Tasting Beer is a very different animal to drinking beer. Tasting is about trying to isolate and define the various sensations that a beer provides as opposed to just enjoying them all as a whole. Below we provide an introduction to testing beer with 8 top tips.
I’ve been fortunate enough to taste food and drinks professionally for over 20 years. The perception of flavour is a really interesting science and actually more about smell than taste. Sounds odd, but the taste buds in the mouth are only capable of fairly basic perception (i.e. salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami) so around 90% of flavour perceptions is produced by aromatic compounds hitting around 400 scent receptors in our noses. We all have different abilities to detect certain aromas and therefore “flavours”. Genetic studies have shown that on average we only share around 70% scent receptors in common.
Aromas themselves can be made up of a combination of aromatic compounds that can cross react to enhance or subdue perceived flavours. When tasting, you are trying to identify these compounds from a complex mixture i.e. beer. Complicated stuff! But my point is that you shouldn’t feel that someone else can taste better than you, everyone will be perceiving the beer slightly differently and everyones view is equally valid.
Descriptions can often alienate people when you can’t taste or smell beers in the way they have been described. As mentioned above, this is not a problem and the descriptions are only a record of how that beer was on that day to that person. I have included the ThirstBourne Tasting Notes to provide a consistent tasting guide to all the beers that we have on offer. If you chose to do your own tasting (see below) then you can also use our notes as a comparison and share your findings – it is fascinating that the same beer can be perceived in so many different ways.
Weirdly, tasting beer is very different to drinking beer and is more difficult than it sounds. When drinking beer, most people will only analyse the beer to the level of “do I like it or not” – myself included. But if you ask yourself the question “what in particular do I like about it?” then this is a more difficult question to answer. To delve a bit deeper, you need to separate out the attributes of the beer namely, appearance, aroma, flavour and mouthfeel. By looking at these factors individually, you will find that you will analyse the beer to a greater depth.
I have attached our tasting sheet that you are welcome to download should you want to have a go. You can do this on your own or as a group. If you are doing it as a group you will notice the range of different observations that one beer single beer can get. If you get to the infuriating position where you just can’t put your finger on a particular aroma then it really helps to discuss it and that in itself is quite entertaining.
There are a number of ways of performing testing but we’re here to have some fun so have opted for a less formal approach. The way that we did the tasting is as follows:
N.B. Try not to read the other descriptions before you start as these can influence your assessment.
- Get the beer to the right temperature (chilled for the American style IPAs, Cellar temperature for ales (10°C to 15°C)). If storing bottle conditioned beers in the fridge remember to store them upright.
- Print out the tasting sheet and read through it. No need to memorise it – just so you know where the different parts are.
- Open and pour in to a wine glass to about 1/3rd full being careful not to disturb the sediment in bottle conditioned ales.
- Work through the appearance section of the sheet circling the appropriate attributes as you go.
- Aroma is the most complicated part – To analyse the aroma there are a couple of different techniques that can help.
- Firstly waft the glass under your nose no closer than 6 inches. This gives a long range smell and can help to identify aromas that are overpowered when you eventually get your nose closer.
- Put your nose in the glass and give it a good stiff.
- Place your palm over the top of the glass and give it a swirl (try to make the head froth up a bit). Then lift your palm and you should notice that the aromas are intensified.
- Take a drink, swallow and then breathe out through your nose.
- Record your thoughts by circling the common aromas or if it is not listed (or more specific e.g. grapefruit) then record this also.
- Taste the beer and see if any flavours jump out at you – if not, read through flavour and aftertaste section to see if this helps stimulate some thoughts. Determine how sweet it is and how bitter it is.
- Mouthfeel – work through the sheet to record how the beer feels in the mouth. Is it thin and watery or thick and syrupy? Is it flat or fizzy etc?
- Record your overall impressions.
You may also notice the character of the beer changes over time. This is due to the more volatile aromatics evaporating along with some oxidation. If a beer seems to be overpowering or confusing then leave it for a couple of minutes and reassess. Anyway I hope you find this fun, but if not, drinking it because you like it is always the most important thing. Having an appreciation for the aromas and tastes can then develop into thinking about food pairing. We will be looking at introducing this at ThirstBourne in the future.