We can complicate beer tasting. We can use all sorts of complex terminology and adopt a scientific approach. But isn’t drinking beer supposed to be about enjoyment? That’s why we’ve decided to list a few practical tips, so you can go back to simply enjoying your beer again.
Before we begin the tasting, it’s good to start out with some basic knowledge about our tongues. They can distinguish five different basic flavours. We all know about sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours. However, umami is the fifth relatively unknown flavour. It's a savoury flavour that makes your mouth water. Stock, tomatoes and ripened cheeses all have an umami flavour. In the beer world, Guinness Special Export is often given as an example of an umami beer.
Unlike wine tasting, we never spit out the beer. The reason for this is that spitting it out would lead you to miss out on part of the bitterness. That’s because your bitter receptors are in your throat. If you spit out your beer, it doesn’t reach these receptors, so you miss out of the full flavour experience, especially the bitterness, which is an important part of a beer’s flavour.
Now you know the basics, it’s time to grab a beer. But make sure it’s at the right temperature. This is important, because beer is often drunk straight from the refrigerator, which is too cold a temperature and dampens the aromas. What is the right temperature then? A good rule of thumb is to look at the alcohol percentage. If your Tripel has 8% alcohol, don’t drink it below 8 degrees celcius. It’s better to drink it warmer rather than colder. You’ll soon see that beers that are served too cold are ‘locked’; when a beer warms up, all the aromas are unlocked. On each beer’s page on Beerwulf.com, you will find information about the best drinking temperature and advice on glasses. Here is an example from the Rochefort 10' page.
The next step is to choose the right glass. Which beer goes with which glass? You could write a whole book about this. Many people’s kitchens are too small to house a different glass for every type of beer. That’s why we have a few guidelines for you. Beers such as pilsners should be served in a glass that’s narrow on the bottom and somewhat wider on the top. Beers with a dark, rich flavour are best drunk from a goblet or tulip-shaped glass. Tripels come to life in a chalice-shaped glass. When in doubt, use a tulip-shaped glass, or a wine glass. The tulip shape is narrower at the bottom and the top and this ensures that the aromas reach your nose optimally. Here is some information on De Rumoerige Roodborst by Bird Brewery.
Now you’ve poured your beer, we can really get this tasting adventure started. Step one is to look at the beer. What do you see? Describe the colour as accurately as possible. Is it clear, hazy or turbid? What’s the head like? Does the foam have an even structure? Are the bubbles small or large? Does the head stay standing or does it quickly evaporate?
The next step is to use your nose. You can swirl the beer in the glass if you like, like you would do with wine. This releases the aromas. Once again, you need to carefully describe what you smell. What aromas do you notice? If it’s citrus, try to be more specific. Is it grapefruit, orange, lemon or lime? Is there a caramel sweetness or is it more like coffee or chocolate? The more often you take the time to smell properly and try to describe what you notice, the easier it gets.
Step three is the actual tasting. Take a sip, let it glide over your tongue, and swallow. Take a larger sip, hold in your mouth for a few seconds and then swallow. Open your mouth a little now and allow the flavours to reveal themselves. Does it taste the same as it did before? Is there a sweet apple flavour or has it become more sour? How's the bitterness and the aftertaste? Does the flavour stick around for a while or is it gone in an instant? Does the bitterness rise to the forefront over time or does the fresh, fruitiness linger?
By regularly carrying out this tasting ritual and describing what you experience, you learn to taste. It’s also educational to do this with other people. Share a bottle of beer, taste together and share your thoughts. Tasting isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s highly personal. So what one person tastes won’t always line up with what another person experiences. There are also useful tools to help you when tasting, such as tasting forms and the flavour wheel. But don’t forget the most important thing when tasting: enjoy your beer, because, when it comes down to it, drinking beer is all about having fun!