the fun part, take a sip. Let it move around and touch all parts of your mouth and tongue.  That will get the beer onto all of your taste buds and let you figure out what it feels like.
  • What does it feel like in your mouth? Was it drying, did it coat your mouth, was it carbonated?
  • What did it taste like? Swallow and write down what your first impressions of the taste and feel were. Did you taste alcohol, hops flavor, malt flavor?  Is it really bitter or is it sweet?  Is it tart?  Do you get a funkiness from the yeast?  Did the taste last for a long time or not
  • Take another slightly bigger sip and explore what other tastes you can get from it. With the beer in your mouth take a deep breath through your nose to help the aromas come into your nasal passages that way and see if you get any other aromas that you hadn’t noticed at first.

That is pretty much it.  Finish drinking the beer (that’s what you want to do anyway) and write down your impressions.  Remember, the more you taste, the more you will taste.  If you do this a few times you will taste more and smell more in each beer and be able to describe what it is you like in the beer better.

Also, the only thing that really matters is do you like the beer.  No amount of tasting or words will help you like the beer.   It will help you understand what it is you do or do not like about the beer. That’s it.  You will find, even if the beer is well made and constructed perfectly to the style guidelines you may still hate it.

To help you along with your tasting here are a couple of links I use all the time:

Now, go forth and drink.