Tasting of beer
By Moritz Kallmeyer
Master Brewer of Drayman’s Brewery & Distillery, Silverton Pretoria, March 2003
After an exercise session your brain secretes endorphins – a powerful hormone like chemical that leaves you with a sense of euphoria / well being. So powerful is our sense of taste and smell that it can in an instance transport you back 20 years to a place and detailed atmosphere where you previously tasted or smelled something. It can also trigger endorphin secretion. Smelling a freshly poured pint can make your mouth water – the start of the digestive process – even before you take a sip! The opposite is also true – smelling something repulsive can be laid down in your memory permanently so that even after years have passed, if you smell something that reminds you of that smell it can trigger reverse peristalsis of the oesophagus!
The human senses are the ultimate instruments for beer evaluation, and surely will remain so. No machine can replace the baffling accuracy by which the human nose can recall intensities and types of aromas. It is thus crucial that you train your senses in identification and filing away for later recollection of smells and tastes of importance to beer and brewing. Taste and smell is big business today. Think of the billions of rand involved in the perfume industry. The ultimate enjoyment that you will experience every couple of hours for your whole life is the tasting of food and drink. Most of us involved in the brewing industry drink beer because we enjoy the taste and flavour – we don’t drink for effect per se – although it is a welcome fringe benefit! The motto: Flavour Sells! might not always be the truth. Lite beer was successfully launched all over the world using very creative advertising campaigns often linking it with sport stars. In this instance it is actually lack of flavour that sells. Without these strong marketing actions lite might normally be perceived as just flavourless, watered down beer. Thus; the blander the product the greater need for creative advertising to sell it.
Here are some of perhaps the first written records we have that our ancestors’ evaluated beer and associated the taste with something else. When the Romans invaded England in the year 100 A.D. they brought with them big supplies of wine – but soon their supplies ran out and they began to consume and brew what was then viewed as a thoroughly uncivilized drink. The Emperor Julian wrote that “this wine made from barley smell of goat”.
Thomas Becket, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, went on a diplomatic mission to France in the year 1158. He took with him 2 chariot loads of ale, brewed from choice fat grain – as a gift to the French who wondered at such inventions! “A drink most wholesome, clear of all dregs, rivalling wine in colour and surpassing it in flavour!
Do’s and Don’ts of Beer tasting for evaluation purposes
- The best time to taste beer is in the morning when your senses are the sharpest.
- You have to be stone cold sober because alcohol numbs the senses.
- You should be slightly hungry, then your appetite is at its peak. Your senses will be in a state of anticipation of the tasting experience. When you think of a tasty pint your mouth waters!
- Strong toothpaste and smoking numbs the palate – avoid for at least two hours.
- Spicy foods like garlic, cloves, onions and chillies: all a no-no for 12 hours before the tasting.
- Use a tongue scraper regularly to remove old mucus build-up on the taste buds that will impair taste sensitivity.
- Don’t wear strong aftershave lotion or perfume.
- Do taste away from main smell areas of the brewery. The olfactive sense is quickly saturated with aromas present. A quiet, well lit, neutral area is ideal.
- Chew a piece of plain white bread and rinse the mouth with clean cool water between beers to clean the palate.
- The beers should be poured, evaluated and scored one at a time.
- Use blind tasting whenever possible. They say a glance at the label is worth a 100 years of tasting experience. You get closer to the truth with blind tasting.
- Taste beers in order of lightest to heaviest so that what has gone before does not overwhelm that which is to come.
- Taste in trade as often as possible – ask the regular drinkers an opinion.
- Taste wort, green beer and beer at every stage of production to form a library of tastes and aromas for fault identification.
- Practise, practise, practise!
Actions During Beer Evaluation
- The aroma is the best assessed when the beer is freshly poured from the bottle into the tasting glass. You should get your impressions down immediately. You can close the glass with your hand; give it a swirl, then give one good strong sniff, inhale deeply.
- Now you can hold the glass up against strong light and evaluate appearance (clarity) and colour at leisure.
- Tasting comes last because it is the best and most important part of the evaluation. Slowly take one small sample in your mouth, roll around and swallow. Base your impressions on this. If you want to refresh your memory on the beer let time pass and refresh your taste buds with water.
- Beer aroma shows itself twice, once when you take a sniff (nose aroma) and secondly when the beer is entrapped in the mouth and the aromatics pass to the olfactive zone via the anterior nasal passage. Accentuated mouth aroma can be practised by slurping beer from a large tablespoon into the mouth.
- Balance is probably the most fundamental characteristic of any beer. The expected balance differs from style to style and it is crucial that a reputable taster correctly interprets the required balance for each style of beer. You always taste bitter and sweet together in different proportions according to the brewer’s interpretation of style or unique design.
- 6. When the formal evaluation is over and you’ve scored the beers, forget all the technical ramble and just enjoy what’s on offer for what it is.