Tasting beer is just like tasting wine, but you don’t need to spit out. The first step is to make sure the beer you are tasting is served at the right temperature. Too cold and real ale loses many of its complex flavours. Served too warm, it can develop some you don’t want and quickly loses condition in the glass.
Use your eyes
Beer should look good. It should be colourful and bright and if it is meant to have a significant head of froth, this should be thick and creamy. Remember that many beers, particularly from the south of England, are not brewed to be served with creamy heads. Remember too that some beers, such as wheat beers may be cloudy, but these too should look attractive and not dull or flat in appearance. Generally though, your beer should be bright and clear and your glass should not contain any sediment.
Use your nose
The best way to sniff your beer is with a glass which is half-empty. This enables you to give it a quick swirl, place your hand over the glass to hold in the lovely aromas fighting to escape and then dive in and take a nice deep breath. You will soon learn to recognise key features such as hoppiness from a classic pale ale, the burnt chocolate flavours of a stout or the banana nose of a wheat beer.
Now the taste
As you take your first taste of the beer you’ll notice the sweetness from the malts at the front of your mouth while dry bitter flavours from the hops dominate the back of your mouth as you swallow the beer and learn to appreciate the ‘finish’
Just like wine, beers have their own unique characteristics and complexities from the style, the ingredients and the recipe. Tasting beer is every bit as satisfying as tasting wine and you’ll soon learn to appreciate the various styles. Beer can be enjoyed on its own, but it is also exceptionally good with food, so don’t think for a moment that the dining table should be reserved for wine! Experiment and you’ll soon become skilled in matching different beers to different food dishes.
Cask Marque taste cards
Cask Marque has advice on some of the flavours that you can identify in beer. You can click here to see both Cask Marque taste cards which describe the positive attributes of cask ale and also identifies flavour that you shouldn’t be able to taste, the “off flavours” and usually means that there is a problem with the beer.
The Beer Academy also has advice on tasting beer, click here to read this. They also run 90 minute tasting courses which are usually held at the White Horse, Parsons Green in London throughout the year.
Another opportunity to attend a beer tasting is the Great British Beer Festival, held by CAMRA at Olympia in London each August. There are usually a number of different beer tastings at this event.
If you run a pub why not hold a beer tasting for your customers? This is a very effective way to help pub goers discover more about cask ale and to promote your pub. You could ask your local brewer to run this for you and will probably find that a lot of customers are keen to discover more about different beer styles and cask ales that are available.