Good beer doesn’t have to be fancy. But if you want to learn more about beer or elevate your next get-together, beer tastings are a fun option. Not only are they a reason to sample new and beloved brews, but a beer tasting also refines your palate and helps you learn more about your preferences. Keep reading to learn more about the essentials of a great at-home beer tasting.
Choose Your Beers Thoughtfully
While we love a good mixed cooler, save the random selection for your summer cookout. Instead, organize your tasting in a way that allows you to fully experience and appreciate the nuanced flavors of the beer. Here are a few recommendations.
Taste Light to Dark
As with wine, maximize the tasting experience by starting with lighter, more delicate beers, and working toward heavier porters. We recommend starting with a lighter pale ale, followed by golden, amber, red, and brown ales. Starting light lets your palate appreciate how the flavor and intensity of hops and malt build. Even if you choose a random selection of beer, it’s still best to taste them light to dark.
Explore a Variation on a Theme
Have you ever wondered what the differences are between a New England and Midwest IPA? Can you describe the flavors of an imperial or oak-aged stout? Wonder no more. When you choose five or six beers all brewed in the same general style, you’ll be able to taste the subtle nuances between different breweries, regions, and brewing techniques.
Learn More About Beer Ingredients
The two main variables in beer, hops and malt, contain interesting flavor profiles. The variations between hop varieties, regions, and countries are remarkable. If you’d like to learn more about these important ingredients, round up a selection of your favorite malty or hoppy beers, as well as a few snacks to eat while you taste:
Malty flavors: Oatmeal cookies, toffee, chocolate, cherries, pecans, and malt balls
Hops: Grapefruit, oranges, peppercorns, fresh herbs like thyme or sage, and pine needles
Sample Offerings from One Brewery
If you’re already a fan of a local brewery or want to explore what an unfamiliar brewer has to offer, try sampling a cross-section of their products. This is an easy and fun way to experience one unique perspective on different beer styles.
Bring the Right Beer Tasting Glassware
We strongly recommend drinking your beer from a glass during a beer tasting, and not straight from a bottle or can. Pouring the beer aerates it, releases flavor, and allows you to appreciate its color, foamy head, and carbonation. A pint glass will work just fine, or you can invest in a beer tester glass. These glasses resemble a wine glass but are designed for beer.
Make Sure You Have Snacks on Hand
High-protein snacks are essential to your beer tasting. We like serving simple platters of salami and other smoked meats, as well as flavorful hard cheeses. Light crackers or pretzels help clear the palate in between rounds.
Encourage your guests to munch between rounds — not only will the meats and cheeses go well with your beer selection, they will keep your bodies from metabolizing the alcohol too quickly. Snacking helps everyone stay sober and thoughtfully enjoy your beer choices.
Why Beer Temperature Matters
Don’t let the commercials fool you; beer is at its best well above freezing. In fact, the ideal temperature for beer tasting is around 50° F, but beers with a higher ABV can be even warmer. Generally speaking, anything colder than 50° F will numb your tongue, and the beer’s more delicate flavors will be lost. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to make sure your brews are at a proper temperature for tasting: simply take them out of the fridge and leave them on the counter for 15 to 20 minutes before enjoying.
Hone Your Beer-Tasting Technique
When you’re tasting beer, technique matters. To get the most out of your beer, follow these steps:
- Look at it. Notice the color, head, and carbonation.
- Swirl and smell. Swirl the beer gently in your glass, smelling as you go. Is it bitter, toasty, floral?
- Sip. When you sip your beer, let it coat your tongue. The air in your mouth will help release flavors you’d otherwise miss.
- Swish and taste. Swirl the beer in your mouth, thinking about texture and flavor.
- Swallow. Sometimes you’ll see wine tasters spitting out their wine, but you actually get to drink your beer at a tasting! Swallowing beer lets you fully experience its flavors and aromas.
Consider Using a Beer Scorecard
This might sound snooty, but hear us out — using a scorecard to keep track of what you notice and like in a beer is a great idea. A scorecard helps you organize your thoughts and understand your preferences. Looking for the simplest approach? Grab a pen and paper and start writing.
Have Fun with Your Beer Tasting!
Beer tasting might seem intimidating, but at the end of the day, what matters is that you’re drinking beer you enjoy with people you appreciate. Just relax, and don’t get too hung up on whether you’re doing things “right.” If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re on the right track.
On Sale This Week in Our Stores: Bell's Two Hearted
An essential for every cooler, fridge, and beer-tasting event is on sale this week in our stores — Bell's Two Hearted ale. Brewed at the iconic Bell’s Brewery, Two Hearted is a Midwest classic that absolutely deserves its accolades. Stop by today to pick up a six-pack for yourself and enjoy.