Beer 101: Tasting

04-25-2016, The BeerVibe Crew


There was a time when I knew when a beer tasted good, and I knew when a beer didn’t. I wasn’t moved to have to describe why I felt that way. That was plain and simple enough. Then I found out that beer is much more complicated than that.

An orchestra has many instruments all working together to make music, beautiful or otherwise. We can listen to the blend of instruments and enjoy it. Sometimes a single instrument will appear to stand out, say, the sound of a single harmonica, that catches your ear and you follow it. Or maybe you have trained your ear to pick out other instruments: cellos, oboes, clarinets, and so on. The more you know about music, the richer is your listening experience.

Beer is rather like that too. No, you don’t need an advanced degree in beer drinking to enjoy a glass of beer, anymore than you need a degree in musicology to enjoy good music. But the more you know of what goes into beer, and when you learn how to use your eyes, nose, and palate to sense more of what brewers craft into their brews, the richer your beer-drinking experience will be.

As this column is designed to be educational to the beer drinker, we have some recommendations to make for your beer-drinking education: Some time, say you are at your favorite establishment with spouse, or friends, and you are gabbing about sports, the weather, politics, family, the favorite footwear your dog ate, or whatever, and you order a craft beer. Try to get it in a bottle that you can pour into a clear beer glass at room temperature. Stop talking. The aforementioned topics must wait. The full attention of your nose and mouth are required for what is to follow.

Pour the beer into the glass; tilt the glass about 45 degrees at first, then turning it upright and let a good beer head form, maybe for an inch or an inch and a half. Look through the beer. Observe its color and its clarity. Does the foam hold up? Does it settle down gradually? Now hold the glass to your nose and get a good whiff of it. What do you observe? Do you smell hops? Does it smell fruity? Do you get the scent of yeast and bread? Next, fill your mouth with the beer. Don’t swallow it yet. Hold it in your mouth and swish it around a bit, like you would with a mouthwash. What do you feel on your tongue and in your cheeks? Does it make your mouth pucker? Do you feel thousands of little pin pricks in your mouth? Is it bitter? Do you detect what might be called “body?” Is it oily? Is there anything about this that could be described as crisp?

Unlike mouthwash, it’s safe to swallow now. Note the aftertaste. Was it pleasant? Was it clean? Does it stay with you a long time? Was it pleasant enough for you to want to buy that beer again? Or will you wonder how that brewery stays in business? Also observe the lace, the beer clinging to the insides of the glass and slowly flowing down. Would your beloved crocheting grandmother appreciate these delicate remains?

It is time to return to reality. It is proper, and polite, to resume your conversation. If your spouse or friends were wondering if there was anything wrong with you, you can explain that you were just getting the most out of your beer. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Your leather-craving canine.

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