How To Taste Beer
Well my little chums, tasting beer is something everyone can do. It is not only fun but it will also get you lots of kudos with your friends. Don’t start showing off yet, though, no one likes a beer smart @~%#. Before you say that you don’t have a palate or don’t know how to taste, I will tell you that everyone (yep even you) can taste beer. To become a Beer Taster (not a Beer Bore) requires just a little bit of learning & a lot of homework (naturellement).
For starters you need a bag of nuts (optional), a clean wine glass (we Secret Squirrel Beer Detectives taste beer in wine glasses), a plastic spoon, a white piece of paper or napkin, the beer & then most importantly your own personal toolbox: your senses. We use our eyes, ears (to listen for that ‘psssshhh’ sound), nose, mouth & tongue.
Personally, I use a little format (the SSBD Tasting Card) to collate my findings (I’m a Beer Detective after all), which I will show you tomorrow & which will soon be available for download on this Blog.
What follows is an outline of the various steps I take to taste & describe the beer in all its glory, keeping in mind that when I don’t like the beer it isn’t necessarily a bad beer, just not to my taste. Don’t worry brewers, Secret Squirrel Beer Detective likes a wide variety beer flavours & styles & is a strong believer that bad beer doesn’t really exist!
So, are we ready? Select your beer, open your bottle/can/party keg & pour some beer into your wine glass with a generous head of foam (don’t panic, the foam is part of tasting beer) & here comes the tasting.
The Secret Squirrel Beer Detective Beer Tasting Ritual (Try saying that after a few):
NB. This is simply to determine how the beer looks, smells, feels and tastes in order to create an overall impression, nothing more and nothing less.
Hold your wine glass up to the light in front of your white piece of paper/napkin & look for the colour, clarity, foam and carbonation of your beer.
Grab your plastic spoon (metal spoons give you a distorted effect) and taste some of the foam. You will taste quite an intense bitter/dry flavour: this is different for every beer you will taste & is the best way to taste the hops in the beer. Now have a sip of your beer through the foam & you will discover both the sweet & the bitter flavours, which now are better balanced. See why beer should be served with a head, even if it is small one?
Now put your nose in the glass (not an easy feat for a Squirrel) & sniff up all the smells of the beer. To make it easier, put your hand on top of your glass to close it off & swirl it around whilst bringing it up to your nose, then release all the aromatics by lifting up your hand. Between 60 to 80% of your taste is determined by your nose, so try to identify what you can smell. Even if you think the beer smells likes sweaty socks, it could still taste great!
Take a sip of your beer (finally) and let it roll over your tongue before swallowing it. This is not yet about the taste or the flavour but about feeling the strength, body and texture of the beer.
Now we come to the finale. We take another sip whilst sucking in air, or in other words, we slurp our beer. The more noise you make the better (I don’t care what Mamma Squirrel says). Try to identify the taste of the beer eg. sweet, bitter, sour, spicy or fruit (salt is rarely present in the taste of the beer). This is not about right or wrong but about what you personally can taste – never be afraid to say what that may be, however strange it might sound. Work out a taste story: what can you taste first, second & then what can you taste at the finish? Now try to translate this into flavour. See if you can identify the taste of the beer in relation to things you have stored in your flavour memory bank. If it makes sense to you, then it works & those references will help you to appreciate the beer!
Try this little party trick to understand the difference between TASTE and FLAVOUR which I’m borrowing from all-time Super Chef Heston Blumenthal (http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/Heston-Blumenthal/Our-Philosophy/)
Close your nose with your fingers and then put a piece of apple or banana in your mouth. Try to taste whilst keeping your nose closed. You probably will taste sweetness and/or sourness. Now release your nose and surprise, surprise you’re now tasting apple or banana. This is the difference between taste and flavour.
Well my little chums now it is up to you. Try it out and remember that practice makes perfect. Keep me posted on your homework and let me know how you get on with tasting beer like a true Beer Detective. Tomorrow I will taste a Squirrel’s favourite beer & show you how to use the SSBD Tasting Card. Bon chance!