Drinking beer is more than just getting wasted, and as I grow older, I can't even drink more than a few without regretting it in the morning. Luckily I work from home so I don't have to really worry about it. But waking up with a hangover sucks regardless. Anyway, now I'm able to get much more enjoyment out of tasting my beer rather than pounding it.
Tasting beer can seem a little complex, particularly for people who have not tried it much before. There is much more to tasting beer than simply taking a gulp and saying whether the beer was any good or not. Unfortuantely, that's what I do a lot of the time because my palate is not yet refined. I also have not immersed myself in the world of beer snobs, so am not quite comfortable shouting out what hops I taste to random people.
Beer snobs, or beer dicks as I'd like to call them are despised in all circles, even casual craft beer drinkers. I digress.
Tasting involves considering the unique characteristics of beer. Much like tasting wine, beer tasting is something that people get better at over time, and the best way to learn is simply through experience.
When it comes to tasting beer, there are a couple of key steps to follow that can help you to better understand the beer you are drinking and to pick out the individual flavors. The first step is simply to look at the appearance of the beer, particularly its color, head and carbonation.
Next, the beer should be swirled within the glass, as this helps to make the aromas more noticeable and test how well the head of the beer is retained. The beer should also be smelled, before it is tasted, and finally the beer should be slowly tasted. This includes holding it in your mouth before swallowing, as this allows the flavors to be noticed more effectively.
Another secret is to actually read the bottle. Sometimes this can give you a heads to what you are looking for. It's definitely easier to taste stuff you know is there, rather than making stuff up.
Malty VS Hoppy
One of the most noticeable flavors in many beers is bitterness from hops. This is particularly significant in some beer styles, such as those that emphasize hops during the brewing process or make use of dry hopping. Bitterness is not necessarily a negative factor in beer brewing, and this is a significant element of many different beer styles.
The level of maltiness can also differ significantly across beers, with some beers having a high amount of malt, while others have barely noticeable malt. Often, this is style specific, as malt is a significant factor of some styles, but not of others.
I think the best “first step” is to identify malty versus hoppy. This one is pretty easy to tell. Malty is a kind of sweet flavor, while hops are generally considered bitter. That's not always a great way to compare them, so try also to think about grainy flavor when thinking of malt, and hops can be pretty aromatic, so that's another good indicator the beer you're drinking is hoppy. Have you ever had an IPA? That's what hops taste like.
I'd like to do a more in-depth tasting post at one point. Check back later.
It Does a Body Good
The flavor of the body of the beer is often one of the most defining and noticeable characteristics of a beer. In some cases, a beer may be considered to be thin or watery, while in other cases, the body of the beer may be smooth or robust. This is normally style-specific, but even within a given style there may be significant variation. At the end of the day, the body flavor of beer is the result of many different components of the brewing process, and is strongly influenced by the approaches and the decisions of the individual brewer.
Body is hard to describe. Something like Coors or Budweiser is going to have a light body. Even the full body ones are light. Something that's a bit “heavier”, or “thicker” like a stout is going to have more body. They're all water based, but do a side by side comparison and the meaning of body will be more obvious.
There are quite a few other “nuance” flavors to identify. We'll cover those in another post. Nuance flavors in beer are often less obvious. Tasting beer slowly can often help with this process, as can having the beer slightly warm, as chilled beer often masks some of the less obvious flavors. Some nuanced flavors include smoky, sweet, nutty, bready, grainy, sweet, toasty, and a wide variety of flavors derived from additions to the beer like fruit, honey, coffee, tea, and more!
You'll likely feel pretty dumb and inexperienced at first. Even though beer tasting can be fun, you can also feel pretty stupid when your opinion is completely off base or different from everyone else you're drinking with. Whatever. Try to have fun with it. If drinking beer becomes stressful because you can't taste what type of hops their using or you have to identify that one flavor you can't put your finger on, you become a beer-dick in the making.
image credit: ume-y