MASH Brewery were asked to contribute to a blog spot for Tom Hallett relating to how to approach tasting beer. This is the long form article that MASH sent across to Tom.
MASH Brewery Beer Tasting.
The first thing to say is that any tasting regardless whether it is beer or something else is a subjective matter. Everyone will taste slightly differently and some flavours will be more pronounced than others and you may find that you cannot detect some flavours while other people tasting the beer will.
There is now a huge amount of information available on beer when compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Previously a brewery would merely state what type or style the beer was and that was about it. Now pretty much every brewery provides information on the flavours and aromas for a specific beer. Additionally, they may let you into what malt and hop combinations have been utilised. There is also more written about beer today than ever before, gone are the days when it was just Michael Jackson aka The Beer Hunter and Roger Protz. A beer taster can find a whole range of information at their fingertips before they embark on any tasting session.
A useful guide is Cyclops Beer (http://www.cyclopsbeer.co.uk/) with2,500 beers being classified by appearance, aroma and taste. This can give a beer taster a simple but comprehensive framework from which to compare your tasting notes versus what has been published about a specific beer. For example, MASH Amber is described in Cyclops as:
Smell: Orange, Floral. Spicy
Taste: Tangerine, Fruity, Dry
Bitter: 3 out of 5
Sweet: 3 out of 5
All said and done it is about what you experience and feel about a beer and how it tastes regardless of what everyone else says. We all have our preconceptions and to a degree prejudices, most people will expect a stout to taste a certain way and there can be a huge variation for IPAs from the fairly nondescript through to the intensely hoppy (even Black IPAs just to confuse things). If you can leave behind these preconceptions, then the following steps can be used as a guide to beer tasting:
Firstly, ensure the beer isn’t too cold as this can impact on the true flavours of the beer. Also ensure that you taste from a glass and not straight from a can or bottle. This allows for the release of aromas and some of the residual CO2.
Appearance will be the next element of the tasting. What is the beer’s colour, what degree of carbonation does it have (liveliness), is the head on the beer being retained or does it disappear quickly? The clarity of the beer will vary, typically most will be crystal clear but that does not have to be the case with stouts, dark ales, wheat beers and increasingly cloudy, unfiltered beers. The question here is what was the brewer trying to achieve – clear or cloudy either is perfectly acceptable.
Aroma is the next factor in any tasting even though at this stage you have not even drunk anything yet! The aroma can be enhanced by swirling the beer around the glass. The aroma will give you the first impression of what the beer will taste like, does it have an intense aroma and if so what’s the main characteristic: malty, hoppy or fruity for example.
Now finally you can sup some beer to complete your tasting but even this stage is comprised of a couple of elements. Firstly, what is the flavour in your mouth, ideally swirl it around first before swallowing it. What is the intensity of the flavour from weak through to strong and how is it balanced from sweet to bitter? There is a whole range of flavours you can experience here from caramel and toffee through to earthy, floral, spice and citrus. Mouthfeel is the next component which is roughly how much body does the beer have which can range from a “light” ale all the way through to an Imperial Stout. The level of carbonation is also part of Mouthfeel which can extend from faint to excessive or gassy. The final, final bit is the Finish. Is the Finish quick or lingering? Is it faint or very intense? Is the Finish sweet or bitter?
Who would have thought there was so much to tasting beer? The main thing though in all of this is to have fun trying different beers and styles and no doubt you will hit upon some real gems that you will love and what to try over again becoming established favourites.