Taste & Flavour in Beer

Ahh, that’s better, I’ve had a beer break now & I’m feeling ready for further investigations. After exploring the difference between taste & flavour, I have decided to look at how beer fits into the known taste categories & how we each identify falvours when drinking it.

Beer can be sweet, bitter, sour & even salty or umami. As we found in our previous investigation, flavour is a combination of many factors that work together to create an overall impression.

We can enjoy our “tasting” experience through all our senses, especially sight, smell, touch & taste. Even your ears play a role, for example, hearing the ‘’psshhtt’’ sound when opening your beer. We also learned that part of our response is emotional, as taste & smell are closely linked with memory. So, as each person’s memory is different, each person’s experience of taste & flavour is different. Therefore, there are no rights & wrongs when it comes to “taste”, it’s just a question of the language with which we choose to express it.

Each beer I have chosen to look at is complex, just like our response to it, but for the sake of exploring the various categories of taste, here are some to try. I have suggested some food combinations to balance the flavours.

Sweet As beer is made from grains such as barley, it contains residual sugars & so tastes sweet. Every beer has an element of sweetness in its flavour, even when other elements dominate. Sweetness in beer comes in different degrees: this can range from slightly sweet or fruity (like wine), to malty (like Ovaltine or Horlicks) or even to caramel, toffee & honey.

Try: A real honey-sweet beer made with real honey – Floris Honey with proper pork crackling

Bitter To counter-balance sweetness & to give beer a backbone, hops can give a refreshing bitterness & dryness. Bitterness can also be derived from roasted malt or grains, herbs, spices or from oak casks. In beer, bitterness is measured in IBUs or International Bitterness Units

Try: American-style IPA from the BrewDog boys – Punk IPA (this has 45 IBUs) with a spicy samosa

One of the most bitter beers in the world is The Hop from Pitstop Brewery in Stove, which has 323 IBUs

Sour In the olden days, most beers had an element of sourness. This was either a result of the spontaneous fermentation of wild yeasts (imagine milk you have left out of the fridge) or because of a lack of refrigeration or preservatives. There are still sour beers around which are not for the faint hearted, but heavenly to a squirrel like me. The acidity or sourness in beer is measured in PH levels & can be vinegary, tart, tangy or citrusy.

Try: (You may wonder why you would want to drink this but trust me) – Oud Beersel Oude Geuze beer with salad & vinaigrette dressing

Salt Salty beer really doesn’t really exist but salty flavours are present in many beers. This is mainly because of minerals in the brewing water or sometimes because of added natural additives. These additives help the brewing process, deepening flavour just like the salt in your kitchen.

Try: The closest thing to salty beer I’ve ever tried. It tastes like liquid smoked ham – Schlenkerla Rauchbier with Biltong (South African beef jerky)

Umami This fifth taste category is still unfamiliar to us in the Western world. It means ‘pleasant savoury flavour’ in Japanese & is common in many Asian foods. Soy sauce is the best representative of the umami taste but it can also be identified in foods like brown sauce, cheese & Marmite.

Try: Maybe a strange combination – Rodenbach beer with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Some of these beers may be a little more tricky to find than the brews I normally recommend, but they are worth the effort. Let the experiments begin!


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