Beer Tasting 101

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Now we have brewed our beer, fermented it, bottled and aged it, now the last step before we really enjoy it, what do we have to do.  The common thought is to evaluate it!
How do we do that?

You need to make sure the beer is not too cold.  Taste buds lose their effectiveness when the temperature of a liquid goes below 46° Fahrenheit.  The beer should not be below that temperature to get a real taste of what is going on with the beer.
Before anything else, look at the beer with your eyes.
It is nice to use a snifter for detecting the aroma of the beer.
When you taste it, take the time to run it all around your tongue to get all the taste buds involved.Now we will go through the each part one at a time in greater detail.
Visual inspection: The appearance of a beer can tell you a lot.  Color, carbonation, and clarity are all a good way to determine the “health” of the beer and how well it matches the style being targeted.

Color: There are guidelines for the color of each style of beer expressed in SRMs (Standard Reference Method). If the beer color is outside those guidelines the beer may not taste exactly as desired.
Carbonation: A good beer should retain half of its head for a minute and then leave “Belgian lace” on the side of the glass.
Clarity:  A beer conditioned in a bottle should be cloudy, at least moderately.  There are ways to lose this side effect, but in the event you force carbonated the beer and it is cloudy and has bits of “floaters” in there, you may have a problem.

Smelling the beer: The smell of beer has three components: aroma, bouquet, and odor.

Aroma: Aroma is determined by malt, grain, and 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: This is for the scents that are attributed to defects in the beer. Terms used to describe off-aromas are butter, sulphury, cooked-vegetable, fishy, oily, and medicine like.

Tasting the beer: The tongue has different areas of taste so it is important to get all parts of the tongue involved in tasting.

Taste is the most important factor. Taste is broken down into three components: mouthfeel, flavor, and finish.

Mouthfeel: This is how you determine the body of the beer.  Body is determined by residual proteins and dextrins (residual sugars) in the beer. Each style has an appropriate body to expect. Body is classified as light, medium, or full.
Flavor: The most important and enjoyed part of drinking a beer is flavor.  Make sure the beer flows over all four areas of the tongue.  You can determine bitter, sour, sweet and salt tastes this way. Try to notice of the balance between the hop bitterness and malt sweetness.
Finish: The lingering sensation after a beer has been swallowed is called the finish.  Depending on style, a beer could have a lingering bitter finish. It may also disappear completely.

Keep all these components in mind when tasting your beer.  If you are doing your first beer, you know what you want it to taste like.  Be completely honest with yourself, is it good?  After all that is what brewing is all about.
Are you competing with it?  If so you need to compare it with the target category keeping all the things above in mind.Now that we have gone over how to taste beer, what are we looking for?
First we are looking for what went right with the beer!  So let’s go over this using a typical beer I am holding in my hand.
First ask:

·      What color is it supposed to be?
·      Is the head looking like it should?
·      Does it smell like it should?
·      Finally, does it taste the way you want it to?These things all depend on if you are competing with it, or is it the style you want to drink.  If you are competing with it, these things are all very important.  If you are just evaluating it for personal consumption or to share with your friends, the only thing that matters is taste!

Typical tastes are described as “malty, hoppy, bready, caramel like, citrus, taffy,” mostly pleasant tastes that please the pallet.
There are things you should NEVER taste.  Let’s run through those.

·      Alcohol flavor is usually traced to one of two causes.  High fermentation temperatures can cause distracting alcohol flavors.  Temperatures above 80°F can cause yeast to produce fusel alcohols which a pallet is more sensitive to than ethanol. These alcohols taste harsh to the tongue, similar to cheap tequila.
·      Astringency tastes like sucking a tea bag.  It is a dry flavor and is caused by steeping grains too long or the pH of the water exceeds the range of 5.2 – 5.6.  If you are all-grain brewing, over-sparging or using too hot water are causes for exceeding the mash pH range.  Bacterial infections can also cause astringency or vinegar tones caused by aceto bacteria, which can be introduced by late or dry hopping.
·      Cidery flavors are often the result of too much cane or corn sugar to a recipe.  Cider flavors can be caused by warmer than normal temperatures and can be diminished by lagering (that is cold storage after bottle-conditioning or kegging).
·      Diacetyl is a butter or butterscotch flavor.  It is as much a mouthfeel similar to that of butter as it is a flavor.  Diacetyl is the result of the normal fermentation process or of a bacterial infection.  Diacetyl is produced early in the fermentation cycle by the yeast and is usually dissipated when fermentation stops.  Long lag time due to weak yeast or a lack of aeration can produce diacetyls before the fermentation starts. Very moderate amounts are acceptable in some styles, mostly English styles. 
·      Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) tastes like cooked vegetables.  DMS is produced during the boil.  The way to avoid this is to not cover the brew-pot during boiling.  If you let the steam escape this should be no problem.  It also helps to chill the wort quickly after boiling because if any DMS is lingering, it can be absorbed back into the wort while it remains warm.
·      Medicinal flavors or the taste of band-aids, or spicy cloves flavors are caused by chlorophenols.   Chlorophenols are caused by a reaction to chlorine-based sanitizers (bleach) or chlorinated water.  Rinsing with boiled water after sanitizing and using a filtered water supply can prevent these flavors.
·      Oxidation is a common problem with beer.  If wort is exposed to oxygen when it is above 80°F, the beer can develop wet cardboard, papery or sherry flavors.
·      Skunky aromas in beer are caused by photochemical reactions of hop compounds cause by direct sunlight.  Brown glass bottles screen out most harmful light wavelengths that cause beers to develop skunky flavors.  Beer should NEVER be exposed to direct sunlight.
·      Solvent flavors are the result of a combination of high fermentation temperatures and oxidation.  High temperatures can also leach the solvents out of some plastics like PVC.
·      Soapy flavors can be caused by not rinsing glass very well.  If beer is left in the primary fermenter for a long period of time after fermentation is over, soapy flavors are caused by the breakdown of fatty acids in the trub.
·      Mold flavors are black bread molds.  These flavors are caused by contamination if wort or beer is exposed to musty or damp areas during fermentation.
·      Husky or grainy flavors are found in all-grain beers due to bad grain crushing or sparging practices.
·      Freshly cut grass flavors occur due to poorly stored ingredients.  Poorly stored malt can pick up moisture and develop musty smells that contribute to this flavor. This can be the result of dry hopping with a strong hop too. 
·      Lipids in poorly stored malts usually cause metallic flavors.There are flavors you MIGHT detect that are sometimes favorable depending on the beer style.
·      Fruity Esters are supposed to be in ale, and most ale is slightly fruity.  Belgian and German wheat beers should have banana or bubble gum flavors.  However, you don’t want them to be overboard in most beer styles.  Ale yeast produces esters and different yeast strains will produce different amounts.  Higher fermentation temperatures produce more esters.
·      A green apple flavor is naturally produced by most lager yeast strains, some more than others.  In fact, with American Lagers, it is supposed to be there in moderation.
·      Dark grains will produce a roasty, toasty or dark grain flavor. This can come across as astringency but should be in good balance and in darker beers only.
·      Some crystal grains produce a caramel flavor, a little like diacetyl but there should not be a butter component involved and with time, your pallet will detect a definite difference between the two since diacetyl is as much a mouthfeel as a flavor.

So now we have evaluated the beer.  We are either happy with it, you think it is okay but could be improved, or you think it is destined for the trash.

If the later is true, sometimes aging done correctly can make it all better again, not always, but wait a few months and see what happens.  I have had several come out okay and so have many other brewers, I promise you!

The best 

can be Made BY you!