At the end of a long day, a beer can quench your thirst and taste great. It can be your favorite double IPA, a barrel aged Russian quintuple stout, a popular American adjunct lager, or your own home brew. Each of these beers offer a myriad of flavors, aromas, and sensations. Do you take the time to notice them while you drink? If you want to improve your own brews and your appreciation of beer in general, slow down the next time you open a bottle and think about tasting it and not just drinking it.
Beer’s four basic ingredients – water, malt, hops, and yeast – can produce a staggering number of flavors and aromas. For brewers who do not subscribe to the guidelines of the Reinheitsgebot, the use of fruits, spices, and other adjuncts offer even more variety. Add to these flavors the characteristics derived from barrel aging a beer and there are nearly infinite combinations of beer flavors and aromas to be discovered and enjoyed. To focus on tasting your beer, consider these steps.
- Swirl the beer in your glass. Your friends may give you a hard time. You may look like a beer snob. Just do it. Agitating the beer releases volatile aromatic compounds and allows you to proceed to step two.
- Take several short sniffs. Take one or two long sniffs. Different parts in your nose will pick up different smells. Think about what you’re smelling. Do the aromas remind you of anything? First impressions are usually good ones. Consider taking notes.
- Taste the beer. Take a sip and move it around your mouth, coating your tongue. Agitation is the name of the game here, as it will open the beer up and enhance flavor perception. What do the flavors remind you of? Again, consider first impressions and taking notes.
- Swallow. Unlike wine tasting, which usually ends in a spit bucket, some of the flavors and aromas in beer are picked up on the back of the palate and in the throat. What aftertaste can you detect? Those beer burps can be informative.
As you smell and taste more beers, you’ll begin to associate different styles with different characteristics. Certain yeast types or hop varieties may give you distinct impressions. German Hefe-Weizens typically have flavors of bananas, cloves, and even bubble gum. Citra and Amarillo hops can smell and taste like oranges, tangerines, and other citrus. Found a beer with El Dorado hops? Look for watermelon or watermelon candy flavors. There are so many unique flavors and combinations to be discovered. Each new beer you try will develop your palate further and allow you to better evaluate what you’re tasting, and more importantly, what you’re brewing!
If you have questions about a flavor you’ve found in a beer, or want to (re)create a certain flavor or aroma in your next batch, please come visit us! We love to talk about beer and brewing and we’re always happy to chat.