Ask any beer lover, and they’ll tell you there’s nothing better than enjoying an ice-cold beer on a hot summer’s day. But, getting into beer can be tricky. The bitter hops taste that many beers have often puts people off, especially those with a sweeter palate. But, don’t let one bad experience with beer put you off. As luck would have it, beer lovers in South Africa are spoiled for choice with more than 100 different types to sip and enjoy, you just need to figure out which beers will tickle your taste buds. This easy guide on how to taste beer like a pro and fully appreciate its deliciousness should help to make your beer discovery journey just a little bit easier.
Cleanse your palate
If you’re new to drinking beer, it’s best to lay off the snacks when you’re tasting a beer for the first time. Certain foods like cheese or crackers can affect the sensitivity of your palate to the flavours of certain beers. If you have the munchies, drink a few sips of water to cleanse your mouth before taking a sip of your brew.
Observe the colour
If you’re keen to do it like the pros, there are a few key things to observe when tasting a beer for the first time. First up, the colour. The colour of the beer often indicates what type of beer it is. Pilsners are pale straw in colour, American and English ales have a golden hue, while porters and stouts are dark amber brown and black in colour. If you’re tasting a range of different beers, try to taste from light to dark. The darker the brew, the more intense the flavour.
Take in the aroma
After you’ve observed the colour, it’s time to take a whiff of the aroma. To fully appreciate the aroma, move the glass past your nose a couple of times. Because your taste buds and sense of smell work together, smelling the beer will give you clues about the type of beer you’re tasting. By smelling the beer, you’ll be able to pick up roast notes like malts, pine, citrus, pepper, fresh-cut grass and yeast. If the beer is ‘off’ you should also be able to detect an undesirable aroma. The most common of the ‘off flavours’, would be a sulphur-like one, which can happen when beers have been exposed to too much light. Off flavours can also be reminiscent of strange smells like percolating coffee, tinned tuna, vinegar or butterscotch toffee.
Swirl it and sniff
After smelling and observing the beer, swirl the glass gently. This will knock out some of the CO2, causing it to foam and mix with the air to provide a stronger scent of aromatics like hops and malt. Next, take another deep sniff to set the stage for the long-awaited taste. You’ll now be able to get hints of the aroma. Malts should smell of honey, biscuit, caramel or freshly baked bread. They can contain hints of coffee or dark chocolate. Hop aromas are typically citrusy, floral or grassy in nature and yeast aromas are fruity and/or somewhat sulphurous.
Time to drink!
After all that, it’s time to finally take a small sip. For this first initial sip you’ll need just enough for the liquid to run across your entire tongue. Let the beer slowly roll over your tongue for a few seconds before you swallow and exhale. You should taste a variety of broad and subtle flavours — think broad flavours that are sweet, salty, acidic, or bitter and subtle flavours that can taste of cloves, fruit, caramel, coffee, nuts, chocolate and oak.