Ryan Ridgway’s article “Great Brews in Saskatchewan,” delves into the world of microbreweries, so we thought a guide to conducting your own beer tasting would be a perfect pair. Grab a sampler six pack, pour yourself a (not too) cold one, and test your palate with these tips from Beerology's "How to Taste Beer." And if you get a chance, give it a try yourself at one of Saskatoon Co-op's upcoming beer tasting events.
The appearance of the beer was intentionally crafted as part of the drinking experience. “The clarity of a beer can vary from brilliant to cloudy,” reads the Beerology guide. “Beers that aren’t extreme in their alcohol content should have good head retention (the foam doesn’t collapse immediately). Head retention often indicates a well-crafted beer, made with quality ingredients. As you drink your beer, look for lace-like pattern (left by the foam) on the sides of your glass. This is known as Belgian lace and is another indication of good quality.
Like the “nose” on a glass of wine, smelling beer is just as important. Our sense of smell impacts the way we taste things. Some beers may need to be swirled first to agitate it and release the carbonation, carrying the aroma to your nose, says the Beerology guide. “How intense is the aroma? Is it sweet (malt aroma), sharp (hop aroma), or a balance of different notes?... Of course, it is always important to note whether you like the aroma of the beer or not!”
Ah, taste. This is likely what you think of when “tasting” beer. A natural extension of the aroma, the Beerology guide notes that more dimensions will appear in the taste, notably bitterness: “Swirl the beer around in your mouth before swallowing it. Take a note of any flavours you taste, compare these flavours to other flavours you know. Does this beer remind you of anything?... It is helpful to note the intensity of the flavour, the balance between sweetness and bitterness, and your general impressions.”
A strangely literal word, “mouthfeel” refers to the physical sensations in the mouth produced by a particular food. When it comes to beer, mouthfeel refers to the texture and weight of the beer, explains the Beerology guide. “High alcohol beer can have a warming quality, not unlike hard alcohol, while bitter beers can sometimes be astringent. The weight, or body, of beer can also vary from being light and watery, to being full and heavy.” Carbonation also varies between beers.
All drinks tend to leave a flavour behind after a sip; this is the finish. “Does the flavour of the beer linger, or is the finish short? The after-taste can be sweet or bitter, and can take on many flavours, either in succession or all at once. Also notice the intensity of the finish. The finish of a beer depends greatly on the style in which it is brewed.” Perhaps the most important question to ask of the finish, Beerology notes, is: Do you want to take another sip?
Now you’re ready to give a full impression of the beer. A few questions Beerology suggests you ask include, “Were the flavours really lively and well balanced, or did they fall flat? Did the beer have a very fresh quality to it, or do you suspect that it was stale?” And of course, you’ll need to decided how much you liked the beer. If it’s a brew from Saskatchewan, it was probably quite good!
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