Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tasting Beer: Some Starting Points

I used to find it silly and pretentious, the way some would describe beer. The more varied my taste for beer has become, the more my sensitivity has grown. As you expand your love of beer and sample increasingly challenging beers, you will begin to appreciate nuances you never noticed before.

For instance, I never liked hoppy beers for years. I kept giving them a chance every few months, and now my favorite styles incorporate massive amounts of the little flowers. The last remaining style that I disliked was "barley wine", a bittersweet mega-alcoholic brew. This is now one of my favorite kinds of beer. I appreciate it in ways I never thought I would.

Here is a descriptive guide for what to look for in tasting beers. These are words I've read from other sources (such as the late, great, Michael Jackson) as well as words I have just come up with from my own experiences. I must warn, many of them are probably not what is legally considered "English".

Hop-derived aromas/flavors: floral/flowery, citrus, fruit salad, grapefruit, water melon, lemon, orange, peach, strawberry, black currants, woody, earthy, herbal, oregano, piney/pine needles, resiny, sappy, grassy, catty (cat urine/litterbox), lemongrass, sweat

Malt/sugar derived aromas/flavors: biscuit, cracker, bread, rye, wheat, corn, toast, toasty, roasty, coffee, espresso, dark chocolate, cocoa, toffee, grainy, cookie, dough, caramel, burnt, smoky, sweet, creamy, malty, molasses, rummy, cidery, dark fruits: raisins, prunes, dates, plums, figs, hay, anise, liquorice, tobacco, nutty, almond, bourbon, alcohol, wood/oak, brown sugar, meat/bacon/BBQ/campfire, maple syrup

Yeast/fermentation dervied aromas/flavors: spicy, white grapes, phenolic, cloves, bananas, black pepper, coriander, citrus, smoke, estery(fruity flavors), sweat, yeasty, "funk", vinegar, sour, horsey(saddle blanket), barn flavors, tart, leather

Other random aromas/flavors: coriander, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, anise, fennel, tea, perfume, rosehips, fruits(added to the beer), chamomile, chocolate, juniper, spruce, heather, ginger

Negative flavors and off-flavors (in some styles of beer these may be desirable, most of the time they are not): vinegar, sour, tart, cooked corn, vegetal, astringent (think biting into a grape stem, sucking on a tea bag), cidery, wet cardboard, soapy, barn flavors, horsey, medicinal, band-aid, buttery/butterscotch(this tastes like a buttered popcorn Jelly Belly to me, in fact it is in ingredient in that candy and is the cause of "popcorn lung"), meaty, metallic/blood, solvent ("hot"/harsh alcohol flavors), cloying (sickenly sweet/syrup), stale, musty, stale, skunky

Moutfeel: sticky, smooth, fizzy, tingling, soft, flat, thin, thick, creamy

Finish: crisp, fruity, sweet, bitter, lingering, malty, hoppy

General take-aways:
  • Always pour beer into a glass first (style-appropriate glassware is another discussion all-together). Drinking from a bottle does not allow the beer to hit all flavor centers on your tongue and over-emphasizes the bitter taste-buds on the back of the tongue.
  • These adjectives are just a starting point. If you think a beer tastes or smells like something, write it down!
  • Try joining a site like ratebeer or Beer Advocate to keep track of your notes.


Shifty said...

Thanks for adding my blog to your list! I'm not sure what the deal is with the OKC pub. As soon as I find out, I'll get back to you. Cheers!

Elaine said...

this is the kind of post we have been in need of. gracias.