Do I really need to answer this question? Experience tells me so. Every time I offer someone who doesn’t know about beer to try something new, as soon as they have the glass in their hand they swallow it and they say either it’s good, or they lift their nose saying: nah. Dear person who’s reading this, that’s not the way you try a beer. Even if beer tastings is something that’s growing nowadays and it’s a field that’s been dominated by wine tastings or cheese tastings, beer is also a fermented beverage and there’s a huge world of styles, flavours and textures to experiment when you’re drinking a new beer. That’s obviously not applied to cheap mass produced lagers, where obviously the fermentation times hasn’t been respected, and now they barely have a taste. Also, lagers aren’t the summum of flavour, so you’re not going to appreciate as much the flavours and aromas compared to other styles of beer. But there’s some steps that, if done properly, will allow you to taste beer like the pros:
Once you have the glass in your hand, take a moment before drinking. Is the beer clear and transparent or it’s more cloudy? That can say a lot about a beer, like if it’s been pasteurised or not, if there’s leftovers of yeast or even if it has a good head retention. You can tell if a beer it’s good by it’s colour.
If the glass allows it, the next step is to agitate it. To do that, move your glass in circles. Same like wine, if you move it slowly in circles it’ll release more aroma allowing us to appreciate the smell of it. It also estimulates carbonation (the process of the bubbles going up to the top, keeping the foam in the beer). If it generates foam, means it has a good carbonation.
Around 90-95% of what we experiement is through the olfact instinct. Our brain associates smells to memories. At this point I can tell by the smell of a beer if I’m going to like it or not. After agitate it put your nose on the brim of the glass and aspire. Here’s where hops come to play.
Finally we’ve got to this step. Now, based in your experience, you’d be able to tell if you’re going to like the beer or not without even trying it. You could know if it’s good in it’s style or not because of their aroma and colour. Now the last step: drink. But don’t swallow it directly. Play a bit with it in the mouth so your tastebuds can depict fruity tastes, or spicy or bitter. Try to explain what do they taste like.
As a final note, try to do the same as beer it’s getting warmer. Very cold beer usualy masks some flavours and aromas. The more the beer gets close to room temperature their real flavour are more pronounced.
What did we learn today? If you try a new beer PLEASE don’t chug it straight away. Analyze the colour, aroma (very important) and the flavour. Obviously you’re not going to be an expert and all these step might sound a bit beer snob, but just by smelling a beer you can learn a lot from it.
Image: Myself at a beer tasting in Fourpure Brewery, London.