Learn how to taste beer

A very simple 'Beer 101' when quenching your thirst for a long cold beer.

by: Martin Tucker | 07 May 2013
beer tasting

Do you remember the first beer you had?

I remember my father having mates over for a braai and when told to fetch more beers, I often sneaked a sip of what was left in the bottle.

That bitter taste of Ohlssons Lager and then, the sweeter taste of Lion Lager left me spitting out one and wanting more of the other. 

Growing up with only 2 choices probably shaped me as a beer drinker, until I learned to appreciate the bitter, hoppy and dry taste of some of the beers I drink nowadays. That, and the fact that Lion Lager was destroyed in what can only be called one of the biggest sales and marketing stuff ups since Donkey meat became commonplace.

Learning to appreciate the differences in beer

If I taste a beer now that’s full of pine resin and granadilla, (like a Devils Peak Kings Blockhouse IPA) or super strong and honey-like with hints of citrus, (like a 10% Maredsous Trippel) I don’t spit it out in shock and horror. I’ve learned to appreciate what’s good about it and why it's different.

It's a lot like wine, they don't all taste the same do they?

If a beer is cloudy and milky and you can’t see through it, as you’re used to with clear, filtered golden lagers, it’s not off or badly made. That’s generally what a 'wit' beer (like Darling Brewery’s Bonecrusher) or a 'weiss' (like Cape Brewing Company’s) beer should look like.

Don’t be scared, try it.

What was your earliest beer memory? Has there been a beer that has really surprised you?

Things to take note of when really tasting your beer.

NB: It's very interpretive and a lot like wine, so just go through these simple points to help describe the beer you're tasting.

Appearance – Hold it up to the light, can you see your fingers on the other side of the glass? Is it filtered or not? What does the head look like and does it last? (If the head doesn't last it might be a sign that the beer is not made well, or something simple like a dirty glass).
Does it look like a beer and are there small bubbles or large bubbles? NB: These are all things to take note of for next time you drink the same beer style or even the same beer, so you can compare them.

Aroma – What does the beer smell like? To test this - swirl it around, cup your hand over it and quickly release it. One of the signs of a badly made beer is cat wee, do you get that?

Taste – What does the first part of the sip taste like? Similar to aroma, where do you feel it in your mouth, on your bitter, salty or sweet tastebuds?

Finish – Mouthfeel - is it thick or thin, is it dry and bitter, does it make you swallow harder or go down easily? Is there a malty taste left behind in your mouth?  Wait a few seconds after swallowing for the hops to come through.

Try these simple first tasting steps that will help you really taste your beer. Remember, it's a personal thing and these are just some tasting tips to get you on your way.

In the meantime go out and enjoy something dark if all you ever drink is clear and pale beers. 


Martin started the Cape Town Festival of Beer in 2009, the Southern Hemispheres largest commercially available beer on show festival, which takes place 22nd - 24th Nov 2013 for the 4th time. www.capetownfestivalofbeer.co.za, twitter @CTFestofBeer and Facebook CTFOB.

He is also an owner of Keg King, a beer distribution and portable draught dispensing company. Keg King also delivers The Beer Box, an 18 bottle case of mixed local craft or international beers. www.kegking.co.za, twitter @kegkingsa and Keg King on Facebook.





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