Lesson 4: How to Taste Beer

We're here. We're in the taproom, we've picked our beer and we're settling in to our seats. Now here's where things get interesting at Beer Hawk University because, this week, we learn how to taste beer! We'll be discussing some best-practices in order to make sure you're appreciating all you can. Cheers!

Sure, we all know how to taste beer but how can we really taste it? It's a bit more than just pouring one into a glass and tipping your head back. Knocking back a pint is all well and good, yet if you really want to taste beer there’s a way to do it and things to look for.

Before we get started we should take a minute to discuss what's going on in your head (and face and mouth and nose) when tasting beer:

Your tongue is covered with over 10,000 taste buds. Each one is sensitive and responds to a particular set of chemicals which works its way through our sensory system and comes

Lesson 4: How to Taste Beer

We're here. We're in the taproom, we've picked our beer and we're settling in to our seats. Now here's where things get interesting at Beer Hawk University because, this week, we learn how to taste beer! We'll be discussing some best-practices in order to make sure you're appreciating all you can. Cheers!

Sure, we all know how to taste beer but how can we really taste it? It's a bit more than just pouring one into a glass and tipping your head back. Knocking back a pint is all well and good, yet if you really want to taste beer there’s a way to do it and things to look for.

Before we get started we should take a minute to discuss what's going on in your head (and face and mouth and nose) when tasting beer:

Your tongue is covered with over 10,000 taste buds. Each one is sensitive and responds to a particular set of chemicals which works its way through our sensory system and comes out the other end as something we taste. The six basic flavours that our tongues can pick out are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami (kind of a savoury, meaty flavour) and fat. While fat doesn't play much of a role in beer making, the rest can and do.

 

OUR TONGUES TASTE SIX BASIC FLAVOURS: SWEET, SOUR, SALTY, BITTER, UMAMI AND FAT

 

Obviously, your tongue does the tasting while your nose does the smelling. Yet, they're completely intertwined. After swallowing that delicious sip of an IPA certain molecules pass through your retro-nasal cavity--the soft tissue at the back of the mouth--and also contribute to our perception of flavour. That's why it's so important to swallow that sip of beer when tasting (ok, if you insist.)

Your ortho-nasal receptors work a little differently, however. Millions of them are located way up high in the nose and these little guys are responsible for helping us to perceive up to 10,000 aromas. Working together with the retro-nasal cavity and the tongue, our nose and these olfactory sensors combine to help us analyse, classify and identify a more multi-faceted characteristic.

 

OUR ORTHO-NASAL RECEPTORS HIGH UP IN THE NOSE WORK WITH THE RETRO-NASAL CAVITY IN THE BACK OF THE MOUTH TO HELP US IDENTIFY FLAVOUR AND AROMA.

Finally, all of this perception and analysis wouldn't mean anything if we didn't have anything to reference it to. A flavour only tastes like grapefruit to you if you have, indeed, ever tasted or smelled an actual grapefruit. This is why the sense of smell is one of the most powerful when evoking memories. If you're having a hard time placing an aroma (or flavour) just try to think of where you were the last time you experienced it. Chances are that beer you're sipping will bring you straight back to your Grandfather's pipe or a freshly mown summer lawn. That's pretty exciting, isn't it?

You ready to get stuck in? Here's how to put all that to work:

Step One: Aroma

Take a whiff: Getting the aromas right away is important because a lot of the notes that come courtesy of the hops tend to dissipate rather quickly. So—stick your nose right in there and take a whiff! Take short sniffs, kind of like a dog does, and try to see if you notice any differences between also having your mouth open or closed.


*Note: It’s best to have a little room between the top of the glass and the beer. This allows the aromas to dance more and beer doesn’t smell like anything when you snort it.


Step Two: Appearance

Take a look: What do you see? Take note of the colour, the clarity, and the head. Do you see carbonation bubbles? Sediment? This is your chance to notice just how beautiful beer really is.


Step Three: Flavour

Take a sip: Now is the time for what you’ve been working up to—tasting! Give the glass a swirl and let all those subtle flavours and carbonation bubbles loose. Take notice of the flavours as it hits your tongue, as it sits on your tongue, and the lingering notes after you’ve swallowed. Happy days!


*Note: Not that you need encouragement, but you need to swallow the beer to noticeall its subtleties—this is unlike wine tasting. So, if you’re doing a tasting session, plan accordingly!

Step Four: Mouthfeel 

How does it feel: While you're tasting, observe how the beer feels: is it smooth, luscious, full, light, crisp or tingly? Consider how your mouth feels after you've swallowed--sometimes it could feel dry and others like you should've chewed the beer.

Final Step: Your Opinion

Give it to it straight: Bottom line, did you like the beer? This is your chance to hopefully give the brewer a "well done"! You could assess whether or not the beer was flawed or unbalanced, if it was to your taste or even if it was true to the style.

Now, just kick back, relax and enjoy the rest of your beautiful beer.

Let's Practice!

Let's taste a beer, shall we? We're going to taste and appreciate a classic English-style Pale Ale: Roosters Yankee. Clean, straightforward and easy-drinking, this is a great first beer to "practice" with.

Style Guide: English Pale Ale

This English Pale Ale is renowned for its drinkability, enhanced hop bitterness and balancing malts. Yeast strains used in this style typically lend a bit of fruitiness while classic English Pale Ales feature English-variety hops which display an earthy, herbal hop character. Medium-bodied, golden to amber-coloured and served clear, this is the quintessential English ale and one from which many others have derived.

Roosters Yankee

Aroma:

Lychee, florals--like roses, subtle citrus like lemongrass, toffee malts.

Appearance:

Golden colour, very clear, thin head--bright white. Some sparkling carbonation bubbles. Delicate lacing on the glass that dissipates somewhat quickly.

Flavour:

Elegant and subtle on the palate: florals, grapefruit and lemon, "fruity", some caramel malts and a zingy hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel:

Very refreshing, smooth with a moderately dry finish, medium bodied. Easy to drink!

Final Thoughts:

This is a more modern version of an English Pale Ale as it features the Cascade hop from the US as opposed to an English varietal. Its balanced drinkability is indicative of the style and we could easily make a whole session out of this beer. This truly is a modern classic. Bottom line: We like it!

Those are our thoughts when enjoying this fantastic beer, however, it's imperative to remember the most important lesson when it comes to tasting and observing: taste (and smell and feel) are completely subjective. What one perceives doesn't necessarily mean another will. So if you whiffed, and sniffed and sipped this beer, don't get discouraged if you didn't notice what we did. It may be that you just need to practice more (yay!) or just expand your vocabulary. The power of suggestion is strong so there's a good chance you could notice our observations if you take another sip. But if you still don't, don't despair--your brain is just wired differently than ours. At any rate, we all got to enjoy a beautiful beer. And that's what this is all about!

We hope you're really excited about tasting beer now. We'll see you again next week when we start to delve a little deeper into styles. We'll be using Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Jever German Pilsener to discuss ales and lagers over the next two weeks so maybe think about grabbing one of each for our next two "sessions". Until then, Cheers!