How to Be a Beer Connoisseur

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

We’ve already explored a few different beers from around the world, which should have given you an appetite to try a few new brews. But how do you judge new beers? How do you turn your beer tasting experience into a true exploration of the flavours and sensations?

Judging Beer: It’s an Experience

Beer tasting is a fun, rewarding experience that’s great for sharing with friends. As you come across new styles or brews it’s helpful to know what to look for when it’s time to evaluate what you’ve just sipped. Take your time getting to know the flavours and work through the aspects of the beer, one by one, until you become a true beer connoisseur.

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Step 1: Pour the beer

When pouring your own beer from a bottle, run the beer gently down the side of the glass, judging your pouring speed according to the head that’s forming. You should aim to have about a two-finger head when you’re done.

Tip:

Some beers have visible yeast at the bottom of the bottle. With some beers, like bottle-conditioned ales, you don’t want the yeast. With Weissbier, however, it is meant to be enjoyed with the beer, so you’ll have to stop pouring while there’s still a little liquid left inside. Swirl to lift the yeast sediment and finish off by pouring into your glass, or drinking straight out of the bottle. Keep in mind though that drinking the yeast is a matter of personal preference, not a must-do.

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Step 2: Appraise appearance

The beer looks great in your glass. Now what? A good place to start observing the appearance of the new beer is with the head. Is it dense or thin? Heads are sometimes referred to as rocky, if they are especially dense with dips and peaks forming as some of the bubbles pop. What colour is the head? This can range from pure white on Pilsners to light or medium brown on some stouts and porters.

Next it’s time to examine the appearance of the beer itself. Hold the glass up to the light and note the color and whether it is cloudy or clear.

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Step 3: Take a good whiff

Smelling the beer is an important part of the experience because our sense of smell influences the way we taste things and getting a whiff of the beer through your nose opens up a range of flavours to your palate. If at first you can’t smell anything, swirl the glass to release some carbonation and help carry the aroma up to your nose.

Decide whether it smells primarily of hops or malt. Light coloured beers tend to smell more of hops while darker beers generally have a pronounced malt, roasted, chocolate or coffee aroma. Many ales have a strong hoppy aroma, or have some spiciness or fruitiness, which comes from yeast.

Things to consider: How intense is the aroma? Is it sweet (malt notes) or sharp (hop aromas) or a balance of different sensations? See if you can identify more specific aromas in the beer.

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Step 4: Take a sip

It’s important, when taking your first sip, to be aware of the sensation of the beer as it enters your mouth. Decide whether it’s sweet, bitter or something else. Take your time with this particular evaluation because beer can be very complex and you’ll come to notice that there can be quite a difference between the first taste and the finish.

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Step 5: Consider the mouthfeel

Here, you’ll identify the texture of the beer by how it physically feels in your mouth. Nitrogenated beers have small bubbles – these beers have a creamy mouthfeel. Lagers are carbonated and thus effervescent, and a stout can be soft and feel fuller.

The weight, or body, of beer can range from light to watery and full or heavy.

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Step 6: Appreciate the finish

Pause for a minute and think about the flavours that linger on your tongue after you swallow. Is it bitter from the hops? Or is there a persistent malty sweetness? The finish of a beer depends greatly on the style in which it is brewed. The most important thing to note is: do you want to take another sip?

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Step 7: Draw a taste conclusion

Once you’ve analysed the various characteristics of the beer in front of you, try to summarise your impressions. Did the flavours come alive on your tongue? Were they well balanced or did they just fizzle out on your taste buds? Was the beer fresh and satisfying, or did it just leave you feeling flat?

Most importantly: Did you like the beer? Would you drink it again?

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Beer tasting tips:

  • Use water as a palate cleanser.
  • If you’re tasting new beers, don’t do the tasting with food or too soon after a meal. The lingering flavours from food can greatly affect your impression of the brew.
  • If you’ve got a range of different beers to sample, it’s best to taste from light to dark.

Click on the image below to download and print your very own beer score card:

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