You know when you drink a beer and there’s something in there that you can’t quite figure out? An aroma, something familiar and yet the taste on the tip of your tongue is not the same as the words you need to describe it?
Or you know those times when you have a beer and there’s something unusual about it. You’ve got a vague sense that something’s not-quite-right. Only you don’t know what it is. You only know that the beer doesn’t taste perfect. You could look it up online but you’ll be faced with science words. Things you can’t pronounce, can’t understand.
To help you, there’s long been a beer flavour wheel. But to me it was a bit too technical for an amateur drinker. There were many words I didn’t understand and nor could I tell where those things were coming from – was it grain or yeast or had something gone wrong in the beer?
Coming up with a new beer flavour wheel
So one day I thought I’d try and draw a new beer flavour wheel. I wanted to take the style and idea of the original and make it a little simpler to use. I looked at wheels used for whisky, coffee and wine; I wrote down all the relevant beer words under all the different ingredients or processes; I thought about how some of those characters overlapped; I thought about how to make it visually appealing.
And then I started to draw. It took dozens of attempts. Dozens of hours lying on my living room floor with a pencil, eraser, ruler, dinner plate and a large sheet of paper. But gradually it came together and it started to make sense to me. I sent it to the designer of the book I was writing – Craft Beer World – and it didn’t look quite right; the colours were wrong, the alignment was off, but a couple of versions later it came back and was exactly as I’d imagined it.
The new beer flavour wheel was simple to use and coloured intuitively. It simplified the most common flavours of beer and lined them up with how those flavours came to get into the beer. All the four main ingredients were represented, as was fermentation and the characters which come from that. Plus it looked at textures, tastes, flavours and faults.
The beer flavour wheel is for everyone to use, even if it’s just as a beginner wheel before moving onto the more scientific original. It aims to give you the words that might be on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite spit them out. Give the wheel a spin next time you can work out what it is that you’re smelling or tasting.
Spin the wheel
Spin the Flavour Wheel for three top picks on Beerwulf…
This one will take you all around the Flavour Wheel. Brilliant gold, you can look at the lighter malt colours on the wheel – biscuit and toast and perhaps some honey. The aroma isn’t hop-forward, instead you want to be looking at the fruity esters, where banana, pear, almond and phenolic clove come through. The body is slick with alcohol, rich with malts, it has a lot of carbonation and ends really dry with some of the grassy, herbal European hops coming through alongside the spicy yeast.
Hops come first in this one. Mostly American, so grapefruit and pine, then some tropical New Zealand hops in the background. A golden colour, the malts in this one give toast and toffee, but not much sweetness and then it finishes dry with pithy bitter hops.
Look first to the darker malts with coffee, liquorice and burnt roasted flavours, plus the bitterness they bring (a different kind of bitterness to the hops). It’s not a rich beer, instead giving a sharper, drier body of malts. The yeast is clean and the hops hang in the back giving some earthy, botanic qualities without much aroma.
Beers mentioned in this article