|Judge Beer Like a Pro
Who doesn't want to be a beer judge? Well if you don't have time to put in
many hours of study to pass your certification test just follow these few tips
next time you want to know just what an actual judge might say about your beer.
Certified judges and true connoisseurs evaluate the following general
Bouquet/Aroma: Immediately after the beer has been poured, take a sniff
while the aromas begin to expand in your glass. Act quickly for in less time
than you think, the volatile esters that make up the beer's aroma will be gone.
What you're looking for are the dominant aromas of the beer. Is it sweet, sour,
roasty, earthy, herbal, flowery, citric or any one of a number of other smells?
A strong malt presence will bring a nose of sweetness. Beware- aromas of
sourness and tartness might, but certainly not always, mean your beer is
infected. Roasty aromas derive from roasted grains, such as the unmalted
barley used in an Irish stout. Different varieties of hops impart earthy, herbal,
flowery and citric aromas. Ales are often fruity. German wheat beers and many
Belgian ales are yeasty and spicy.
Appearance: Is the beer clear? Most beers are filtered and should be clear.
However, unfiltered wheat beers are supposed to be poured so that the yeast
on the bottom of the bottle is roused and poured into the glass imparting some
cloudy notes. Next, check the color of the beer. Each beer style has its own
color parameters: golden for pilsners, amber for most pale ales,
orangey-reddish-amber for Oktoberfests, black or near-black for stouts.
Check to see if your beer have a nice foamy head and good head retention/
Does beautiful lace cling to the sides of the glass or does the beer wash down
the inside of the glass like dishwater?
Flavor: Here you're looking for a number of characteristics, many of them
similar in definition to the bouquet/aroma characteristics. Is the main flavor
one of malt (sweet or roasty) or hops (earthy, herbal, flowery, citric)? Does an
added fruit take over the flavor? Is the beer tart or sour? Wheat beers are
often pleasantly tart. Many Belgian beers are tart or yeasty or spicy. How does
the flavor change from the first impression into the middle and to the finish? Is
the finish a big burst of flavor that quickly ends or does it linger?
How do all these flavors play off each other? In beer-judge talk, that's called
"balance." Is the balance good, or does one flavor drown out all the others in a
nasty show of brute strength? How well is the beer "conditioned," by which
beer judges mean the age of the beer and how the flavors have all come
together? Is the level of carbon dioxide pleasant or overpowering?
Body: What's the mouthfeel of the beer? Is it thin and watery (like a standard
American lager) or full and chewy (like an Imperial stout)? Does the beer
sparkle or is it flat and dull looking?
Drinkability & Overall Impression: Finally, beer judges make comments
about how they perceive the beer as a whole, adding kudos where
appropriate and constructive criticisms when necessary. At the last judging I
attended I heard things such as these: This is a great example of an
American pale ale, full of malt body and lots of fresh, lovely Cascade hops
aroma and flavor." "This was entered as an Irish stout, but there's almost no
roasty malt aroma or taste, and the color is brown, not black."
One thing must be clear from the above examples. In order to judge beer, you
have to know beer styles. Study these by buying and tasting as many
commercial examples as possible and you're on your way to becoming a
knowledgeable beer judge.