When it comes to tasting beer you’re looking for the magic flavour of the malt and the hops that the brewer has released and balanced in a masterly way.
A good sense of smell is the key to tasting. You no doubt have noticed how food tastes bland when you have a blocked nose. The other important attribute is a good memory. When you have tasted a particular beer you need to concentrate and attempt to store away the sensation so that you can compare against it later. Most people have a very good smell memory.
The upshot of all this is that to properly detect the flavour a beer you should first smell it and then after sipping it you must move it over your tongue and mouth. This ensures that all the taste buds are employed and it also releases pleasant vapours that waft up to your olfactory glands. Finally, you must swallow the beer – this causes it to pass over the back of the tongue and provides you with important aftertaste sensations.
Of course, not everyone will reach the same conclusion on a particular beer. The taste for beer is an acquired taste; to a large extent you are conditioned to treat the beer that you were brought up on as what a beer should taste like. Therefore, you are likely to dismiss anything that is too different as being a poor beer. You should try to resist this temptation and approach each new brew with an open mind. The golden rule is a simple one – a good beer is a beer that tastes good.
When rating beers, you must ensure that you rate them against others in the same style. Just as it is pointless to rate apples against oranges, you can’t rate a stout against a lager. You should also ensure that each class of beer is drunk at the correct temperature. For example, many Europeans make the mistake of drinking Australian lagers at a far too warm temperature and then complain about the unpleasant flavours they’ve invoked. Just as importantly, you have to ensure that the beer you taste is not too cold. If the beer is on the verge of freezing then the nuances of aroma and taste will have been concealed by the chill of the beer.
Another very important thing to watch is that the beer which you are tasting should be as fresh as possible. The ideal place to taste beers would be at the brewery. Unlike wines, most beers deteriorate over time. They deteriorate particularly fast if exposed to heat or sunlight (that is why beer is usually sold in dark brown or dark green bottles). Good storage and transportation of beer is crucial.
One more thing to note is that the beers should be sampled in the same types of glasses because the size and shape of the glass may affect the way in which you perceive the aroma of the beer. You should also ensure that the beers are poured consistently because this may affect the release of the aroma and, of course, the formation of the head.