There are many variables and things to look at when tasting a beer. We’ve broken these down into five simple-to-use guidelines which attempt to quantify your psychological and experiential perception.
Appearance – This is your first experience with a particular beer and often sets the tone for the rest of the senses. If the beer appears light, bubbly, and effervescent, you will likely have a preconceived notion about how it will taste.
This rings very true with “dark” beers. There is a significant misconception that dark beers are always thicker with more flavor and more alcohol than a lighter beer. However, this is often not the case. There are many styles of light beer that have high alcohol contents and are very flavorful, ie Barleywine, Belgian Triple, Double IPA. Conversely, there are many styles of dark beer that are light bodied, light flavored, and effervescent, ie Tmave’ Pivo, Mild, English Brown Ale.
Aroma – The aroma is the most powerful of your perceptions. Often this is dependent on the person. Since the neurons make a detour to the hippocampus, they can bring back vivid memories or previous experiences, both positive and negative. However, aroma can also be a defined and quantifiable experience. For example, a Hefeweizen should have isoamyl acetate (banana) which should be perceived as isoamyl acetate by everyone. The preferential variable is, however, that one person may have had a wonderful experience with bananas in their lifetime, while another person may have had a horrible experience, thus psychologically conditioning that person to be less likely to enjoy that Hefeweizen they are tasting.
Taste – While this is subjective to each individual, beer does have chemicals that should be perceptible and defined.
For example, bitterness from hops, grainy flavors from particular malts used, spiciness from certain yeast strains, or tartness from the use of bacteria to lower the pH. Many times, the taste will mimic the aroma.
Mouthfeel – Proteins from malts, brewing, fermentation, and filtering affect this. Words to describe this would be chewy or viscous, like with a thick Russian Imperial Stout. Or thin, like with an American Light Lager. This also describes the carbonation. An American Light Lager would have a high carbonation level, while the Russian Imperial Stout would be on the lower end of carbonation.
Overall – This is your psychological response and the culmination of your experiential or quantifiable responses to the beer you are tasting. Like the other categories, the preferential portion is very much unique to you, while the experiential portion should be set to specific guidelines for a style of beer.
Tasting beer is a very complex process with a lot of terminology, however, there are great resources out there to help you describe what you are tasting. I would encourage you to look at Randy Mosher’s Book *(2009) “Tasting Beer.” Check out online resources like ‘Beer Advocate’ for other people’s tasting notes. Look at the style guidelines for a certain style of beer you are trying. Or simply relate the beer you are tasting to something you are familiar with, like music.
I encourage you to think about the beer you are drinking next time. There are many different styles of beer and I encourage you to rate or review beer based on your experiential perception of the beer (those things you are able to quantify) such as: the beer is well made, the beer adheres to the style, the beer doesn’t possess off-flavors. This does not necessarily mean you will like the beer. It may be an exceptionally made beer, you may just have a different psychological and
* Mosher, Randy (2009). Tasting beer. Adams, MA: Storey Publishing