Tasting and Evaluating Beer
Beer varies so much in how it appears, smells and tastes, that a massive lexicon of terms and definitions has been written over the ages to help you better describe your favorite beer. The best way to fully appreciate a beer is to take your time and dissect all the subtleties of its appearance, scent, and taste. Those sensations will tell you the story of how the beer was made and make your beer drinking experience all the more enjoyable.
APPEARANCE: You may think, "what does how the beer look like have to do with how it tastes?" A lot. Color, carbonation, and turbidity are all good indicators of the "health" of the beer and how closely it matches the style it was brewed for.
COLOR: Take note of the color of the beer. There are guidelines for the color of each style of beer, and a beer whose color falls outside those guidelines may not taste exactly as you were thinking it would.
CARBONATION: Carbonation is also an important vital sign of the health and quality of the beer. A good all-malt beer should, on average, retain half of its head for a minute and then leave "Brussels" lace on the side of the glass as the head falls.
TURBIDITY: The turbidity (cloudiness) of a beer is a quick way to determine if a beer has spoiled or not. Bottle-conditioned beers should be cloudy, but if the beer has been filtered and you notice "floaties" in there, you had better dump it.
SCENT: When evaluating the aroma/bouquet of a beer, be careful to take your time with each sniff as your perception of smell is dulled after about four sniffs. Scent also helps deepen the taste and flavor of a beer so never drink beer straight from the bottle. The scent of beer can be broken down into three separate parts: aroma, bouquet, and odor.
AROMA: The aroma is typically determined by the malt, grain, and any fermentation by-products. The aromas that originate from the malt and grain are often described as nutty, sweet, grainy, and malty.
BOUQUET: Hops alone determine the bouquet of a beer. Their aroma is best noticed right after a beer has been poured as its scent dissipates quickly. Different hop varieties contribute different qualities to the bouquet, and some hops may not be appropriate for some styles. Terms used to describe the hop aroma include herbal, pine, floral, resin, and spice.
ODOR: Odor is reserved for the scents that are attributed to defects in the beer. A very common defect, which is not the brewer's fault, is "skunkiness." The oxidation of the beer from light infiltration will cause beer to develop a skunky odor. Other terms used to describe off-aromas are butter, sulphury, cooked-vegetable, fishy, oily, and chlorine.
TASTE: Taste is by far the most subjective and important factor when evaluating a beer. After tasting five or six beers your palate will become confused, so be sure to "clean" your palate with bread or crackers between different beers. Taste, like appearance and scent, can also be broken down into three categories: mouthfeel, flavor, and finish.
MOUTHFEEL: Mouthfeel is the perception of body in the beer and is caused by the residual proteins and dextrins in the beer. For each style, there is an appropriate amount of body to be expected. Body is generally classified as light, medium, or full.
FLAVOR: By far the most important and enjoyed element of drinking a beer is its flavor. To best taste all the flavors of a beer, make sure the liquid visits all four areas of your tongue: bitter, sour, sweet and salt. Take special notice of the orchestration of the balance between the hop bitterness and malt sweetness.
FINISH: The lingering sensation after a beer has been swallowed is called the finish. Again, depending on the style, a beer might have a long lingering bitter finish, or it might completely disappear without a trace.