There are a number of things that to consider before you sit down with a good beer. Glassware, temperature, pouring, taste and your overall drinking environment will all come into play as you’re tasting beers, however the most important thing is to have fun!
Check out the hints below for a fool-proof tasting experience:
Drinking Environment and Palate Preparation:
First of all, you’re going to want to be relaxed. You’ll do your best beer tasting in a place without a lot of distractions, even if you’re tasting with multiple people. Beer this good deserves your undivided attention, right?
An easy and simple way to “center” your palate, especially if you’re tasting multiple beers, is to have a glass of cool water (preferably spring water) on hand, along with a handful of unsalted crackers or French bread to munch on in between beers. These will help to cleanse and refresh your palate, so you can get the most out of each taste.
Also, you’ll want to avoid tasting a beer after particularly greasy or spicy meal – the shock your palate takes from that kind of food may hinder your experience. Similarly, if you smoke you’ll want to hold off lighting up while tasting; cigarette or cigar smoke is murder on the tongue and it greatly affects how you taste beer.
When tasting a beer, glassware is always better than straight from the bottle. This is especially true if that bottle is dark colored glass, versus clear or green. Your beer will look, taste, and smell infinitely better when you enjoy it from a clean glass.
Don’t be overly concerned with pairing the proper glass to the style you are tasting. In all honesty, a standard shaker pint will suffice. Clean white wine glasses will also work well for most beers. Keep in mind, you want to be able to see the beer and admire its color and brilliance.
If you’re unsure about a glass’ cleanliness, just give it a wash in the sink. Residue leftover from a dishwasher will quickly kill the head on your beer and it can even affect the flavor.
When it comes to most beers, temperature has a profound effect on flavor. If your fridge is too cold, those temperatures can chill your taste buds and also enhance the carbonation, dryness and bitterness of the beer, which ultimately lowers and inhibits your perception of aroma, flavor, and body.
The right temperatures will enhance body, aromatics, mouthfeel, sweetness, acidity and flavor.
There isn’t really a hard-and-fast rule but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Lagers are best consumed in the range of 40-45°F
- Ales are best at around 50°F
- Barleywines and strong ales should be enjoyed at 55-60º F or “cellar temperature”
If you want to make sure that your beer is ready, pull it out of your fridge for about 30 minutes, then taste it. If it is no longer cold, stick it in a bucket of ice water for about 15 minutes.
There’s one big thing to remember when it comes to the pour; beer is designed to foam. The technique you use to fill your cup at a keg party isn’t the technique you want to use now. In fact, if you pour a bottled beer down the side of your glass its carbonation won’t be fully released, and you’ll basically swallow gas.
For a proper pour hold the glass at a 45° angle and pour slowly down the side. Once the glass is about ½ full hold it straight and pour the rest of the beer right down the middle, raising the bottle smoothly.
If you’re drinking a bottle-conditioned beer, there will be a delicious (and healthy!) yeast bed on the bottom of the bottle. It’s up to you if you want to drink it with your beer. If so, simply leave about a ½ inch of beer in the bottle, give it a vigorous swirl to disturb and agitate the yeast and then pour it into your glass. If you choose to leave it be, leave about an ounce of beer in the bottle.
Welcome to the best part! After you’ve taken a few minutes to examine the color, clarity and head retention of the beer, give it a hefty swirl and don’t be afraid to stick your nose right in the glass. Take note of what you smell, whether it’s hops, malt or other aromatics. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you smell; it’s all perceptive and relative. Take a sip, and let the beer roll all around your tongue and flood your mouth. Let every edge of your palate savor the flavor, and try to recognize how it feels on the inside of your cheeks. Take a few deep breaths to try and detect more flavors your tongue might not have picked up. And before your swallow, don’t neglect to notice the body, carbonation, warmth and creaminess the beer may have. When you swallow the beer, this is your chance to feel the dryness and any aftertaste it may have. This is the moment where you’ll start to form an opinion on how enjoyable this beer was to you.
If you want to remember how you feel about your beer in the morning, you may want to consider putting your thoughts down on paper as you’re tasting.