Oct 11, 2011

Tasting a beer......

This is NOT tasting a beer!
There is huge difference between just drinking a beer, and tasting a beer. To drink a beer, you simple open a bottle, and drink, maybe pouring into a glass, maybe not. However, if you are just drinking the beer, you are missing out on SO much. Just opening a beer, and drinking it out of the can or bottle, is sort of like renting a beach hut on a tropical beach, and spending the entire time you are there, sitting inside, watching TV, with all the windows closed and shades drawn. Sure, it’s a great place to watch TV, but you would be missing so much!

So, this is my suggestion if you want to do more than just drink your beer, this is what I do to "experience" my beer. First things first, make sure it is quite, and you will not be distracted for at least 15 to 30 minutes (easier said than done for those of us with kids I know) but it will help to not have distractions. I wouldn’t recommended doing this in a bar or restaurant either. Not only will you get some looks, it hard to concentrate when you are in public, and the big game is on. Then, you have to select your beer, and the appropriate glassware, because it does make a difference (more on glassware on a later date). Once you have your beer and glass selected, and perfectly poured, you can start your evaluation.

All Styles have thier own "look" to them.

First thing you do, is look at the beer, and not just a passing glance, study it. Raise it in front of you (but not up to direct light, this can obscure the appearance a bit). Look at the head, is it made up of small tight bubbles, or more porous, thick ones? Look at the carbonation dancing along the edge up towards the top of the glass. Just note, not all beer styles look the same. Some may appear cloudy, with sediment (floaties) in them. This is not a defect, some styles call for this. Make sure you know a little about the style of beer you are trying, so you will know what is expected, and what can be considered defective.

"lacing" results from agitation

Once you have had a good look at your beer, give it a little agitation. Swirl the beer around a little in the glass, till the head thickens a bit. This will work to enhance some of the aromatics of the beer, and loosens the carbonation and stimulates the head, and helps retain it.

Take a good sniff
Next, take in the bouquet of the beer. I know, the word bouquet is about as manly as spending the afternoon watching the Lifetime Network, but we need to talk about it. The bouquet (will it help if we call it the aroma, or the nose?) will make the first impression you have of what to expect in the flavor of the beer, and is a vital component of how you interpret the taste. After you agitate the beer, bring the glass up to your nose as close as you are comfortable (you will see wine folks literally stick their nose right down into the glass, this is actually very helpful) and take two short sniffs. You will see a lot of people take a long, drawn out sniff, this is fine, but you can sort of “overload” your system, or in this case, your olfactory senses. Two quick sniffs will give you enough to really experience the beer, without taking in too much, and risk drawing out some of the lesser notes.

Next, the best part, the taste. OK, so this might be considered bad manners, but your first sip, you want to sort of “slurp” the beer. What this does, is sort of sprays the inside of your mouth, most importantly, your tongue and flavor receptors, and gives them an even coating, allowing a more balanced taste. Do not swallow the beer immediately either. Allow the beer to explore and swim around your mouth for a bit. Breathe out through your nose while the beer is still in your mouth. This sounds odd, but trust me, it helps, and you will be amazed. Note the way the beer feels in your mouth (called, oddly enough, Mouthfeel). Notice the body, the intensity of the flavors, and try to see if you can isolate some of the individual flavor component, and what they are, do you taste fruit? If so, what kind, orange, banana, plum? Can you taste the sweetness of the malt, or the smokey, chocolaty flavor of them? This takes practice, but with time, it gets easier and easier, and beside, practicing is so much fun!

Also, let the beer sit a little bit, and let it warm, and keep sipping it as it does. Note how the flavor changes, and intensifies the more the beer warms. This can help you identify the optimum temperature in which that beer works for you.

Everyone enjoys a good beer tasting (or summit)
I also recommended taking notes, nothing to detailed, but some quick words that will help you remember the experience. The most important thing of all to remember is, have fun with it. Don’t take it too seriously; this should be fun, maybe educational, and nothing more. There is no wrong way to describe a beer. I like to write a quick review of a beer, then go on Beer Advocate and read all the reviews of that same beer, and see how they differ, or how they are alike. Don’t ever think what you tasted is wrong however, it is your interpretation of that beer, it’s not a test.

So, I suggest grabbing a beer, a glass, and a pen and paper, and enjoy yourself for a bit. Or do it with friends, and do a group tasting, and compare notes. Again, there is no wrong way to do it; these are just suggestions on getting the most from the tasting experience.

Bottoms up my friends,

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