So, you’ve made the decision to get into craft beer; congratulations! You may find that there are a wider variety of flavours than you would find in wholesale, commercially-available beers. As such, you may want to change the way you sample-taste your drink. This week, I’ll give you a guide to sample suds similarly to sommeliers, made simple
If it sounds overbearing at first, worry not; all it takes is four steps: Look, Smell, Taste, Feel.
Sensible so far? Let’s look at each of these steps and determine what you’re looking for and why. For these examples, I have poured a small 4oz. sample of Kawartha Sparkling Ale
Look – After you pour, observe the liquid and see how it sits in the glass immediately and over time. For the body, note the clarity and colour. Next look at the head of the beer; assuming you’ve poured the beer correctly, note the shape, colour, and strength of the head. Does the head fade quickly or does it last awhile? What you expect to see will vary depending on what style you are sampling.
Smell – Observations made, it’s time to use your nose. Bring the beer up within a few inches of the sample and take a deep, but easy whiff. You don’t want to overwhelm your sense and breathing in too much may make you lose the subtlety of the aroma. What flavours are you finding? Is there an odor that fades quickly or comes in late? How complex and layered is the beer? Aroma and Taste are affected by the choices of malt, hop, and sometimes the activity of the yeast, noticing some certain flavours often link to specific ingredients. Malts will give everything from corny and bready flavours to roasted and caramel ones depending on how much malts were prepared. Hops vary to a larger degree, giving tastes akin to grass, herbs, fruits, citrus, spices, wood flavours etc.
You would think this is a straightforward step but be careful; many people often drink far too quickly for full tasting analysis. Slowly raise a little bit of the beer into your mouth and let it gently slide across your whole tongue before sending it down the hatch. Like the Smell phase, it’s important to note what flavours you are tasting and to try to identify the original ingredients. Flavour will also be layered like the odor, but you may find that the nose and the taste may not have the same exact profile.
Take another sip, but this time don’t swallow right away. Instead, let the beer sit in your mouth for awhile to determine the Feel. Often the least-focused aspect, Feel is short for mouthfeel, or how the physical characteristics of the beverage factor into the overall tasting. You should be assessing thickness/viscosity, astringency, and amount of tannins. This is also the best time to really feel how carbonated the beer is. (For example, our Kawartha Sparkling Ale is very highly carbonated, leading to a sharper, bubbly bite).
Once that’s all done, think of a brief summary of each of the four sections and bring it all together. For more detailed tasting notes you’ll likely include everything identified, but for simpler assessments, think about what were the most prominent? If you’re tasting a specific style, how close was the beer to other examples of the style?
It’s important to remember that no one else can really tell you what you identify, and most beer tastings are highly subjective. Beer batches may also have different tastes depending on factors like ingredient quality and fermentation activity. Don’t hold onto old notions, let every new tasting be its own experience.