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How to taste beer like a pro: Follow these 5 steps

Beer lovers, assemble! It’s time to reveal the secret that will take you from tasting novice to analysing pro in just five steps.

by: Karl Tessendorf | 18 Jul 2018
beer set up for a beer tasting

(Image: iStock)

The best part is that you already have everything you need. All it takes is your five senses and a little common sense. The process is always the same but the results will vary greatly from beer style to beer style. All you need to remember is: appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and impression. Let’s take a closer look.  

1. Appearance

After you’ve poured the perfect beer with plenty of head, take a moment appreciate what you see. The colour of the body gives an indication of the type of malt that was used in the brewing. Lighter beers will have lighter malt flavours like bread, toast or grain, while amber beers will be more caramel and toffee. Dark beers usually steer towards chocolate and coffee territory. Next, take a look at the level of carbonation. Is it subtle or aggressive? How big are the bubbles and how densely packed is the head? All of these factors affect how the beer feels on the palate. It could be light and zesty with a dry finish, or rich and smooth with a creamy finish.

2. Aroma

Now it’s time to get your snout into the glass. Start with a few short sniffs and see what you can pick up. What comes through first? Is it sweet malt with biscuit or caramel aromas, or is it fruity and floral hops. The style of beer that you’re drinking should dictate this. Now take a few long sniffs and see what the aromas remind you of. Does it smell like a freshly peeled naartjie? Or maybe a jar of padstal marmalade? Another great way to taste is to hold your nose and take a big sip then swallow and exhale through your nose. This pushes aromas up into your olfactory system. Smell is one of your most powerful senses so pay attention and take your time.  

3. Taste

Finally, we get to drink- I mean taste. Start with a small sip and roll the beer around your palate for a few seconds before swallowing. How does the flavour unravel on your tongue? What hits you first, malt or hops? Are any of the aromas that you picked up following through onto the palate? What does it remind you of? As you get more confident you’ll be able to pick out the malt character from the hop character. Some beers are a balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness, while others have a lead and a supporting role depending on the beer style. When you’re new to tasting it often helps to start on the extreme end of styles. There’s no mistaking the massive hop character of a juicy IPA, or the robust malt flavours of a hefty stout.  

4. Mouthfeel

Light, crisp, zesty, dry, nectarish, thick, oily, creamy - you get the idea. How does the beer feel on the palate and how does it finish? Does it make you want another sip?

5. Impression

How do you feel about the overall experience? Did the beer deliver on everything it promised and would you buy it again? Or are you left with a case of buyer’s remorse? Question everything and taste every beer. Over time, the flavours and beer styles will start to make sense. Follow the five steps, enjoy the tasting experience and before you know it your friends will be asking you for tasting advice. 

 Karl Tessendorf is one part of the duo that hosts 'Beer Country', South Africa's first TV show dedicated to beer, braai and the open road.


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