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Malting barley: the jewel in the Crown

Five steps to tasting beer like a master brewer

We all enjoy a good beer, but do you know how to taste beer like a brewer?

Danie Odendaal, SAB Master Brewer regularly gives masterclasses on beer tasting. In a recent event at the SAB World of Beer in South Africa, journalists from around the country gathered to compete against each other in a “Taste Off”. Through a fun evening attendees learned the art of beer tasting.

We’ve taken his class and shared his simple, five-step guide to tasting beer like a pro.

1. The drive by

Before you start, make sure you’ve poured your beer into a glass so that the aromas can be released. Hold the glass up in front of you and observe the beer’s colour and clarity. Then pass the beer in front of your nose in a “drive by” sniff. This is very important as some aromas can blind your olfactory senses almost instantly, which might cause you to miss the aroma.

2. Give it a swirl

Before going in for another sniff, hold your hand over the top of your glass and give it a gentle swirl. This will agitate the liquid to release the volatiles, which are trapped and concentrated in the glass. This is what you’ll then be able to smell.

3. Go back for a deep sniff

Once you’ve had a good swirl, remove your hand from the top of the glass and raise to your nose. Take a deep sniff and you’ll notice more lively aromas this time.

Some of the aromas you may notice, depending on the beer, could include:

  • Malt aromas: these can range from grains and corn to roasted coffee or dark chocolate (stouts).
  • Hop aromas: generally citrusy, floral, or grassy.
  • Yeast aromas: fruity or sulfurous

Much of your experience of the taste of your beer is influenced by its smell. So cover and swirl again if needs be, to fully experience those aromas.

4. Take a sip

Finally take a big sip and enjoy the sensations in your mouth for a few seconds. Let your palate explore the flavours and texture as you let the beer roll over your tongue.

Try to identify the broad flavours: Do you experience sweetness, saltiness, acids or general bitterness?

Then assess the more subtle notes that come through and try to identify them. You may taste cloves, fruit, caramel, coffee, molasses, biscuits, nuts, chocolate, oak … the range is extensive!

There are a few flavours that, should you taste them, are a cause for concern. One such flavour is sour which is indicative of a bacterial contamination. Generally, if your beer tastes sour, papery or metallic, then it’s likely spoiled. You’ll need to know what beer you’re drinking in order to make this judgment though as some beers, like Belgian Lambics, are intentionally sour.

Also note the mouthfeel. Your mouth has many touch receptors, and will thus be sensitive to the subtleties in texture of the liquid. Carbonation too has an effect, stimulating a slight pain response in your nerves, which feels quite nice in your mouth.

5. Reflect on your beer and enjoy it!

By paying more attention to the beers you drink, you’ll begin to get a better understanding of your own preferences around flavour and style. The more beer styles and brands you explore, the more complexities and nuances you’ll uncover.

Why not invite your friends round to enjoy a beer sampling session together?

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