Written By: Jean Heimann
Craft beer; it’s not just beer, it’s the wine of beer. It can be just as snobby and quaffy. If you like the nuance, complexity and the personality of wine then there is no reason why you won’t be able to find a beer with the same interesting and tasty attributes. Craft breweries, self-described as small, independent and traditional, have been producing and marketing a more nuanced version of, well, beer. Craft breweries are now producing 150 plus beer styles falling into traditional categories like Belgians, bocks, brown ales, lagers and hybrids craft brewers. Proof that there is just as much complexity in the wheat, hops and malt as there is in the grape.
Start with identifying flavors. Beer can fall into the following flavor categories: Sour, tart and funky, or crisp and clean, they can be dark and roasty, or malty and sweet, or the opposite like hoppy and bitter, and finally going against the grain, fruity and spicy.
Once you’ve identified the flavor category, you can start looking and tasting the beer much like wine keeping the following in mind.
Appearance: The Standard Reference Method or SRM, refers to the color of the beer on a scale from the very pale (pale ales) 1, to very dark, 50 (stout). As you gaze at your beer note the clarity or lack thereof, the texture of the foam and the fizzing like mad or not, carbonation bubbles. All these are taken into consideration when judging the appearance: i.e. SRM, Clarity, Texture of the Foam, and Carbonation.
Aroma: The following aromas you can pick up from your fancy beer are alcohol or lack thereof. Hops can give can give off a variety of scents: Citrus, floral, herbal, piney, woody, tropical, sweaty, alliums, green; basically, anything that smells like all the houseplants in all the world can be blamed on that beer defining plant, hops. Malt: provides the bready or toasty, the caramelly or roasty, smoky and acrid, and chocolate to coffee notes in the beer. Esters are your fruity notes, your apples, and apricot, the unfortunate banana (my opinion), strawberry, fig, peach and so on. They occur in beer because of science. I googled it. Phenols are your spice notes like clove and cinnamon, vanillas, and white peppers. Also, science. Well unless someone has actually added a peach or a clove to your beer, which is entirely possible in this brave new brewing world. So, let’s recap, aroma providers to your beer are alcohol, hops, malt, esters and phenol.
Taste: Finally, drink! Taste and aroma go hand in hand or nose and mouth in this case. Much of what you smelled you can taste. The alcohol; not detectible to harsh, the hop flavor, lie piney and it’s contributing levels of bitterness; restrained to harsh. Malt provides much the same flavor that you smelled; the roasty- toasty and the chocolate, but it also provides sweetness; low to cloying which means really, really sweet. So, your tasting notes should include alcohol, hop flavor and bitterness, malt flavor and sweetness.
Palate: Now you’ve tasted the beer, and you know how it tastes, but how does it feel? That’s its’ palate. Astringency: hard to explain, this is the unique drying quality that in some cases can make you pucker or pull a face. The astringency can be low, medium, or high. Body also includes drying, soft, mouth-coating to sticky. Palate carbonation, my favorite! How scratchy are those bubbles? Low or medium or high? I like high, low is bleh. And length, how long does the beer taste remain? Short is 15 seconds, medium is 15-60 and long is more than 60 seconds. I don’t think you should time it, just estimate. So, palate judgements for the beer are astringency, body, palate carbonation (yay!), and length.
Oxidative/Aged: Your beer gets older much like everything else, things go off in good ways and bad, things mellow and sweeten all or turn into sweat socks. That’s right oxidative qualities taste like almond, black current, papery, cardboard, honey metallic, sherry, sweat socks, and other. Some qualities are desirable some or not, you decide.
Balance and Drinkability: Super important. Do you like drinking it? Is it good? Would you drink it again?
So now you can quaff your beer with a deep knowledge and understanding what you are drinking. Drink heartily with enjoyment!