You might think beer-tasting is as simple as putting it in your mouth, gulping it down and saying, “Delicious!” You would be wrong.
The following is excerpted from info provided by the good people at Ballast Point and offers a guide to beer-tasting the, ahem, proper way. You can get the long version at the Ballast Point Brewery Web site.
Here are some points to keep in mind if you are getting set to do any kind of serious beer tasting.
Baby your taste buds. The taste buds and aroma receptors are complicated instruments that need to be in prime condition to properly identify the myriad flavors in beer. Spicy, acidic, or thermally hot foods and beverages can all do temporary damage to your taste buds. Smoking will also deaden the taste buds. Optimally, you should guard your taste buds carefully for a full day before you plan on tasting.
Similar precautions should be taken to maximize your olfactory capabilities. Aftershave, cologne or perfume will interfere with your ability to detect subtle aromas. And if you have a head cold, it is advisable to forego the tasting session.
Pour the beer properly. Pour the beer down the side of a glass held at an angle, taking care not to disturb the yeast cake in the bottle. Gradually rotate the glass to an upright position and finish in the center of the glass. These steps will ensure sufficient, but not excessive, head foam — usually one to two inches.
Check the initial aroma. Immediately sniff the beer upon pouring because many aromatics will dissipate quickly. Just a couple of normal sniffs will suffice.
Check the beer’s steady-state aroma. Sniff the beer again, noting any components that have appeared or disappeared. The aroma will generally be less lively, but the background malt and hop character should be perceptible.
Now you get to taste the beer. Take a small sip and note the initial, intermediate and final tastes. Most beers have an initial maltiness that carries throughout the flavor until it is attenuated to different extents by the hop bitterness. Flavors that result from esters, hops, and aromatic compounds will generally be perceived in the middle of the flavor, while the aftertaste will be the sensation that lingers in your mouth. Be sure to swallow the beer to allow the hop alpha-acids to flow across the bitterness receptors on the back of the tongue. Take another sip, swishing the beer through your mouth to evaluate the temperature, carbonation, viscosity, and alcoholic warmth. One or more additional sips may be required to identify subtle flavors, but most beers can usually be properly identified by imbibing two to three ounces.
Evaluate the style. Reflect upon the beer, considering its positive and negative flavors and how close the beer matches the style and/or your expectations. In beer and wine tasting, the overall impression is often more or less than the sum of the parts, but in any case, a good tasting experience should make you want another.
Cleanse your palate. In most tastings, water, unsalted crackers, and/or bread are usually available to help absorb and rinse flavors in between beers. Keep in mind, however, that this introduces different chemicals into the mouth, which may in turn affect the next beer. Any solids should be thoroughly rinsed with water before you proceed to the next beer.