By Lorenzo Dabove and Teo Mussi
Beer tasting is meant to be a joyful, fun and appeasing moment which has the means of giving pleasure. We have reached this conclusion after having attended for many years a number of beer tasting sessions with some boring and serious institutional professors.
During these cold and rigid exhibitions, we discovered that accademically it is better not to involve the students emotionally but, to keep the distance in order for them to then get a better understanding and view of what this work is really like. The thing that gratifies us most in our work is trasmitting our passion and enthusiasm to others.
The best compliment is when a student confinds in us that they have changed, and that they are no longer what they use to be. They claim that they donít drink a beer just to gulp it down to quench their thirst or worse still, to make them feel giddy. Each time they drink a beer, they canít help but evaluate the quality of the foam and concentrate on searching for the floral and fruity scents and lastly enjoy taking small sips in order to identify the complex shades of each taste and after taste.
Giving a beer tasting session a cut of "happening" doesnít mean not keeping in mind the dogmas and the objective parameters but only to give one the possibility of satisfying oneself, in order to then let free oneís personality and oneís nonconformism.
In terms of beer tasting, we literally dedicate our soul and body. In front of a glass of beer the excitement can be so strong to give oneself goose bumps and unforgettable emotions. Lets now talk about how to taste beer.
Beer tasting is an art that involves all our senses in particular our sight, smell and taste. There are some basic but, fundamental rules which must be followed for a proper and correct tasting.
EXAMINING THE ASPECT
The glass must be properly cleaned, washed with special soaps avoiding the use of rinses. The rinses for stains, contain fatty agents which will make your foam disappear quickly and will alterate the taste of the beer. Try to observe the following phenomenon with a glass stained with lip-stick.
The bottle must be conserved correctly, away from the light and heat with a label as complete as possible indicating when the beer was bottled, the expiration date, the producersí data, the ingredients and the alcohol level. It would also be very interesting and useful if you can obtain more detailed information such as: the number of the bottle, the number of the stock, the etymology of the name and some historical, cultural references which may be related to the territory in which it was produced in.
We now pour our beer in an appropriate glass which allows the quality of the smell and taste to stand out. We position the bottle in order that it is horizontal and we begin pouring the beer in a glass that is on an angle of about 45į which we will then gradually stand upright whilst pouring the beer in order to create a nice head of foam (depending on the type of beer) and after having let it sat for a short while, with our spatula we level the foam using a quick decisive movement.
This will then give you a lovely thick, dense and creamy foam which will stick to the sides of the glass allowing the aromas and scents to remain captured within the beer. This type of foam allows the beer to be more digestible, avoiding it to form big bubbles full of air that then cause bloatness.
After having poured the beer, we will now go on to the first phase; the observation and definition of the drink. We will first observe the various tones, the clearness and dullness of our beer. To then study and comment on the quality, adhesion and persistency of the foam.
EXAMINING THE SCENT OF BEER
Finally, we are ready and anxious to move onto the characteristics of the smell. One premise before we start: the smelling senses adapt to long contacts with volatile substances. The function of the nose is to identify the smell and not to sense them indefinitely. After a certain period of time, the nose stops transmitting to the brain the relative messages of smell.
After having smelled for too long a molecule, the nose will not perceive the smells: you must therefore, identify the aromas quickly, which is the real challenge of a taster. Therefore, the saturation of the scents is absolutely essential in order for a beer taster to grasp the gift of the aromas a glass of beer offers.
The scents offered from the beer can be placed on three distinct levels. On the first level we find the dominating scent (which at first is overbearing and then fades), on the second level we find the secondary scents (which you can distinguish after the first level fades) and the third level is that of the scents of the residue and the different fades of mixture (which can only be distinguished after the fading of the second level).
We can campare the smells of the beer to a bunch of mixed flowers, each one with its own specific scent but, when all gathered they bring together a complex combination which we use to define as a "bouquet".
From several experiences, we have reached the conclusion that the students rather separate the smell of the scents of beer in four phases.
The first is that of identifying the raw materials used, therefore, focalising initially on the malt then, the hop to then reach the definition of the intensity and the various facets. The second phase is dedicated towards the floral scents therefore, identifying the plants and flowers that our memory remembers. After having analysed the floral phase, we go on to the fruity scents, this is the most interesting and exciting part which enables to involve the individual.
The foreign countries are the best producers of fruity aromas which derive from substances that usually form during fermentation. The organic acids present will react with the acid creating these fruity aromas. The foreigners are the leading characters in the research of the fruit scents and aromas. It is possible to divide them into several families which indicate the different aromatic characteristics of every component of the beer.
We can use an opposite index to evaluate these characteristics. This index normally varies from 0 to 5. An index of "0" indicates a beer that does not perceive substances (ex. a standard lager) whereas, an index of "5" indicates a very strong aromatic and tasty beer (ex. a trappist trapped in a bottle).
The fourth and last smelling phase is dedicated to the research of unusual smells and aromas which we manage to identify through our open mind. It is a very enjoyable moment, and is useful in opening both the students and professors mind.
EXAMINING THE TASTE OF BEER
Lets now move onto the taste. Fortunately, we perceive much more through our taste buds then through our smell. We easily manage to list the four main tastes: sweet, salty, acid and bitter. We perceive these flavours through four distinct areas located on the surface of our tongue.
With the tip of our tongue we can taste the sweet, with the back side taste buds, we can taste the salty foods, with the side-centre we can taste the acidy foods and with the back part of our tongue, by the throat we can taste the bitter foods.
The two flavours we concentrate on mostly are the sweet and bitter. The salty tastes are very rare and the bitter flavours you will only experience with certain types of beers which we will later talk about.
We usually begin the tasting phase by intensely concentrating on the anterior part of the tongue in order to perceive the sweetness. It is here that we manage to identify a strong taste of malt or a pleasurable taste of honey which we will later go into detail. We can identify the sugary flavours with the tip of the tongue whereas, we can only capture the sweet flavours in the back of the palette.
The beer is rarely salty unless it contains water with high quantities of sodium chloride. It often happens that one mistakes the salty with a bitterness that is very strong and pronounced. The bitterness derives from the back of the tongue and then ovepowers the taste buds that perceive the salty (classical example: Orval). Occasionally the famous Pilsner Urquell boema may taste salty.
If a beer tastes salty it could mean that the beer has been alterated and degenerated due to poor hygiene whilst producing it, or poor management of the beer plants. It is not always true that a beer is acidic for the above reasons. Donít get us wrong, there are many types of prestigious beers that have an acidic taste to it. Nevertheless, in Belgium they produce some high quality beer and therefore, we do not want to give them a bad reputation. We also refer to the straordinary but very acidic traditional lambic from Pajottenland, south-west Brussels. And, how about the acidic fiamminghe Oud Bruin from the areas of Oudenaarde and the acetic Red consorelle from the Fiandre (Rodenbach Grand Cru to mention the to school)?!
Lets lastly move onto the more complicated but, evocative test of tasting the bitterness in a beer. The bitter taste comes from three typical main sources: the bitterness from the yeast, roasted cereal and obviously from the hop plant.
Donít forget that the bitterness is perceived from the posterior part of the tongue which is most closely located to the throat. Whereas, the back upper part of the palet are more sensitive in perceiving the typical toasted bitterness.
The most important source of bitterness in a beer is that that derives from the hop. There are many various types of hops, just to give you an idea we will cite only a few of the more aromatic types; the fine Saaz that derives from Bohemia, the English Fuggles and Golding, the bavarian Hallertau and lastly the American Cascade.
THE BODY AND AFTERTASTE
After having analysed both the taste and smell of the beer we enter the ending phase which is that to define the after taste. We evaluate the intensity of the flavours after the disappearance of the liquid in our mouth.
Initially, the bitterness in a beer is often the main character which then tends to fade and is overpowered by the other flavours. These flavours will appear one at a time, to then also fade and bring to the surface what we call the after taste. The after taste will be different for each individual beer.
The after smell must not be forgotten, we must concentrate on those sensations that we perceive from each sip we take. At times, there are other flavours present that one may perceive such as, that of sourness that you may experience when eating an unripe medlar or persimmon.
The most important thing when tasting a beer is the defining feeling of body. An easy exercise that may be performed to evaluate the body of a beer is that of swishing a small amount of beer in the mouth from one cheek to the other concentrating on the centre upper part of the tongue. The more intenser and persistent the taste of malt, the more body a beer has.
SETTING THE MIND FREE
We donít enjoy the use of graphs and schemes therefore, we use a simple file that allows us to understand which are the components and attributes which most characterise the tasted beer. Let your mind and imagination explore the fruity and floral flavours you come across, in order to then give a brief put complete summary on the beer the quality and consistency of the beer.
We leave it to you, to now try practising the above techniques with some not so complex beers and then comparing the different results and comments with some friends. You will suprisingly discover, that you will have similar opinions which will stregthen your beliefs and will help give you the motivation necessary to proceed in the correct direction step after step.
The secret of a good beer taster is that of "freeing the mind" and letting it miander and to never stop tasting different types of beers (including the artisan beers) that come from across the world.