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!


Taste Versus Flavour

Bonjour mes amis. I hope you are feeling fit & healthy after learning how good beer can be for you last week!

I have been working my way through all the Christmas treats still left in the cupboard this week. Generous & thoughtful as it was of Madame le Squirrel to buy this for me, I have to say that Marmite flavour milk chocolate was rather near the back of the cupboard. Aptly named “Very Peculiar”, it is described as milk chocolate with “a hint of Marmite indulgence, a perplexing treat that bewilders the taste buds”.

As an adventurous squirrel, my curiosity got the better of me & I gave it a try. The results were surprising – it seemed so wrong, yet at the same time, it was so right! The sweet creaminess of the milk chocolate was followed by a savoury meatiness with a lingering sensation of both together in the mouth. It was indeed very peculiar, not for everyone perhaps, but strangely enjoyable to me.

I could not begin to think of a beer that would complement these tastes, but it made me think about the nature of taste & flavour & what happens when we process these sensations in our brains.

After some investigations, I have learned that taste & flavour are very different.

Taste is a chemical sense picked up by specialised receptor cells that make up taste buds. Flavour is a combination of all the senses creating an overall impression.

Taste Taste buds are tiny taste detectors on your tongue & other areas of the mouth that send messages to your brain. You have about 10,000 of these & their various components work together to pass on electrical impulses to the brain, which then interprets them as taste.

It was previously thought that there were only 4 different basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter & salty, each picked up by a different zone – remember the diagram of areas of the tongue & experiments we all did at school? Well these ideas are out of date! 

A Japanese scientist identified another taste, which he named umami, with its very own separate receptor. It can be described as savoury or meaty. Perhaps that was what I could taste in the Marmite chocolate?

There are other theories as to the sixth or even seventh taste categories. Fat is a possible candidate being considered – perhaps this could explain the buttery taste of a Chardonnay or the oiliness of some beers? Asian cultures consider piquancy as a basic taste, though Western scientists largely disagree, considering spice to be more of a touch related sensation. Other scientists have shown that basic tastes are not just restricted to specific zones of the tongue. Oh mon dieu, this is getting confusing!

Flavour These primary tastes are some of the building blocks of flavour but by no means all. They gave our ancestors clues as to which foods were good & which were not. Flavour is even more complicated. It involves all of the senses, particularly the sense of smell. In our brains, the perceptual systems are closely linked to systems for learning, memory, emotion and language & therefore to food preference and food cravings. In other words, food, drink & feelings are a pretty messed up business!

Our modern day guru of science & food, Heston Blumenthal acknowledges this complexity: “Of course I want to create food that is delicious, but this depends on so much more than simply what’s going on in the mouth – context, history, nostalgia, emotion, memory & the interplay of sight, smell, sound & taste all play an important part in our appreciation & enjoyment of food”

We’ve all experienced what it’s like when you have a bad cold & you’re trying to enjoy your dinner. That’s a clear illustration of the importance of smell in appreciating flavour. Smell makes up a large part of what we usually perceive of as taste, so don’t forget to give your beer a good sniff as you drink it. That’s also why it’s a good idea to try it in a large wine glass so you get the full multi-sensory experience.

Touch is an important contributor too. Textures like fizz, creaminess, crumbliness, crunchiness & bite can enhance or detract from your enjoyment of food & drink. Temperature is critical to our enjoyment, as Goldilocks discovered, it has to be just right!

Sound (believe it or not) can also play a part in our perceptions as Heston’s experiments with crisp eating & crunch noise recordings show.

Sight can affect our enjoyment of food & drink very much. Colour, presentation, shine & the size of your portion all have an influence. Food technologists, whose job it is to make food & drink look appealing in photos are all too aware of the importance of appearance. If you are in the mood for experimenting, try looking at your glass of beer or plate of food through different colours of transparent plastic (eg. the coloured wrappers from Cadbury’s Roses chocolates, a good excuse to eat some). Some colours enhance & some make food or drink look indigestible!

Phew, after all that my little squirrel brain is telling me I need a beer. Marmite beer anyone?!

Beer Is Good For You, No Really!

Healthy Beer Bonne Année mes amis! Here we are in 2012, the festivities are over & it’s time to reflect on our yuletide indulgence. I would like to see how beer fits in with my new health & beauty regime. In the interest, once again, of investigating all things beer related, I have become your secret agent. I have discovered that there are benefits that can be gained from the ingredients used in beer that can be applied both internally & externally!

When consumed in moderation, the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants & many other nutritional elements contained in beer can be good for you, according to research. Even hops have been proven useful in the medical world & are now used in supplements like “MenoHop”, a treatment to alleviate the symptoms of Menopause. Hops have long been used as a sleep aid!

It’s nothing new though. In the Middle Ages it was widely believed that it was better to drink beer than water as the brewing process eliminated water borne diseases. In my home country of Belgium, monks were able to offer their monastic brews to keep the locals from harm.

Mamma Beer For generations, new mothers have been recommended beers like Guinness that are high in iron in order to boost stamina. The alcohol content of beer has been frowned upon in more recent years, with concerns that it may be transferred to the baby. Polysaccharides found in beer have, however, been shown to stimulate lactation. Kirin Brewery Co. even went so far as to give out samples of their new 0% alcohol beer in 2010 to new mothers in leading maternity hospitals in Japan.

Say NO to Beer Bellies! Beer also works as a diuretic. You may have noticed the increased need to make trips to the little squirrel’s room when drinking a glass of beer. For all the body conscious drinkers out there, beer itself is not fattening, it contains less calories than wine (in a like for like comparison). It’s the peanuts, crisps & many other salty, rather unhealthy snacks that go with it that cause the “beer belly”.

Beer CAN Be A Thing of Beauty So even if you’re not convinced by the health benefits of drinking beer, you could always try applying it to your body! Vitamin B2, a constituent of beer, is known to play an important role in the growth & repair of hair, skin & nails. Brewers yeast can help improve symptoms of acne. Beer shampoo has been used for centuries to bring out the shine in hair & beer soaps & creams are thought to keep skin soft. You can even go to a health spa & soak yourself in a tub of beer, be wrapped in beer & finish it all off with a relaxing beer facial (see links for lists of beer cosmetics & of different spas offering beer beauty treatments).Or why not try it for yourself at home? Even Hollywood beauty Catherine Zeta Jones swears by beer & honey hair conditioner, so moi & Madame Squirrel decided to give these beer health treatments from endlessbeauty.com a go:

Five Do-It-Yourself Beer Beauty Recipes

Beer ‘n Bubbles Simply add your favorite brew to your bath, using as much or as little as you can spare. You’ll be engulfed in your favorite smelling ale while softening your skin during your soak (remember, drinking the bath water is not allowed).

Strawberry Scrub Mash 2-3 strawberries with a few drops of beer until it makes a paste. Rub the paste on your face and let sit for 20-25 minutes. Rinse off. This is not only moisturising but helps eliminate pesky blackheads and whiteheads.

Beer Shampoo Combine equal parts of your favorite beer and your favorite shampoo, use as normal. It’ll make your normal shampoo more clarifying, volumising, and shine-inducing.

Beer Rinse Combine 2 tablespoons of water, 2 teaspoons cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of beer, and 5 drops of your favorite essential oil (optional!). Rub the solution throughout hair. Rinse. This can remove stubborn build up and enhance shine.

Beer Conditioner Warm 200ml of beer & combine it with 1 teaspoon of jojoba oil. Leave in hair for at least 15 minutes before rinsing out. Look forward to improved shine and volume.

Gluten Free Beer Coeliacs & sufferers of IBS need not despair! Breweries such as Greens, St Peter’s, Hambleton Ales & even Belgian Daas have produced gluten free beers which are easily available online & in supermarkets, enjoy! I have tasted a Dutch gluten free beer by Mongozo, see notes below:

Mongozo Premium Pilsner (Gluten free)
Overall impression A pale blond, light, easy drinking, smooth Dutch Helles-style Lager beer, with overriding, yet light malty sweetness & subtle hoppy dryness, followed by a lingering, slightly tart & dry finish. A gluten free beer which tastes like a beer.
Food match Salt and pepper squid with lime & chili dressing
Beer info  
Colour Pale blond
Origin The Netherlands, Venray – brewed under license in Belgium by Huyghe Delirium Brewery
Brewery Mongozo
Unique ingredients Organic barley malt & riceGlutens are removed after the beer is brewed using a unique process, which is followed by stringent laboratory checks (gluten is a special type of protein that is commonly found in rye, wheat, & barley). Mongozo beers also contain organic & Fairtrade ingredients (see Max Havelaar logo).
ABV% 5.0%
Beer style Dutch Helles-style Lager beer
Serving tips Served best between 2-4°C in an inward flared glass
Tasting note  
Appearance Pale blond, clear, slightly fizzy
Aroma Malty/grainy
Mouth feel Light, easy drinking, smooth
Taste Sweet – Bitter
Flavour Malty, grainy sweetness with soft hoppy bitterness
Finish Lingering dry, slightly tart
For more info mongozo.com 

Beer Cocktails: Never Shaken, Always Stirred!

Let's get experimental . . .

To celebrate New Year in a true Beer Detective style, I will be investigating Beer Cocktails. We’ve always been told not to mix our drinks. Historically, even the Pope himself agreed, sending forth a Papal edict prohibiting monks from mixing beer & wine (they liked the good life a bit too much). Beer purists will not be happy at the thought of diluting the precious liquid but as life is too short, I say drink, eat & explore! So in order to expand our epicurian horizons, my friends, I have been on a fact-finding mission. Now, you may have tried traditional mixes like Shandy (mixing beer with lemonade) also known as a Radler in Germany. Black Velvet is another famous blend that is worth a try, mixing Guinness with Champagne. In Belgium, we have Mazout, a mixture of Lager beer & Cola. I want to go a bit further however & have found some more exotic concoctions, adding spirits, wines & even non-alcoholic drinks & ice cream! Below I have listed 6 of my favourites. Go ahead, you only live once!

Noord Express Mix by gently strirring ½ bottle of Žywiec Polish Lager beer with the juice of 1 lemon, 2cl/3 teaspoons of vodka & 2cl/3 teaspoons cherry liqueur and serve over crushed ice in wide glasses

Cherry Brown Mix by stirring 1 bottle of Newcastle Brown ale beer with 8cl/ 80ml of Kirsch, 1 teaspoon of Muscovado sugar & crushed ice. Serve in wide, stemmed glasses and garnish with Maraschino or cocktail cherries

White Lady Pour 4 bottles of Belgian-style Hoegaarden white beer into a large bowl or jug. Add ice, 15cl/150ml of gin, a dash of Cointreau, the juice & zest of one lemon & 2 teaspoons of caster sugar. Serve in Champagne flutes over ice cubes and garnish with a twist of lemon zest & fresh coriander leaves

Orange Blossom Special Mix 1 can of Carlsberg Special Brew (yes really, give it a try!) with 15cl/5 tablespoons Grand Marnier, the juice of 2 oranges & 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. Serve over crushed ice in small tumblers & garnish with an orange slice

Strawberry Float Whisk up ½ a bottle of Fruli strawberry beer with 1 teaspoon of icing sugar (sieved) to form a frothy foam. Pour the other half of the bottle over 1 scoop of vanilla or strawberry ice cream & add the beer foam. Garnish with strawberry halves & grated chocolate

Cherry Glühbier Gently warm 2 bottles of Liefmans Fruitesse with a small cinnamon stick, 1 clove, a vanilla pod & 1 tablespoon of Muscovado sugar. Serve in tea glasses or small mugs (be careful as the beer will foam up when warm).

Source and inspiration “150 Verassende Biercocktails” by Jef Van den Steen.

Thanks to hoppsy.com for the picture!

For further reading & inspiration: epicurious.comesquire.com

“Champagne” Beer & Beer Tapas

Let the festivities begin!

Well my petit chums the end of year is approaching & Secret Squirrel Beer Detective is wishing you a Joyeux Noël & Bonne Année or Hoppy Xmas & a Beery New Year!  I don’t know about you, but myself & Madame le Squirrel are getting organised with our Christmas food & beer now & are starting to think about New Year feasting. Also, you never know when you may need to feed unexpected gatherings in that No-Mans-Land between Christmas & New Year. So here are some ideas to think about that we will be trying this year.

“CHAMPAGNE” BEER To celebrate I won’t be popping the cork of the traditional bubbles, but opening a gorgeous Deus Brut des Flandres (see tasting note below), a Bière Brut’ from the Bosteels Brewery in Belgium. Bosteels also make Kwak beer, famous for its quirky mini yard of ale glass in a wooden holder (there is a great story behind this too, but we will have to wait for another time). Deus is an Ale Beer brewed in Belgium & then transported to the Champagne region of France, where it is re-fermented with a special yeast culture that is also used for Champagne & sparkling wines. The beer is then finished off in a similar style to the wine, including performing the ‘remuage’ (shaking and turning of the bottles) and ‘dégorgement’ (removal of the yeast or the lees). Officially we can’t call it a Champagne Beer as some French winemakers get a bit touchy about that, but if you don’t tell, I won’t either.

BEER TAPAS To go with this effervescent, aromatic nectar from the Beer Gods I will be serving Bapas or Hoppas, a new trend that combines beer and tapas, so basically beer served with little plates of tasty morsels of food designed to share. I have also suggested some other Bapas/Hoppas combinations to try:

Blinis with smoked salmon, salmon caviar, dill & a dash of lemon + Deus Brut des Flandres served chilled in a Champagne flute

Oysters Kilpatrick + Budweiser Budvar Dark served chilled in a big red wineglass

Broccoli & pumpkin tempura with soy and mirin dipAsahi Beer served chilled in a straight glass

Fig & goats cheese puffs + Liefmans Fruitesse served chilled in a champagne flute

Roast beef in mini Yorkshire puddings with horseradish dressing + Black Sheep Ale served at room temperature in a straight glass

Lychee and lime sorbet + Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier served chilled in a champagne flute (you could add some of the beer to the sorbet)

These beers are available from most supermarkets. I bought mine from Waitrose.

Deus Brut des Flandres
Overall impression A unique, elegant and effervescent, straw-coloured Belgian Bière Brut with a delicate yet complex aroma of mixed fruit and exotic spices, followed by a bubbly fruity sweetness mingled with gingery lychee flavours & an everlasting dry finish showcasing an Champagne-like alcoholic complexity
Food Match Smoked salmon, lemon pannacotta
Beer info  
Colour Blond
Origin Belgium, Flanders, Buggenhout
Brewery Bosteels brewery
Unique ingredients Yeast culture used for Champagne or Sparkling Wine
ABV% 11.5%
Beer style Belgian Bière Brut Ale Beer
Serving tips Best served between 2 – 4 °C in a Champagne flute
Tasting note  
Appearance Straw coloured/Crystal Clear/Effervescent/Meringue-like head
Aroma Delicate/Complex – Perfumed mixture of fruit and spices
Mouth feel Strong/Medium bodied/Bubbly/Dry
Taste Sweet/Spicy/Sour
Flavour Fruity/Ginger/Lychee/Hint of tannin
Finish Lingering dry
For more info bestbelgianspecialbeers.be

Beer Christmas Presents

Alors mes amis, your friends Madame & Monsieur Le Squirrel sampled a few too many glasses of Palm Noël yesterday & now we’re behind on the Christmas shopping. Madame le Squirrel has given me a mission to help catch up. We need to buy 5 presents for under £5 each for our squirrelly friends. So I’ve done some investigating & found some beer & food combinations that will make them want to save their nuts for later. Even better, these combinations can be bought online or in-store at your local supermarket, regardez:

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer + Burnt Sugar Crumbly Fudge with Sea Salt I recommend that you serve this beer chilled in a brandy glass, great to finish off dinner. Total price: £3.63

Hoegaarden Rosée + Rose/Lemon Turkish Delight This comes in an impressive 750ml bottle, good to share. Serve chilled in Champagne flutes. Total price: £4.58

Liefmans Fruit Beer + Willie’s Madagascan Chocolate This lovely fruity beer is best chilled & served in a wine glass. You could be really daring & pour it over crushed ice & add a dash of vodka! It goes perfectly with chocolate puddings or simple plain chocolate. Total price: £4.58

Fullers London Porter + Beef Jerky Serve at room temperature in a straight-sided glass. Snack on beef jerky or chunks of Parmesan. This beer also makes a really good marinade to tenderise your meat.Total price: £4.24

Skinners Heligan Honey + Goats Cheese Serve this fine Cornish ale slightly chilled in a straight-sided glass. You could even use it, mixed with a little honey, to glaze your Christmas ham. Total price: £4.64

You will delight your friends, I promise you!

After all that hard work, I think I deserve another beer, hmm, which one to choose . . . !

Christmas Beer in Belgium

Now that the frost is nipping at my tail, the nuts are squirreled away & Christmas & New Year are looming, it’s time to sit down with a beer & prepare my festive plans.

I thought, my petits chums, you might like to know how we do things in Belgium. Back home dans La Belgique, St Nicholas visits our children on the 6th December bringing presents to all who are good. The Squirrellettes leave their shoes out the night before, together with a carrot for the horse & sweets & drinks for St Nicholas & his helper (Black Pete) in the hope that he fills their shoes with presents.

Children who have not been good, so the story goes, will be put in Black Pete’s sack & are never seen again!

Family Squirrel likes to visit the Christmas Market in Brussels & watch the free show in the Grand Place. We stock up on Belgian delicacies like Speculoos (gingerbread) biscuits. This year we used them to make a yummy Speculoos or Gingerbread Spread (see below for recipe).

We celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than on The Big Day itself much like your British royal family. We enjoy a traditional meal with family & friends, finished off with one of my all-time favourites, the Yule Log Cake & of course, accompanied by plenty of Belgian Beer! We then exchange gifts & those of us in a fit state attend a Midnight Mass.

So what does a Belgian Squirrel drink at Christmas? A Christmas Beer of course! In Belgium, we brew beers especially for the occasion. They tend to be darker, stronger & spicier in character. Many people will have bought them the year before & allowed them to mature & soften ready to drink. Now that I am living dans le UK, I was very pleased to see that Weatherspoons are serving a Palm Noël beer (see tasting notes below) that is not even available in Belgium!

Palm Noël will have been brought across the pond in a tanker & racked in casks to be served like a Real Ale. I must be careful not to drink too much, as we still have to finish the shopping . . .

Speculoos/Gingerbread Spread

500g Speculoos or ginger biscuits

25g melted butter

1 tablespoon soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon instant coffee mixed with 100ml boiling water

Blend the biscuits, butter & sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add the coffee a small amount at a time until you have spreadable paste. You can add in an extra biscuit or 2  & blend again briefly at this stage if you prefer a crunchy texture. Pour into an airtight container & store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Try it spread on pancakes or toast or as an ice cream topping, yum.

Palm Noël
Overall impression Deep amber, rich & festive, medium bodied Belgian Christmas Speciale Belge Ale beer. Enticing caramel bitter-sweetness with hints of red fruit and Christmas spices followed by a soft, dry finish and a touch of soothing alcoholic complexity
Food Match Christmas cake
Beer info  
Colour Amber
Origin Belgium, Flanders, Steenhuffel
Brewery Palm Breweries
Unique ingredients Dark Amber malts, East Kent Goldings, Styrian Goldings
ABV% 5.0%
Beer style Christmas Speciale Belge Real Ale
Serving tips Only available in cask. Brought over from Belgium, racked in casks & served as a Real Ale for JD Wetherspoon
Tasting notes  
Appearance Deep Amber/Slightly translucent-hazy
Aroma Rich complex/Red fruit/Nutty caramel
Mouth feel Light/Full bodied/Smooth/Creamy
Taste Sweet/Bitter/Dry
Flavour Malty bitter-sweet caramel/Hints of berry fruit and spices
Finish Lingering soft dry finish
For more info J D Weatherspoon
Palm Breweries

What Is A Squirrel’s Favourite Beer?

Chestnut Beer, what more could a squirrel need?

Look what I found in Morrisons! In the interest of research I have tasted this beer for you & used it as an example of the format I like to use to keep notes on the beers I try. I call this the SSBD Tasting Card:


Morrisons Chestnut Beer
Overall impression Morrisons Chestnut beer is a deep amber, medium-light and medium bodied, winter warming, chestnut flavoured English Pale Ale, with surprising chocolate-chestnut aromas and intense dark chocolate bitterness, blended with a nutty caramel sweetness followed by a lingering, hoppy dry finish.
Product info  
Colour Amber
Origin England, Yorkshire, Bradford
Brewery Titanic brewery for Morrisons
Unique ingredients Natural chestnut flavours
ABV% 4.5 %
Beer style Flavoured (chestnut) Amber Pale Ale
Serving tips Serve chilled in an inward flared glass with a generous head
Tasting note  
Look Deep amber/Clear/Gentle carbonation/Frothy white head
Smell Gorgeous chocolate with roasted chestnuts
Mouth feel Medium strength/Medium bodied/Warming and smooth
Taste Bitter/Sweet/Dry
Flavour Dark chocolate bitterness/Nutty caramel sweetness
Finish Lingering/Hoppy dry
Food match Roasted venison
Cadburys Fruit & Nut


Your little friend Secret Squirrel Beer Detective has been a tourist in London this week.


Waitrose (online at http://www.waitrose.com or check your branch first)

St Peters The Saints Whisky Beer

Introductory offer £1.88 (will be £2.35)


How Do I Order Beer Online?

Well, most supermarkets have a reasonable selection available online these days. If you are like moi & are looking for Christmas presents for the beer lovers in your family, here are 2 companies I would recommend:

www.beermerchants.com Has a huge range. The minimum order is £20.00. Postage is £6.75 for a 5 (working) day delivery. You can choose bottles & glasses individually or order a ready mixed case. Eg. Belgian Beer Lovers Festive Case (20 bottles, 1 glass), £42.50

www.beerritz.co.uk Also has a huge range. Minimum order is £24.00. Standard postage is £8.52 for an overnight (working day) delivery. You can buy any quantity, as above, or a mixed case. Eg. An American Dozen (12 bottles), £30.00

Imagine how happy your fellow Beer Detectives will be to receive one of those mixed cases?! Bon weekend, happy shopping!

How To Taste Beer

Ever wondered how a Secret Squirrel Beer Detective tastes 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.

The Foam

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!

The Mouth feel

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!

 Party Trick

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!

Let’s Taste Beer from the USA

Mmm, Blue Moon is Smurftastic!

Hello again! I hope you enjoyed trying your selection of American Beer. My little Belgian friends the Smurfs particularly enjoyed their favourite, Blue Moon. Here are my tasting notes:




Appearance Pale blond – crystal clear

Origin USA, St. Louis, Missouri (brewed in the UK)

Style North American (natural adjunct – rice) Lager Beer

ABV% 5.0%

Serving Best served between 4 – 6°C in a straight glass

Tasting Crisp, fresh, light and easy drinking with refreshing biscuity, hoppy-dry & subtle malty-sweet flavours

Food match American-style hotdog with mustard & relish

For more info http://www.budweiser.com or http://www.budweiser.co.uk


Appearance Amber – crystal clear

Origin USA, Boston, Massachusetts

Style Boston (all malt) Lager Beer

ABV% 4.7%

Serving Best served between 4 – 6 °C in an outward flared tulip shaped glass

Tasting Well balanced yet complex, light & easy drinking with a smooth caramel-sweetness, fresh, citrusy/hoppy bitter-dryness & a lingering dry, slightly toasted finish

Food match A big, mean juicy steak

For more info http://www.samueladams.com


Appearance Deep amber – crystal clear

Origin USA, Chico, California

Style American (all malt) Pale Ale

ABV% 5.6%

Serving Best served between 6-8°C in a straight glass

Tasting Rich and aromatic, medium-light and medium bodied with soft caramel & distinct, firm spicy hoppy flavours & a lingering finish

Food match Buttermilk Battered Chicken (see recipe link)

For more info http://www.sierranevada.com


Appearance Pale amber – crystal clear

Origin USA, Chicago, Illinois

Style American (single malt) English-style India Pale Ale

ABV% 5.9%

Tasting Balanced and drinkable, medium strong and medium bodied with sweet & malty flavours followed by solid, spicy bitter hoppiness finishing with blended malt, hops & spices

Food match Spicy Chilli Con Carne

For more info http://www.gooseisland.com


Appearance  Hazy yellow – naturally cloudy

Origin USA, Denver, Colorado

Style North American (natural adjuncts – wheat/oats) White Wheat Ale beer

ABV% 5.4%

Serving Best served between 4 – 6°C in an inward flared tall glass (brewery recommends with a slice of orange but I say make up your own mind)

Tasting Smooth, creamy, light & easy drinking with fruity, orangey, marmalade-like bitter sweetness & a soft, spicy finish (Coriander, Navel and Valencia orange zest)

Food match Sweet, spicy pumpkin pie

For more info http://www.bluemoonbeer.com or http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.co.uk


During the Prohibition period in the USA (1919 to 1933), when the sale, manufacture & distribution of alcohol were illegal, brewers were forced to create other drinks. Malt beverages known as “Near Beer” were invented using fermented malt sugar & containing no more than 0.5% alcohol.

As distributors & sellers also became more inventive, under-the-counter dealing was rife, inspiring such slogans as: “Near Beer sold here, Real Beer sold near Here” (The American Brewery by Bill Yenne).


Buttermilk Battered Chicken


(If you can’t get buttermilk, try using low fat plain yoghurt)

Try it with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (see tasting notes above)


Sainsburys (online or check your branch first)

Blue Moon 355ml

Buy 2 for £3.00


What is the difference between a Beer and a Lager?

Well my little chums the answer is, they are both the same!

Beers are divided into different types (there are actually 5) based on the way they are fermented and by the yeast culture used.

Those that are often referred to in the UK as Beers are actually Ale Beers, which are made with a warm or top fermentation using a yeast culture that works at a higher temperature (between 15 – 25°C). This will deliver a beer with more complexity and body (not necessarily more alcohol) and rounder, fruitier flavours, in which the yeast is more prominent in the characteristics of the beer.

Lager beers are fermented with cold/bottom fermentation, using a yeast culture which works at a lower temperature (between 5 – 15°C). This delivers a crisper, less complex and easier to drink beer, with more well-balanced flavours in which the yeast is less prominent, allowing the other ingredients to shine.

It’s all BEER which is always good news! Bon weekend mes amis.