The great thing about beer tasting, as opposed to wine tasting, is that you have to actually drink the beer not spit it out! Apparently this is because the tastebuds for bitterness (a key component of any beer) are located at the very back of the tongue. However, I heard Stephen Fry say on QI recently that is was just a myth…. and you’ve got to believe the Fry haven’t you?
Anyway, wherever the tastebuds are, they are not so useful after too many pints so, it’s always a good idea to limit your tasting session to 10 to 20 beers, so your judgement doesn’t get too impaired.
There are the major things to look out for when assessing a beer’s taste: flavour, mouthfeel and finish. As your first two sips of any beer are the most sensitive, use the first to assess the beer’s flavour, and the second to rate its mouthfeel (the feel and texture of the liquid within your mouth and throat).
On your first sip, don’t swallow straight away. Let the beer linger in your mouth for a couple of seconds so that it comes into contact with all of your tastebuds, and breathe through your nose while you’re doing this. This process is known as “retro-olfaction”, and it allows the beer’s scent to reach your olfactory nerves, which, due to the connection between the senses of taste and smell, intensifies the beer’s flavour.
On your second sip, concentrate on the beer’s mouthfeel. You may detect a metallic or astringent quality, or perhaps a powdery feel. Note also whether the beer is lightly or heavily carbonated, and whether it warms your mouth and throat as you swallow it. Other points to consider are the beer’s density, and whether it has an oily or sticky quality to it.
Another important aspect to consider when tasting beer is the aftertaste. The aftertaste is critical to the overall impression of the beer and should confirm taste and appeal. The flavour and length of the aftertaste will differ significantly depending on the style of beer being tasted: American lagers, for example, often have virtually no aftertaste, whereas a stout will likely have a heavy and somewhat bitter aftertaste. Take note of the aftertaste’s character (sweet, bitter, malty) as well as its length.
Just like wine, each beer has its own special character and subtle complexities. It can be every bit as satisfying tasting beer as tasing wine, and you will soon learn to appreciate the different styles. And just like wine, beer can be enjoyed on its own but is also excellent with food. After a bit of experimentation you will soon discover what beer goes with what dishes – the dining table need not be reserved for wine!