Beer Tasting Tips

Beer Tasting Tips
As with any tasting, The Beer Passport recommends the following basic steps:

1. Choose your vessel

2. Look

3. Swirl

4. Smell

5. Taste

6. Reflect

7. Repeat 🙂

Lets start:

1. Your Vessel…or Glass of course

Whether your bees comes out of a keg, a can or a tap, its imperative that you pour it into a glass – glass! Depending on the style, the shape of the glass will enhance the experience. Many craft-brewers are even printing a picture of the preferred glassware on the labels of their bottles. For example, pilsners and wheat beers are best served in tall, slender glasses. These are beautifully golden, heady beers, so a tall glass enhances that experience. On the other hand, a tulip shaped glass, which is round like a goblet but has a wider rim, is perfect for both Belgian style beers and IPAs. Both of these styles put a lot of emphasis on aroma, so the wide rim emphasizes that experience.


To pour your beer, you want to tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle and aim your pour at the middle of the side of your glass. When you have filled your glass about halfway, start to tilt the glass upright, pouring the beer into the center of the glass. Make sure not to pour too fast. When you are done, you should have between an inch and an inch and a half of head to your beer.

2. Look

Before you bring your beer to your lips, you need to taste with your eyes. Things like color and head retention are important. Depending on the situation in which you are tasting, bring a pencil and piece of paper and make notes.

Start by looking at the color of the beer itself. Is it golden, caramel, amber or black? The more descriptive you can be of the color, the better. There are a lot of variations of yellow, red or brown.

Next, look at the beer’s clarity. Does the beer appear bright and brilliant or is it hazy? Depending on the style, too much in either direction could be a bad thing. For example, an unfiltered beer should be somewhat hazy, but if the beer instead appears turbid, it might be visually off-putting.

Finally, inspect the head of the beer. Is it cloudy and billowy, with the top maintaining peaks almost like whipped cream? Or is it thin and quickly dissipating? What color is the head? Is it a tan color or is it brilliant white?

3. Swirl

Give your beer a swirl. Gently twirl your beer so that it is agitated against the side of the glass. This technique will test head retention. It will also give you a chance to observe the carbonation bubbles. Are they tight like champagne? Or are they larger and quick to dissipate? If you are drinking a nitrogenized beer, such as Guinness, the bubbles will appear much smaller, and the head will be a lot creamier.

4. Smell

It’s important to remember that 80% of your taste perception comes from your sense of smell. By testing the fragrance and bringing out the subtle undertones, you will greatly enhance the complexity of your beer.
That’s because there are the obvious flavors — malty sweetness, spicy yeasts and bitter hops — that everyone associates with beer. But behind those forward flavors are a wealth of other fascinating and subtle tastes and aromas. A hoppy IPA may be piney, or it may smell more like stone fruit. When brewers agonize over what hops to use in their beer, it’s because they are deciding which of these aromas and flavors to include in their beer.

Right after the swirl, take two sharp, quick sniffs of the bouquet, then take a normal sniff. Take one last sniff with your mouth open. Make sure you’re in an area without any extraneous, overpowering odors, as that will affect the experience. Take in all of the aromas. Note those that are strong, weak, not strong enough, etc. Try to articulate what you’re experiencing.

5. Taste

Take small sips and resist swallowing right away. Let the beer linger, coating your tongue and the top of your throat. Allow it to sit while you register the flavors. Exhale, releasing the air in your mouth through your nose, and swallow.

When you sip your beer, the key is not to swallow right away. You want to move it around in your mouth and coat as much of your tongue as you can. This technique will allow the various regions of your tongue — with different taste receptors — to bring out the various aspects of your beer. Because beer is a combination of malty sweetness and hoppy bitterness, you want the beer to be on both the tip and the back of your tongue.

Because you’ve already primed your palate with the aromas of your beer, seek out those same flavors. If you smelled coffee, try to find the coffee flavor. Again, consult a beer’s tasting notes if you want a little guidance on what you’re looking for.

Keep in mind; beer typically gets its flavor from three sources. There’s the malt, which is the sweet grain base that the yeast eats to make the alcohol. Flavors from malt may be bread-like or biscuity, or they may taste of coffee, toffee or caramel. Next, there’s the actual flavor of the yeast. Depending on the style, a brewer may use a nearly flavorless yeast because they want the malt or hop flavors to be the centerpiece. However, some yeasts, especially those used in Belgian styles, impart a lot of flavor, much of it spicy or funky. Finally, there are the hops used to bitter the beer. Hops come in a wide variety, and much like grapes, are famed for their various flavors. Some taste like pine while others are very citrusy. Some are juicy tasting while others are dry. In addition to these three standard flavor sources, brewers will also use adjuncts. An adjunct is any ingredient that is not the standard grain, yeast or hops. Some brewers add fruits, especially in summer beers, while pumpkin beers are popular in autumn.

You also want to pay attention to the mouthfeel. Depending on the beer, it will feel differently in your mouth. Is it creamy like a milkshake? Or is it dry and crisp like champagne? Again, brewers design their beers with mouthfeel in mind. One way to emphasize mouthfeel is to exhale while moving beer across your tongue.

Also, pay attention to the intensity of the flavors. A beer may be bitter, but is that bitterness subtle, growing in strength gradually? Or is it assertive, making its presence known the moment you take the first sip? Some beers are refreshing, while others are robust. These sensations typically derive from the intensity of the flavors.

Finally, after swallowing your sip, pause and wait for the aftertaste, or the finish. Some beers finish with a strong taste of alcohol while others finish sweet. Some may leave a dry, crisp feeling in your mouth while others may leave a lingering wetness.

Once you have made a note of all of these flavors, guess what — you get to do it again. Run through the whole process as many times as you want. If you missed a flavor that you were told was supposed to be there, give it another shot. Maybe you will pick it up the second time. Even if you don’t do every step — the swirling, the sniffing and the open mouth exhale — you will find that the things you picked during the initial tasting process will jump out as you enjoy your beer!

6. Reflect

Take notes, talk with a friend, or just sit and think about the experience. This will help you become a better taster, as you’ll become more effective communicating your drinking experience. It will also improve any tastings you attend in the future, as you’ll soon develop a large bank of beers to compare and contrast with.

Do’s and Don’ts

DO take more than one sip when trying a new beer.
Aromas can be tempting and deadly. Flavors can be complex and barring. Aftertastes can confuse and beguile. So, take your time. Let it all hang out a while before you decide if you really like (or dislike) a beer.

DO enjoy your beer at the correct temperature.
As we mentioned in our first round of Beer Facts, that does not always mean as cold as scientifically possible. Why? Well, the sensation of coldness inhibits the tongue’s taste receptors, and so by over-chilling your beer, you are numbing your palate to any nuances of flavors. British Ales, high-gravity Barley Wines, and Bocks will really open up if served just slightly chilled. Check the above link to our Beer Facts blog post for other recommended temperatures.

DO employ the correct glassware.
The tulip glass, the flute, and the imperial pint are all things of great beauty. Learn to enjoy your beer in the correct glassware, not only for the visual verification that is may imply, but also to maximize the flavor. Yes, the right glassware can enhance your beer; by keeping it cooler or providing more surface area for it to breathe, for example.

DO pay attention to ABV.
The craft beer industry is a wonderfully crazy ride, and along with that, some potent brews have been created. Some IPAs and Imperial stouts are in the double digits, and just a few of those can wipe out your weekend. Play safe, folks.

DO drink your beer flight in order.
Usually when trying several craft beers in one sitting, such as a flight or sampler, it is good practice to start with the lightest mouthfeel and lowest ABV beers, moving on to heavier and stronger beers towards the end. This saves your palette from being overwhelmed at the start and missing out on understated flavors of the lighter beers. Try not to go back and forth – you’ll only muddle your palate.

DO take tasting notes.
Slightly nerdy? Possibly, but it shows that you take your beer seriously. Keeping track of likes and dislikes, subtle taste differences, and new names and recommendations can get overwhelming otherwise. Better yet, use an online beer rating system such as Tap tracker to rate your craft beers and keep records of your favorites.

DON’T store your beer in the light.
Light is the main factor in making beer turn bad; a bottle of beer can become more ‘sulfurous’ when touched by sunlight. This is why some companies choose to use brown bottles – they block the most light and protect the beer as much as possible. This is also why kegs do not have windows.

DON’T store your beer too warm.
Try and store your beers below room temperature, and when buying craft beer from a store, try and purchase ones that have been cooled, even if you don’t intend on drinking immediately. Warmth can speed the rate at which beer loses its freshness too.

DON’T drink on an empty stomach.
Rookie mistake. Eating food before or while drinking beer changes the way that your body metabolizes the alcohol. In short, it means that instead of feeling tipsy during your first beer, you’ll be able to savor more of your beer-drinking experience (and probably be able to order another beer or two).

DON’T wear perfume or cologne.
Strong smells can interfere with the scent of a beer, particularly any craft beers with lighter flavors and smells. Try to keep you (and your surroundings) strong odor free while tasting beers.

DON’T drink and drive.