Have you ever seen somebody taste a beer and pick out all types of interesting aromas and flavors? Flavors like molasses, honey and lemongrass. Did you ask yourself what their secret was?
You may think that beer all tastes the same, but there is a method to fine-tuning your palette. I learned this method from Dr. Bill Sysak in the Exploring Craft Beer class I took in the Business of Craft Beer Professional Certificate program at San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies.
Dr. Bill is Stone Brewery’s Craft Beer Ambassador. He’s perfected the method of tasting beer and taught it to countless others. It all starts with quality beer. Visit a beer review website such as www.beeradvocate.com to find local craft beers that are highly rated. After you have purchased your highly rated craft beer, it is time to crack that bottle open and get tasting.
Look at your beer:
After you have poured your craft beer, hold the glass up and analyze its appearance. Notice the beer’s color, clarity, and foam. The vibrant colors you see will prime your taste buds as you make all types of unconscious associations with aromas and flavors.
Swirl and sniff:
Next, swirl the beer around in the glass to unleash the beer’s volatile aromas and inhale deeply. Then take three short sniffs, followed by one long sniff. Inhale through both your nose and mouth. Write down at least three things you smell. Maybe it’s pine from the hops or clove from the yeast. Aroma accounts for up to 90% of what you taste, so it’s important that you mindfully smell your beer.
Now take a first sip of your beer. Swish it around in your mouth to coat your palette. Take a second sip and place the beer at the front of your mouth. Part your lips and suck in some air to aerate the beer over your taste buds. Then take a third sip like you normally would. Breathe out while tasting (a process called "retro-olfaction"), which will further help you to identify subtle flavors.
Keep sipping as the beer warms and write down at least three flavors you taste. Try to describe any sweet, sour, spicy, or bitter flavors you taste. Also, note the mouthfeel of the beer. Is the beer highly carbonated and creamy or is it soft and chewy? Is it viscous and syrupy or is it crisp and dry? The possible aromas and flavors of beer are practically endless, so have fun and don't be afraid to go out on a limb and say a beer has hints of oak even if you haven't actually ever bitten into an oak tree.
You should now be able to identify a much wider range of a beer’s flavors. Using this method and with some practice, you will become a beer tasting genius.