To create the ideal conditions for evaluating and tasting beer, choose a room with natural sunlight or tungsten light. Creating an environment with constant lighting is best. When evaluating different beers, each should be sampled in the same type of glass. A larger glass will always cause the beer to have a significantly stronger aroma. It is an absolute necessity, if not obvious, to ensure the glass is thoroughly clean. If not, the bubbles will tend to stick to the side of the glass and the aromas will not be properly released. Avoid a room with any cigarette smoke, cooking smells, perfumes, or any other strong, overpowering aroma. Even the presence of too much noise can distract from the taster’s attention. While many beers have their own individual ideal serving temperature, the flavors and aromas of most beers will best be perceived at around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. When sampling multiple beers, the optimal strategy is to begin with the beers lightest in intensity of flavor working upward to those that are strongest.
The first step in beer tasting is to pause and look at its clarity and color. The greatest beers will have a very distinctive and appetizing color. Do not hold the beer directly into light as this will dilute its true color. While not as common in beer tasting than with wine, a gentle swirl will disturb the beer enough to pull out aromas, slight nuances, stimulate carbonation, and test head retention.
The next step prior to sipping the beer is to smell the sample. Much of one’s sense of taste is affected by olfaction, or sense of smell. The aroma of beer is released immediately after being poured. Therefore, it is necessary to smell the beer quickly. The first sniff is the most accurate and is best done with the eyes closed for better concentration. When tasting multiple samples, it is important to exert the same sniffing force with each beer so as not to allow one sample to have a stronger impression over another. The best method of smelling a sample of beer is to take two quick sniffs through the nose, then with the mouth open, and finally through the mouth only.
Finally, it is time to sip the beer. Let the beer lap over the tongue. Malt (pale or roasted) generates a taste of sweetness, while hops add the bitterness. Sweet flavors tend to be best tasted at the front of the mouth and bitterness toward the back. A good beer taster is generally gauged on how well he/she can distinguish between the flavors of sweetness and bitterness of the hops. Do not swallow immediately allowing the beer to explore the entire palate. One of the first qualities an individual tends to sense is the mouthful or sensation of thickness. Breathing out during the tasting process, also called “retro-olfaction”, will heighten the flavor sensation.
Between beers, it is important to properly cleanse one’s palate of the previous beer’s flavor. The best method is to rest about 15 seconds and rinsing with a neutral-tasting, non-carbonated bottled water. Plain bread or crackers could also work, but this is not necessarily the ideal method as this alters the tactile impression in the mouth and the crumbs may distract the taster causing subsequent beer tasting to suffer. One should definitely avoid any drink or food with its own distinct flavor.
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