The craft beer industry is more popular than ever, with over 4,200 craft breweries serving up the best in beer.
While beer has always been a popular drink, in today’s world, it’s not just something you mindlessly crack open while watching the game. The rise of craft beer has generated tons of interest in how to create the perfect pairings, understand the differences between brews, and refine your palate.
Want to keep up with the beer revolution that’s taking place all over the world?
If so, then you need to get serious about beer tasting. It takes some practice to recognize specific notes, hops, smells, colors, and of course, overall taste. However, the process isn’t as complicated as many make it out to seem.
By the end of this post, you’ll have collected enough beer tasting tips to impress everyone at your next get-together. Plus, you’ll be able to seriously refine your palate and figure out which brews you like the best.
It might sound like overkill at first, but if you really want to refine your beer tasting palate, you have to train your tongue and taste buds. Of course, the good news is that this means you have a great excuse to drink more beer.
The best place to start this training is the most basic part of beer: the hops themselves. Depending on the specific brew, hops will either play a central role in the beer tasting experience, or will take more of a backseat.
Hops come in both wet and dry options. The most common form of hops are dry hop pellets, which help to keep the taste consistent when brewing larger batches.
Hops can have many different flavor profiles. They can be somewhat grassy, have a hint of citrus, or even be reminiscent of pine.
Hops also help to influence the overall flavor profile, and of course, the aroma, of beers. Most obviously, they impact the “bitterness” level of many beers. In fact, this bitterness is actually measured in IBUs, or International Bitterness Units.
A beer’s overall IBU amount will depend on the amount of kind of hops used, as well as when the hops are brought into the brewing process of a specific beer.
How To Refine Your Bitterness Palate
In today’s world, craft beers that are heavy on hops are especially popular. This means that the first beer tasting lesson will help you to figure out how much bitterness you can tolerate.
It’s important to find a beer that balances out that bitterness with an appropriate amount of sweetness.
To test a beer, get three glasses, some water, and 1.5 cups of grapefruit juice. Then, put 1/2 of a cup of the grapefruit juice in the glasses. Don’t add any water to the first glass, but add 1/2 a cup of water to the second glass, and 1/4 a cup of water to the third.
Start by tasting the glass with 1/2 a cup of water added, then 1/4 a cup, and then the full glass of grapefruit juice. This will help to train your tongue to recognize the bitterness of hops, and determine how much of that bitterness you prefer.
Pinning Down Hoppy Aroma And Flavor Profiles
Now that you’ve mastered your own bitterness threshold, and have learned how to tell whether or not a beer has a large amount of hops, it’s time to move on to the next phase of beer tasting.
It’s important to understand the different flavor profiles and aromas present in a variety of beers.
To get started, gather:
- A wedge of grapefruit
- Some freshly-picked grass
- A bunch of Freesia
- Pine Needles
- Black peppercorns
This list might seem a little bit silly at first, but if you’re serious about refining your tasting palate, it’s well worth it. To get the most out of your experience, why not invite your friends over to do this smell-test with you?
Also, be sure to purchase bottles of beer that are known for each of these flavor/aroma notes. Pour out a few sips in plastic cups next to the items on the list to help your palate to better make the connection between smell and taste.
Take a whiff of each of the things you’ve gathered. After smelling each item, take a sip from the corresponding brew. Take down notes of which ones you enjoyed, and which ones you could do without.
Again, beer tasting isn’t just about refining your palate. It’s also about discovering what you like.
Moving Onto Malt
So, you’ve totally stretched and refined your palate when it comes to hops. Now, you’re ready to tackle malts! Malt is what’s responsible for creating the amount of sweetness that’s in your beer.
In a nutshell, malt is what’s created after a type of grain germinates for a period of time. Most malt is made from barley. After the initial germination period, the grains of barley will be dried out.
If a brewer is looking for a “toasted” flavor that’s a bit caramelized, they may then roast the grains after heat-drying them out.
Next comes the fermentation period. Here, the yeast works to turn the sugars within the male into alcohol (clearly, the most important part of the process.)
Of course, it also has its own specific flavor profile, as well as different aromas. Malt is also known for influencing the color of your beer.
Now, let’s take a look at how you can refine and train your palate to recognize and understand different levels of malt.
Measuring the Sweetness In Your Beer
Some people swear by beer that’s on the sweeter side, while others prefer the bitterness of hops. To figure out which one you like better, it’s time to engage in another taste test.
Fortunately, the things you’ll get to eat during this test will satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. Again, it’s another great activity to do with friends before your next beer run.
Start by gathering an oatmeal cookie, some whole wheat bread, and (get ready for this one) a piece of rock candy.
The whole wheat bread is the least sweet option, the oatmeal cookie is somewhere in the middle, and the rock candy is, of course, the sweetest. Look for a variety of beers that match these levels of sweetness, and try to match them to what you’re snacking on.
This will help train your taste buds to understand the amount of sweetness in each brew. You’ll also figure out how sweet is too sweet when it comes to your personal preferences.
Mastering Malt Scents and Flavors
Now that you understand how much sweetness you’d like your beers to have, it’s time to move on the scent and more specific malt flavor profiles.
When you’re tasting beers with a heavy malt, you might notice that they remind you of a cup of coffee, a handful of nuts, or even your morning piece of toast.
To better understand these flavor profiles, you will need:
- A cup of light coffee (not espresso)
- A handful of malted milk balls
- A few pieces of toffee
- A piece of bread, lightly toasted (no jam)
- A handful of dried cherries
- A bar of dark chocolate
- A few pecans
As you did with the hops test, now is the time to smell and taste each of these “ingredients.” This will help you to pick out the specific flavor profiles of malt beer, and you’ll learn which tastes you like and which ones you find off-putting.
A Quick Word About Color
We mentioned earlier that malt impacts the color of beer. Though this doesn’t necessarily impact your taste, how beer gets its color is still something any aficionado should know.
When it comes to malts, the color of the beer is what tells you how long/how dark the malts were roasted. Contrary to popular belief, a beer’s color doesn’t have anything to do with the beer’s alcohol content.
In general, if a beer is darker, it means that it’s been caramelized and roasted after the drying process. It likely also experienced a longer boil time than average. It helps to think of malt along the same line as coffee beans.
The darker the roast, the darker the color.
Other Beer Tasting Advice
Now that you’ve completed the two main beer tasting exercises above, it’s time to move on to simpler, more rapid-fire advice.
Switch It Up
While it’s always a good feeling to know you’ve found a beer you like, don’t get sucked into drinking the same style.
Instead, ensure that you’re able to differentiate between all different types of styles by constantly testing and refining your palate. Try something new and experiment with different flavor profiles. You might just discover a new favorite!
If you’re really having trouble figuring out the more subtle differences between two types of beer, don’t panic.
The best way to refine your beer tasting palate when it comes to similar brews is to drink them simultaneously. Crack open two bottles of beer at the same time (there’s no rule that you have to finish them both.)
Then, alternate between taking sips of one and then the other. This will help you to train your tongue and tastebuds to understand these smaller differences between brews.
Finally, also make sure you’re switching up your food intake!
No, we’re not trying to give you health advice. Instead, it’s all about understanding what kinds of food and drinks different flavor profiles remind you of. If you’re eating the same meal every night, you’re not doing much to expand your overall flavor recognition abilities.
Don’t be afraid to take culinary risks — you’ll see the benefit in your next beer tasting!
Drop These Bad Habits
There are also a few bad habits you might have that could be impacting your taste buds.
As you may have guessed, smoking is a big one. In addition to being bad for your overall health, the tobacco and chemicals can seriously mess with your taste buds. Especially if you’ve been smoking for a long time, your taste buds won’t be as sensitive as those of non-smokers.
This will make it pretty challenging to detect those subtle notes of flavor. So, toss out your pack — do it for the beer.
Also, stop loading down your food with salt. Yes, even the foods you eat can impact your beer tasting experience. In addition to the duller tastebuds that come naturally with age, a high salt consumption can also negatively impact your taste buds.
Try cutting out as much salt as you can from your diet. We’re willing to bet you’ll notice a serious difference in how much more easily you’re able to pick up subtle notes of flavor in your beer.
How Else Can You Upgrade Your Beer Tasting Experience?
Education is a huge part of elevating your overall beer tasting experience and refining your palate. Of course, having the right equipment is also important!
Plus, having things look as professional as possible, whether you’re at the bar or tailgating with your friends, just makes a beer tasting with friends and family even more fun.
That’s where we come in.
Whether you’re planning to host a backyard beer tasting party or just want to upgrade your home bar, we can help.
We offer a wide variety of keg taps with superior flow control, sleek design, and that focus on an ease of transportation. You can even customize your tap carrying case for some extra street cred!
Once you’ve finished browsing our products, be sure to check out our blog to learn even more about your favorite brews. If you have any questions, or just want to connect with other beer aficionados, feel free to get in touch with us.