With the hundreds of types of beer available, it can be difficult to discern intricate differences in taste and flavor. Each beer has its own distinct properties and characteristics. One way to expand your beer palate and discover the unique taste of different brews is to host a beer-tasting party where you and your friends can judge the beer on its appearance, scent and taste.
Hosting a Beer-Tasting Party
When hosting a beer-tasting party, experts recommend sampling between 10 and 12 different types of beer. Be sure to include a variety of styles and group them together. To avoid cluttering the palate early on, start with the lightest beers and progress to the darkest beers you have chosen. To avoid getting yourself and your guests overly intoxicated, only serve about two to four ounces of each beer in each tasting sample. This amount is enough to distinguish the flavors.
Between tasting different samples, cleanse your palate with water, crackers or bread job. Hold off on the cheese and other snacks while taste different samples; tasting beer without food will really illuminate the distinct flavors and individualities of the brew.
A few factors should be considered when serving the beer: the glassware, the pouring technique and the temperature.
The first rule to keep in mind when choosing glassware for beer tasting is that, no matter what glass you use, it must be clean. While you can choose between a number of different types of glasses for each variety of beer, most beer glasses resemble a bulb vase.
This shape helps hold the head of the beer and allows the different characteristics of the beer to stand out. It”s important for the glass to be clean, because color and appearance are important qualities to notice in the best-tasting beer. A simple hot water and baking soda solution is sure to clean your glass without leaving residue.
Pouring the beer is the next step. You want to have a two-finger head, or two fingers of foam, when you”ve finished pouring the beer. In order for this to happen, tilt the glass while pouring so that the beer is gently running down the side of the glass. As the glass gets fuller, straighten it out and you will notice the foam forming a head.
The recommended temperatures when serving beer are:
- Amber & Dark Lagers: 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dark Ales & Stouts: 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit
- Pale Ales: 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit
- Pale Lagers: 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Serving the beers too cold will cloud the natural flavors. As a result, serve the beer at its recommended temperature to help reveal its true character.
Once the beer is poured, judge its color. Different types of beer have their own unique color that can range anywhere from:
- a yellowish-green, as in a Pilsner
- to a deep, rich brown, as in porters or stouts
- to pinks and reds, as in the fruity-flavored Lambics.
The broad color spectrum of beer means that you can often determine what a beer will taste like just by looking at its color.
Carbonation is important to beer”s appearance because it helps hold the head up. Some beer will hold the foam head for up to a minute and leave a foamy-residue on the sides of the glass as you drink it.
If your beer is cloudy and has particles floating in it, then this means the beer has spoiled. The cloudiness is described as the turbidity of the beer. Holding the glass up to the light is the best way to examine the beer”s appearance.
Smell the beer immediately after pouring it into the glass, but only take a few sniffs, or your senses will become clouded. The three separate components of a beer”s scent include its:
- aroma: The malt, grain and fermentation process determines the aroma. Nutty, sweet and grainy are words best describing the aroma of a beer.
- bouquet: The amount of hops determines the bouquet, and the words used to best describe the aroma of the bouquet are pine, herbal, floral and spice.
- odor: Odor is also used to describe any defects in a beer. There is sometimes a ”skunky” odor to an old beer due to oxidation.
When taking your first sip note the initial sensation; it could range anywhere from bitter to sweet. Similar to the appearance and scent of a beer, there are three parts to the taste of beer:
- mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is how the beer feels physically in your mouth; it”s the texture of the beer. Some beers have a fuller body than others, and your mouth will be able to distinguish the lightness or fullness of a beer.
- flavor: To determine the flavor of the beer, make sure it hits the four areas of your tongue and that you can taste all the bitter, sweet, sour and salty flavors. Some beers will taste more of malt while others will taste more of hops.
- finish: The finish is better known as the aftertaste. While a bitter or sweet taste might linger in your mouth, depending on the beer, you experience no finishing taste at all.
Take note of all of these flavors and really try to distinguish between the different elements of the beer.
It”s recommended to cleanse your palate with water and a few bland crackers after every fourth or fifth glass. Enjoy the decadent and unique flavors of the different types of beer and discover your favorite brew at your own beer-tasting party.
Birmingham Beverage Company Staff (n.d.) Tasting beer. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from Birmingham Beverage Company Web site: http://www.alabev.com/.
Realbeer Staff (2000). Hosting a beer tasting party. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from Realbeer Web site: http://realbeer.com/.