Originally published: Inside Tailgating Magazine Winter 2013
We’ll take any excuse to drink beer, and educating ourselves with a beer tasting is a perfectly respectable reason.
Once upon a time, beer wasn’t complicated. Beer was what working stiffs drank after putting in a shift. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It was just beer. But now there’s a new craft brewery in every up-and-coming neighborhood, and even your dad is homebrewing his own craft beer in the basement. With all this newfound reverence for beer, how are you supposed to know if the beer you’re drinking is actually any good? A beer tasting of course! There are five things beer experts judge in a brew: appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, taste, and overall impression.
5 Elements of beer tasting
APPEARANCE: So how do you learn how to do this? Buy some beer you’ve never had, open it in the privacy of your own home, and pour one into a glass. Are you looking at it? Great, because that means you’re currently judging its appearance. Consider the color. Is it copper orange or golden yellow? Is it clear or hazy? Does it have a thick head (the foam cover) like a cappuccino or does it melt away quickly?
AROMA: I know you’re tempted to take a sip, but hold off for one more minute. The next thing you have to do is smell it. Pretend you’re a fancy wine drinker, put your nose in the glass, and take a big whiff of the aroma. What do you smell? If you’re drinking an India pale ale, you might smell citrus or something floral like honeysuckle from the hops. If you’re drinking a porter, you might catch ground espresso or chocolate. All of these smells are good. If it smells like something other than just beer, that means it’s complex and someone put some time and thought into brewing it.
MOUTHFEEL: Now take a sip. Swish it around if you’re feeling crazy. Hold it in your mouth for a moment before swallowing. Right now what you’re assessing is called the mouthfeel. Does the beer feel thick like a stout or thin like a pilsner? Does the carbonation make it feel effervescent in your mouth like champagne?
TASTE: Let’s delve into the taste. Most beer drinkers know that there are two main elements to taste in a brew: hops and malt. But what do those buzzwords even mean? Hops give beer its spice and bitterness, while malt gives beer its color and sweetness. If your beer tastes floral, fruity, citrusy, herbal, earthy, piney, or spicy, that’s from the hops. If your beer tastes like caramel, coffee, burnt grains, toffee, brown sugar, or toast, that’s from the malt. It’s up to you to figure out if you’re a fan of more hoppy or maltier beers.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: The last criteria for judging beer is your overall impression. Was it satisfying? Would you drink it again? If you answered yes, then dammit, it’s a good beer! Do you want to leave the rest of the 6-pack on the hood of someone’s car? That means it’s not the beer for you. Whether a beer is good or bad is completely subjective. If you like it, drink it, even if you can’t put your finger on why exactly it knocks your socks off. Don’t forget: it’s just beer.
Now, create your own beer tasting party at home or your favorite bar or craft brewery. Check out these great virtual tasting ideas from Snacknation for inspiration! You can sign up or use your Craft Beer Club subscription as a jumping-off point to taste away.
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