By DANIEL J. LEONARD
We get it. You want fast answers at a glance. No problem- we've got you covered. We got bullet points. We got bold text. We even underlined the important parts for you! There's even a beer waiting for you at the end of this article. (Now if you could just get someone to read all this and remember it for you…)
PART ONE: The Basics
These rules of thumb generally apply to all types of tasting events:
How much beer to serve per person?
• 3 – 4 ounces. That’s about a quarter to a third of a standard 12 oz bottle of beer. You can eyeball that amount when pouring, or if you want to be really anus about it, you can mark your serving glasses (with a Sharpie) at the 3 or 4 ounce point by first pre-measuring 3 or 4 ounces of water in a measuring cup, and then transferring that water into your serving glass. Think of it as liquid measuring tape.
How many different beers to serve?
• 6 for a more formal tasting, and up to 10 for more of a casual thing.
How to pour beer for a beer tasting?
• Go with a hard pour right into the center of the glass. This kicks up more foam and aromatics, which you want.
What temperature to serve beer?
• The recommended serving temperature of the majority of lagers is 45-50 °F, while most ales should be served around 50-55 F. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the warmer side: the warmer the beer (up to room temperature), the easier the flavor and aroma characteristics are to detect.
How to order the beers?
• Take a cue from the wine world, and go lightest to darkest if you’re sampling a variety of different styles of beer. If you’re doing a flight of the same sub-style of beer, say American IPAs, then it doesn’t really matter.
How to create a theme?
• Below are a few ideas for beer tasting themes you could try yourself, or you can use these ideas as a springboard to create your own themes:
1. The Potpourri: Taste the rainbow by throwing together different styles or substyles of beers in order to broaden your palate.
2. The Flight: Pick a sub-style of beer, say Robust Porters or Flanders Reds, and do a side-by-side comparison.
3. Goin’ County: Travel the beer world by rounding up a selection of beers from a particular country or region, say Belgium, Germany, or Asia, and see if you can spot a common thread.
4. Strange Brews: Try a sampling of unusual beers with unusual ingredients or spices. Think Dogfish Head, The Bruery, Shmaltz, Rogue, Brooklyn, Jolly Pumpkin, BrewDog,
5. The Brewery Tour: Put together a line-up of beers from a particular brewery to see if that brewery is hitting on all cylinders or if there’s a common thread that runs between that brewery’s beers.
6. Open Season: There’s a beer for every season, so make the most of it with seasonal brews. Winter time? Make that Winter Warmer time. Dead of summer? Break out the thirst quenchers (Wits, Saisons, Hefeweizen). Arbor Day? Then try Alba Scots Pine Ale.
7. Food Pairing: Demonstrate the superior versatility of beer (chocolate stout with chocolate mousse, anyone?) by pairing it with a complimentary food, or maybe just stuffy it up with a beer and cheese pairing.
8. The Vertical Tasting: This will take some planning and time, but you can collect ‘ageable’ beers and sample the different vintages.
The Formal Beer Evaluation
A formal tasting almost always involves observing and rating the aroma, color, taste, mouthfeel and overall impression of a beer, and then judging it against some standard. What standard, you ask? For the time being, you can use the BJCP Style Guideline as your standard. Not only is it free, it will help you objectively describe the characteristics of a certain well-established style/sub-style of beer. Word to the wise: Because beer styles and sub-styles keep multiplying like rabbits on viagra, it's getting harder and harder to determine if a beer is "brewed to style" simply because the style hasn't yet been canonized into the BJCP Style Guideline, or some other reference material. The best you can do here is to just describe the beer, look for balance of flavors, and go with your gut when rating it.
You’ll need at least some of the following:
1. Evaluation Sheets and pens: Grab some paper and some pens and describe the aroma, color, taste/aftertaste, mouthfeel and overall impression.
2. Glassware: Buy some Brandy Snifters. These types of glasses are the best because their fishbowl-like shape helps to focus the aromatics, which makes your life easier when trying to describe the aroma.
3. BJCP Style Guidelines (optional but recommended): Use this free guide from the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) to help you pin-point the appropriate characteristics of the beer you’re evaluating.
4. Vocabulary Reference Sheet and/or Tasting Wheel (optional): A beer vocab reference sheet (word bank) is useful to help you describe the beer, and you can add to it as you go.
5. Background Information (optional): Background information such as ingredients in the beer or the factoids about the brewery is usually just supplemental and used to enrich the overall experience, but not necessary to describe the beer accurately.
6. Palate cleansers (optional): Use neutral tasting crackers such as plain, salt-free Saltines, plain Matzo crackers or even plain rice cakes as palate cleansers between beers.
7. Water (optional): Can be used as a palate cleanser and a way to wash out your beer glass between beers. Two-fer.
How to Describe Beer
Again, follow this order: Describe the aroma first, then color, taste/aftertaste, mouthfeel and overall impression.
• Aroma: With the aroma, you’re looking to describe at least three basic things: hops, malt, esters. If you’re not very familiar with those subjects, then print out a beer wheel and/or our beer vocabulary bank and use them to help you identify many of the common aromas found in beer.
• Color: When describing the color, don’t forget to mention the clarity, color of the head and how long the head lasts. As for the color itself, just remember that beer is mostly some shade of brown or yellow, so get familiar with those colors, or use this color chart:
• Taste and Aftertaste: You can use a lot of the descriptors found in the aroma to help describe the taste, but be careful: not all beer tastes like their aroma! Again, if you’re not very familiar with the vocabulary used to describe the many different flavors often found in beer, then print out a beer wheel and/or our beer vocabulary bank which contain a vocabulary list of many of the common characteristics often found in beer. Use these tools to help identify common flavors found in beer; I still reference beer wheels today.
• Mouthfeel: Here, you’re looking to describe the body of the beer. Common descriptors are: thick, chewy, oily, rich, silky, syrupy, velvety, thin, crisp, dry, watery, etc. Along with that, you can mention the degree to which the beer exhibits any of the following characteristics (if present): carbonation, warmth, creaminess, astringency, alkalinity, powderiness and other palate sensations.
• Overall Impression: This is where you sum the beer up and note the most significant or noticeable aspect/s of the beer. You can also note whether the beer was brewed to style (use the BJCP Style Guideline as a reference), or was lacking some quality.
• Still feeling unsure of your beer describing abilities? Then check out our full article on How To Host A Beer Tasting for some more tips. It’s free, easy to understand and it’ll raise your beer IQ- which is the only IQ that matters.
Like this tutorial? Questions, comments, free beer? Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/beersyndicate.
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