|For A Serious Beer Tasting - Do It The Right Way
Tasting beer in a right manner helps you truly understand it. One must learn
how to properly taste beer in order to truly see what craft beer is all about.
Good tasting skills are absolutely essential to be a discerning beer drinker -
its the only way to distinguish right from wrong.
Lesson One is the manner in which to approach a beer. The condition of the
taster (i.e., you) is critical. Our palates are best early in the day, although
most people don't hold beer tastings at 9:00 AM, earlier is always better.
One should avoid spicy foods the day of a tasting, and coffee is best
avoided. Tobacco is a huge no-no. Try to be well-rested when evaluating beer.
The setting should be calm and quiet, free of distractions and odors.
Notice that this criteria eliminates many bars as a place to do a serious
tasting. There are several reasons for tasting in a quiet atmosphere,
but top amongst them is that noise actually dulls the palate.
Perfumes, all too common in modern society, make it impossible to
taste beer (or anything else, for that matter). Fabric softeners and
scented detergents contaminate the air around the wearer, and a person
who bathes in cologne rather than water can wreck the noses of all
around them. Lose the scented products when tasting anything.
Once the setting is right, the next thing is to pour the beer. Ideally,
beer is tasted blind (i.e., the taster doesn't know the brand). This can
be difficult to achieve; you need a friend to help pour and enough beers
of the same style that the drinker cannot guess the beers identity.
Ones perception of anything is easily and greatly prejudiced
by knowledge, hence the importance of the blind tasting.
Beer should be poured into a clean glass that has a shape that helps
hold the aroma. Tulip-shaped glasses work really well, especially when only
partially filled. The beer should be dispensed so that a good head forms,
although not so violently that the glass is filled with foam.
The very first job is to smell the beer right after it has been poured into the
sampling vessel. The reason for this is so that you experience the most
volatile aromatics before they waft away. A lot of information about the beer
can be garnered from its aroma, so get your nose over it immediately.
If you are finding it difficult to smell clearly, try giving the beer a
gentle swirl. Avoid putting your hand over the glass (the glass will then
smell like your hand), and don't swirl too much. Violent treatment
of the beer will knock out its carbonation, altering its mouthfeel,
and drive off the volatile aromas you are seeking.
Trained tasters have a specialized lexicon to describe beers character.
In the aroma department, some acceptable adjectives include: floral, earthy,
toasty, honey-like, citrusy, meaty and even baby diapers. You take notes
about each beers aroma. Once your nose is a bit fatigued, you move on to
evaluate the appearance of the beer. This list of adjectives contains less
jargon than the vocabularies for aroma, flavor and mouthfeel, but there are
some important ones to know. The taster is looking for clarity, color, head
(foam) retention, foam color and quality (e.g., fine or coarse bubbles).
Remember, whether the beer is right or wrong depends upon
the styles parameters.
After appearance, most judges go back and get another whiff of the beer. A
note or two may be jotted down, then the beer is tasted. The initial impression
is very important because it is at this point that ones palate is least fatigued.
Subsequent sips will taste quite different, and very subtle flaws may seem to
have disappeared. They haven't; its just palate fatigue beginning to set in.
The lexicon for aroma and flavor are very similar. As the beer is tasted,
notes are taken and the beers mouthfeel is also considered.
Flavor is experienced with tongue and nose whereas mouthfeel
is more of a palate and cheek sensation.
Again, notes are taken and opinions formed. It should be mentioned that there
has been no discussion amongst the tasters up until this point. Silence
must be maintained so that one person doesn't influence the others.
After all notes are taken (and the beer scored if it is a homebrew contest),
the panel may discuss what they just experienced.
All this may sound like a lot of work. Thats because it is. Evaluating beer
in a controlled setting is hard. After you've done it a few hundred times,
it might even cease to be fun. Maybe. Doubtful.
Its really not too hard to set up a fun tasting party at your home. A small
group of friends can gather on a somewhat regular schedule and conduct
blind tastings. Its fun to see if opinions about various beers are changed when
tried in a controlled, blind manner. The results are often surprising. Of course,
you could simply have a couple of beers with people you like and just relax.