Elements of a Great Beer

18 Oct 13

Elements of a Great Beer“A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.”

Czech proverb.

A good beer takes time, quality ingredients, expertise and care to produce. Why not appreciate this through the time-honoured ritual of beer tasting? Follow our five-step guide to uncover the best of your brew.

1. Look

Colour: Beer colours vary according to style. Stouts will be darker due to the roasted barley that makes up much of its malt component, while Weissbier will be considerable lighter due to its wheat makeup.

Carbonation: look for those little bubbles of carbon dioxide, but remember that some beers such as English Pale Ale are designed to be less carbonated.

Clarity:  While wheat beers will always be opaque, many unfiltered craft beers will show haziness. If you spot bits of yeast floating around this is probably due to the brew being bottle fermented. This can be a little off-putting though is generally harmless. However if your beer is served on tap and there are “floaties” then you should be worried.

Head: A good head is made up of very small, densely packed bubbles which are slow to disappear. Anything resembling larger, poppy cola bubbles is a bad sign. Some ales don’t have much head, for example English ales, though should show some evidence of foam.


Beer is capable of emitting a spectrum of aromas, including bread, biscuit, toffee, caramel, tropical fruits, pine, bananas, pepper and spices, depending on the style of brewing. Aromas can be quite specific to beer styles and sometimes an aroma found in one beer style can be inappropriate for other beer styles.

The best way to experience a beer’s aroma is through a slight swirl of the glass, which can release it and test head retention. Unlike wine tasting, swirling the glass vigorously is not appropriate and will affect the head.


Another reason not to swirl the beer too enthusiastically, whether in the glass or in your mouth, is the carbonation. Rather roll the brew around in your mouth, letting it cover the entire tongue, picking up the flavours. The sensation of brew’s textures and physical feeling in your mouth is also known as “mouthfeel”.

Flavours, like aromas, differ per beer and rely much on the particular ingredient make-up. The three key ingredients <link to blog post on key ingredients, still to be posted> generally impart, though are not limited to, these flavours:

  • Hops: tropical fruit, pine, spice or citrus
  • Malt: toffee, coffee, biscuit or (unsurprisingly) malt
  • Yeast: spice, bananas, bread


It’s not over ‘till it’s over. The finish, or aftertaste, is another aspect to savour and can’t be experienced when the beer is spat as a wine taster would. A palate-cleansing, bitter finish could be the result of a hoppy brew, while a sweeter, heavier finish could be from malt or from added sugars.


If it’s a good beer, continue to enjoy the brew, noticing new aromas and flavours with every sip. Quality brews deserve to be shared and enjoyed, so  tweet us your finds at @MyBeerSA.


Enjoy your beer, and remember to drink responsibly!