Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: NJ for the moment, heading south next spring to be with my family.
Beer Primer, The Sequel. Tasting.
So you want to learn to taste beer? I can help. This edition of the beer primer should help you out quite a bit, even an experienced beer lover should benefit from this. I hope.
First and foremost, let me say this. Go to wal-mart and buy a fish bowl for a few bucks and have your friends toss in their keys when they arrive. People go out to drink, and most use caution with their driving abilities or designate a driver. People go out to a tasting party, and the mind set is very different. It's easy for twelve couples to get together and split twelve twelve packs in three or four hours. That puts you over the limit. This happens because you aren't "drinking" you're "tasting". Enjoy beer to the fullest, if you enjoy your friends, take away the keys. You can buy more beer, friends are a bit trickier to bring back.
If you want to throw a party, you need a few basics. Like a nice round number of friends. A six packs worth, or a twelve packs' worth (yourself included) It just makes it easier.
You need to select a beer range, or a lack of one. Choose what kinds of beers you'd like to taste. Either assign beers on the invites, let them randomly find their own within a category (tell them to bring only IPA's), or for an even wider range, you can give each person a different type of beer to bring, give one a stout, one an ale, one a lambic (the one with the most money lol), and so on. To save your palate, do not choose more than a dozen beers. For a tasting, this is enough for 48 people to taste it all at 3 ounces each, which is plenty for a tasting.
Serve food. Even a scheduled break form a serious tasting involves food. Take one or two during the party, and make sure there is plenty of plain bread and water for palate cleansing between beers. Feeding your friends and loved ones bread and water during the tasting almost requires that you feed them a real nice spread during the break. For now, decide whether you want a formal tasting with rules about the bread and water only during tasting rounds, or a more casual affair where tasting the beer involves how well it goes with food.
Have a system in place for scoring the beers. And do an intro before you start about how to taste. Give a class on how to do it, and make sure everyone plays along. One thing to consider is that you may want to "blind taste" the beers. As your guests arrive, take the beers away from them and abscond to the kitchen with them. Pour the beers in the kitchen and give them a number. When you pour tilt the glass at about a 45 degree angle, and gently pour the beer in. Control the size of the head by pouring slower or faster so you end up with a 1/2" head. If the beer doesn't get a head that size in a normal pint glass, make sure your guests note that on their scoring sheets. Spotless glasses will help the head form and hold in the glass. Bring the beer to the guests and let them judge and mark the grading sheets with a number on the top. At the end of the evening, collect the sheets and reveal the beers by number. You'll be surprised how often an inexpensive beer will blow a more pricey one out of the water.
When you start, make sure you serve the beers in order from the lightest to the darkest. The color of beer comes from the malt in the beer, and the more malt there is, normally, the darker it will be. As for temperature, most beers should sit out for about a half an hour or so before opening and serving. Ice cold beers can numb your taste buds, and mask the full flavor and character of the beer. A warmer beer (warmer, not warm) reveals more of it's true flavor and aroma. Try and serve ales at around 50-55 degrees F and lagers at 45-50 degrees F. As a side note,Knowing this, watch beer commercials closely.
Make sure everyone takes their time and enjoys the beer. You may have to walk them through the process of tasting and judging the first time, a little leadership goes a long way to making a successful tasting.
Now onto the tasting. Glass works best for tastings, but if you are not willing to spend the evening washing dishes or willing to buy 40 pint glasses (I'm fortunate enough to have them anyway ;-)), you CAN use plastic. Before you do however, soak them in a tub full of water with about a tablespoon of baking soda for every gallon you use. Let this soak for a few hours and rinse well. It will help keep the plastic from fouling the beer.
So you have your first round poured. Now what?
Step One. Appearance. Here you are looking for three things.
-Color. Does it match the color it's supposed to be? Is it a see through stout? a yellowish Amber Bock? The color denotes the amount of malt used, and directly impacts the flavor.
-Carbonation. A good solid beer will leave a full (1/2 to 1") head for a few minutes then leave a "lace" on the side of the glass.
-Turbidity. This is the clarity of the beer. The most important note here is that some beers (sierra nevada, alas does not do this anymore) are bottle conditioned. This means that they are actually getting a secondary fermentation IN the bottle. This leaves a small layer of yeast in the bottom of the bottle that can be disturbed when you pour. This will cloud the beer and should not take away from the beers score.
Step Two. The Aroma. Also checking for three things here as well. The best way to test this is to smell the beer first for it's bouquet, then gently swirl the beer in the glass and inhale. After about four breaths of the beer, your ability to detect diminishes.
-Aroma. There are many qualities hidden in a good beers' aroma. I try and break them down on each sniff, I look for it's earth tones, it's vegetable/fruit smells, the strength of the aroma, and the alcohol level and any odd or off smells.
-Bouquet. The bouquet is released when the carbonation unveils the hops. This happens during the pour and can dissipate very quickly. Most of these scents are very herbal and spicy.
-Odor. Take a break from sniffing for a moment, and go back and try and detect any of the off aromas or bouquets. If there are none, then that's awesome, if their are, that's trouble. The most common funk you will find is "skunk" Heiny, Corona, and Rolling Rock, are the most common offenders in this department. Light infiltration can oxidize and damage the beer casing a skunky odor. Some other things to watch for are sulphur, fishy smells, and chlorine smells. This step is the double check for foul things that shouldn't ever happen to beer.
Step Three. Taste. A long time coming, I know. A simple process that really involves only two criteria. Feel and flavor. By far the most important factor in the tasting. The taste. I break this down into four categories. Feel, flavor, hoppiness, and finish.
-Mouth feel. The weight or lightness of the beer. Does the beer feel thick and syrup like, or is it thin and dry? This is a result of the sugars and proteins left in the beer from the brewing process, it is also a function of the amount of malt. Usually beers are classified here as either light, medium, or full bodied.
-Flavor. The king of the tasting. Make sure and swish the beer around in your mouth to ensure a full tasting. Is it bitter? Sour? Sweet? Does it fit in with what is on the label? Is it a light thin, watery, stout? Is it a throat grabbing lager? Does it fit into it's category. Just give an overall, solid impression of the beer here. What are your first thoughts?
-Maltiness. How much malt is in the beer? The more malt used will result in a sweeter beer. The flavor here comes from the malt being converted into food for the yeast. This can result in a beer having too much malt for the yeast to consume, hence a sweeter beer. Or alternately, a full consumption of the malt, resulting in a more earthy flavor.
-Hoppiness. Hops provide a lot all of the "natural" flavors to a beer. Pine, grass, herbs, spices, and so forth. If the hops do not match the bouquet, don't panic. It should be close though. About as close to each other as your nose is to your mouth. Hops also provide the bitterness and bite to beers.
-Finish. The after taste. Drop the beer. Sit back and taste your own mouth. Whatcha got in there? That's the after taste. Is it good? Bad? Doesn't taste like that beer you just swallowed does it? Does it linger? Should it? The darker a beer gets, the less hops they tend to have, and vice versa. Sharper, more bitter tastes tend to linger longer, they should. Sometimes a beer can be the most beautiful thing in the world, and have a nasty after taste. Sometimes beers hide things in their after taste. Sam Adams has a chocolate stout that you can't taste the chocolate until the after taste, and it is strong.
Overall. I usually leave a space for an overall rating, just a general impression of the beer itself, and whether it was pleasant to drink, or not.
I usually make a simple sheet with room to give a score, and a few lines for comments for each section, so at the end while everyone is discussing the results, they will have a reference.
I'll reply to this with a list of words I use to jar my taste buds occasionally.
Cookies = Love