Tasting Beer: A Guide for the Perplexed


Not long to go, now! The first day of our 2014 season will be Thursday, May 1st—exactly two weeks from today. We’re very excited to return the brewery and get back to our usual schedules of sampling, touring, and talking about beer.

One of the things I love about the brewery is how many different people come through our doors. We meet everyone from staunchly devoted beer lovers to people who are genuinely interested in beer—they’re just new to the concept of really tasting it.

There is a difference between tasting beer and drinking it. For myself, I spent years claiming not to like beer. Part of the problem was that I’d never had good beer. I’d also never learned to taste it properly.

Everyone starts somewhere! If you’re thinking of visiting us for the first time this season (or if you’d like a refresher after our long, cruel winter), here’s a handy guide to get you started!

GuideforPerplexedTasting

Step 1: Appearance

First impressions count for a lot, and sight is an important part of the overall sampling experience. Pour your beer into a clear glass (at the brewery, we’ll do this for you). Take a good look at it. Hold it to the light.

Just look: you can see the bar rail through the glass!

What colour is it? Pale gold, copper, pitch-black? Can you see through it?

Look at the clarity: can you see my smiling face through the glass, or is it clouded? Hint: our beers tend towards cloudiness because they’re unfiltered—and the further down in the growler your sample was, the cloudier it will be!

Our naturally carbonated beers don’t have much head, but make sure you note it in modern beers!

Step 2: Swirl

You’ve seen people swirling wine glasses before, right? Same idea: swirling the beer around your glass releases aromas and nuances you wouldn’t catch otherwise. Just a few gentle swirls will do it, and don’t worry about looking pretentious: this is exactly the behaviour we encourage.

Step 3: Smell

Our senses of taste and smell are closely linked. Don’t be afraid: give your beer a good sniff. How intense is the smell? What aromas do you notice?

More malt-oriented aromas? (Grains, nuts, chocolate, coffee, caramel, toastiness, sweetness)

More hop-oriented? (Citrus (often grapefruit for us, particularly in our IPA), earthiness, resins, pine, floral and/or spicy aromas)

Step 4: Sip

And now, it’s time to taste the b—do not chug it! Slow down and enjoy your drink. We’re friendly people, I promise. Take a small sip, but don’t swallow it right away.

Start with the beer on the tip of your tongue and move it slowly through your mouth. Different flavours will trigger taste buds in different regions of the tongue, so enjoy the different sensations as your beer travels over the tongue.

growler

In tasting notes, I frequently mention “mouthfeel.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this term refers to the way the beer feels in one’s mouth: that is, its weight and texture. Is it thin and sharp? Smooth and rounded? Does it feel heavy or light?

If you’d like to be really thorough, some people suggest exhaling while tasting; this is called “retro-olfaction.” Essentially, beer is warmed by being in your mouth, which causes more aromas to travel through your nasal cavities. It’s a different way to experience the beer’s aromas than the preliminary sniffing.

Got all that? Good—swirl the beer around your mouth once, letting it touch every part of your tongue, cheeks, and palate.

And swallow.

Step 5: Finish

We’re not done yet! The finish is highly important. Swallowing lets the very back of the tongue and throat experience the beer. How does the flavour change?

As well, note any flavours that linger after the beer has left your mouth. Are they bitter and/or floral (more hoppy), or more rich and grainy (leaning towards malts)? How intense are they?

Oh, that Chocolate Stout...
Oh, that Chocolate Stout…

Give it an extra second—sometimes, you might be surprised by how long the finish lasts. For me, sampling BadWolf Brewery’s stout epitomized the necessity of waiting. I’d swallowed my beer, and I thought the finish was over—only to have another surge of chocolate flavour catch me completely off-guard.

Take a moment to let all these impressions settle.

Now, the most important question of all…

Do you want to keep drinking this beer?

See you soon, beer-lovers!

-Katie

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