Tasting and Sampling
Going to a craft brewery can be daunting for some. These are some of my thoughts on how to choose the right beer.
First and foremost, order a beer sampler and the accompanying literature. You’ll want to taste the whole range before zeroing in on the beer you like best. Before you sample any of the beers, take some time to read the literature. Focus in on the characteristics listed below which you will be looking for. Perhaps bring a notepad along with you or just take notes and pictures with your smartphone!
Keep an open mind and keep trying as many Beer styles as you can! There are literally thousands of Beers out there – Happy Sampling!
5 Steps for Sampling:
Before you start the process, make sure you have the right glassware that is clean.
Always sample from light to dark and lightest in alcohol content to the heaviest. Have a glass of water between samples, not food.
- Appearance – Raise your glass to the light and look at your Beer(Color, Clarity, Head Retention) What does the beer look like when poured? How much head does it have?
- Aroma (Malt/Hops) – Bring the glass to neck level and pass it under your nose from right to left and back. Then take a short sniff of your beer. What does the beer smell like? Is it sweet, smoky, toasty or nutty – any hints of chocolate or caramel or fruity? The Hops – grassy, citrusy, herbal, piney, resin-like or floral?
- Taste – Take a big enough sip to cover your entire palate. What flavors can you pick out? Often the aroma will give you a few clues. What flavors do you start with, what do they evolve into and think about the finish – the aftertaste.
- Mouthfeel – What sort of body does the beer have (watery/light, medium, heavy) and how much carbonation is in it – is it crispy on the palate or creamy?
- Overall – This is your opinion of the beer. Did the beer smell a lot different than it tasted? Did you like or dislike something, in particular?
Example: A Stout will be darker in color, have a chocolate/coffee like aroma, low hop character, have a similar taste, full bodied with some carbonation.
Other things to look for in the accompanying literature are:
- ABV – Alcohol By Volume – Simply the amount of alcohol by volume in the brew. The higher the ABV, the more alcohol by volume present in the beer. Typically lagers are anywhere from 3-5% ABV, Weiss around 5% and Stouts around 4-5% Ales usually tend to be stronger from 5-8% or even higher. Once again, these are very rough estimates.
- IBU – International Bitterness Unit – This is a measure of bitterness caused by the hops used. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer. For example, a light/pale lager may have an IBU of 8-20 whereas an IPA (India Pale Ale) may have 60-100 IBU or more, which makes sense as the latter is known for more hoppiness.
- SRM – Standard Reference Method – This is used to describe the color of Beer and calculated using the attenuation of light at a particular wavelength passing through 1 cm of Beer. The chart below gives you color based on SRM
- EBC – European Brewing Convention – Similar to the SRM method for determining Beer color. EBC is approximately 1.97 times SRM.
Once you start developing your palate after trying a wide variety of Beers and following the basic sampling guidelines above, you can take it to the next level by trying to deconstruct a Beer based on it’s ingredients and aromas. This also includes identifying off-flavors. Not all Beers are perfect. Some Beers may not have been stored or handled inappropriately or it a batch of craft or home brewed Beer that has gone wrong.
This Beer flavor wheel depicts some of the aromas and flavors you ought to be looking for.
Off – Flavors
The dreaded off flavors. Don’t fret – this can happen for a variety of reasons ranging from a brewing flaw to a problem with storage/dispensing/handling.
As a paying customer, you have every right to send a Beer back if there is something wrong with it but please be courteous about it and speak 1 on 1 with management first.
Here’s a simple .PDF (courtesy CraftBeer.com) on off flavors that everyone should read:
beerproblems (click to download)
For Those New To Beers
Most people are very accustomed to lagers and pilsners. These are great, refreshing beers with a light body. Pilsners tend to have more hoppiness to their flavor profile and hence a tad bit more bitter.
For those not so used to heavier beers – a lager or a pilsner is a great way to go. You can also opt for lighter ales such as blondes and summer ales. Most brewpubs will have a lighter styled ale. Lagers are sometimes available at brewpubs but not common since they take longer to condition and most brewpubs are limited for space and capacity.
Another great option is fruity beers – these tend to be seasonal and usually have a lighter profile and hints of sweetness. Ciders are also a great option although these tend to be hard to find freshly brewed here in Bangalore. If you live in Maharashtra, then there are plenty of great Cider options – Doolally being the best.
Weiss Beers- medium bodied, very aromatic – clove/banana are the common flavor profiles, slightly sweet and cloudy in appearance. If you are tired of lagers and pilsners and not a fan of hops then this is the beer to choose. A variation of the Weiss is the Belgian Wit – similar flavor profile but with the added benefit of orange peels and coriander – these are great summer beers which are refreshing.
Ales tend to be heavier bodied (thicker mouthfeel not higher in alcohol). The malts used and how they are treated also determine how these ales look and taste. Brown/darker ales have heavier roasted malts and these will give them more of a toffee caramel/chocolate/coffee flavors, depending on the level of roasting. IPA – India Pale Ales are fairly light in color but have a high hop content – watch out as these will be bitter.
Stouts – these are the heaviest beers of the lot. If you are a fan of dark ales, then do try stouts.
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