One of the absolute best ways to appreciate and understand beer is to actually experience it. By tasting beer correctly you can start to discern the various malts, hops, and even yeast used in each beer. You don’t have to be an expert to taste and enjoy beer; you just need to start with the basics.
The idea here is to be able to correctly take in everything a beer has to offer and then be able to describe it correctly to someone else. The first part of this is learning how to align the beer to your senses. This doesn’t mean you have to relish every sip of beer this way, but the first time you try a beer it’s important to do this to get the full experience.
Before you start to get into tasting a beer correctly, you need to make sure you treat the beer correctly. First, make sure you always pour your beer into a proper glass and always taste a beer at the correct temperature. Sure, you can drink beer right from the can or bottle, but you really should pour the beer because what you perceive as taste is more often than not aroma, which means you need to smell the beer as you drink it to fully appreciate it. Once you have your beer in a glass, you can start tasting it.
1. Look at it.
This might seem obvious, but once the beer is in a clear glass, give it a good look. Hold the glass in front of you and pay attention to its color. Don’t hold the beer to a light, as the color of the light will interfere with the real look and color of the beer. Pay attention to its consistency, color, and the head on the beer.
2. Swirl it.
Gently agitating your beer in the glass allows the smells trapped in the beer to escape. This prepares the beer for the next step. Swirling the beer also helps you to see the color and head retention, or how well the head on the beer stays in one piece. This step also “wakes up” aromas in the beer for the next step.
3. Smell it.
Most of what you experience when you taste anything is smell. Don’t believe me? Hold your nose and taste something, then taste it again with your nose unplugged. You will notice a huge difference. Take a deep sniff of the beer to fill your nose with its aroma. This will give you a basic idea of the smell and taste before you even drink it.
4. Taste it
Take a small sip of the beer. Don’t take a mouthful at first, though. Remember that you are trying to experience the beer, not down it like a frat party. Swish the beer around in your mouth so all your taste buds get their turn with it. At this point, you should be noting the consistency of the beer in your mouth (called mouthfeel) as well as the basic tastes in the beer.
From this point you’re free to drink the beer how you normally would. The ideas you formed on how the beer smells and tastes should still be recent enough that they’ll pop back up on each drink you take. Remember, the idea here is to get a feel for a beer before enjoying it. This isn’t meant to replace drinking a beer normally, but to help you learn how a beer tastes the first time you have it.
Putting This to Use
As you complete each of the steps above, try to compare what you’re experiencing to something you already know. Instead of needing an all new vocabulary, utilize the one you have now and learn more specific language as you go. Think of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, things you’d find on a farm…anything. Remember, you want to sell the beer to your customer or friend, so keeping it simple here really is the best policy.
Once you get good at these basics, you can add in more specific language and comparisons, including off flavours and their causes. For now, you should be able to taste a beer as fully as possible.