Beer Tasting Checklist
Wine tasting, scotch tasting -- even though we may not have participated in one, we’re likely familiar with this concept. Then why are many of us surprised that the same practice exists for beer? Perhaps that’s because beer is often perceived as more casual and less pretentious. But beer, like wine, scotch, whisky and many other forms of alcohol, has a definite tasting process – one that reveals the intricacies of the brewmaster’s art.
Before beginning on your beer tasting journey, make sure you have plenty of clean glasses and the beer being served is stored at the appropriate temperature. Light lagers should be served between 6 - 8 ºC, while other lagers and wheat beers should be served between 8 - 10ºC. Most ales are meant be served between 12 - 14 ºC and Stouts, Porters, Trappiste ales and other strong beers should be served between 14 - 16ºC.
A great beer engages all the senses; not the least of which is sight. The appearance of a beer tells a significant story about the beer. The depth of colour and hue speaks to the amount and type of malt used in its making. In addition to the colour of the beer, you should also note the amount of carbonation as well as the richness and consistency of the head – the layer of foam at the top of the beer.
The next step is to swirl the beer in your glass. This helps to release the beer’s aroma and also gives an indication of the amount of carbonation. If the head dissipates quickly, it might mean the beer has been artificially carbonated, while a long lasting head is the true test of a beer that has gained its carbonation naturally. A good head usually indicates a higher quality of beer.
After the swirl, it’s time to smell (or nose) the beer. Shake the glass lightly again and then smell the beer. This gives you an opportunity to judge the intensity and complexity of the beer’s aromas. In beer, the aromas are generally from the yeast, the type(s) of malt used and the the type(s) and amount of hops used, as well as when they were added during the brewing process. Lager yeast generally adds little character, but ale yeast often provides fruity aromas to a beer. The flavour range from the malt varies widely, from the biscuit-like character of pale malts to the nutty, caramel and toffee character of caramel malt to the rich chocolate and roasted coffee notes of the darkest malts. Finally, hops add a range of flavours depending on the hop varieties used; but beer tasters will often identify citrus, spice and grass aromas.
At last, it’s time to taste the beer. Swish the beer around your entire mouth giving the liquid an opportunity to reach all your taste receptors. You will want to note the beer’s weight, which can range from light to full-bodied. You’ll also want to describe the flavour sensations. Does the beer taste sweet, indicating a relatively strong malt character? Is it dry, which might suggest the beer has been heavily hopped? Or perhaps it has a perfect balance of malt sweetness and hop dryness – which is one of the signs of a great beer.