Perhaps it's a sign of the times. Perhaps drinkers are replacing actual tasting experiences with digital distractions. Perhaps craft beer has become too commonplace. After all, when everything is "craft," is anything really craft anymore? And is it necessary to fully experience something that's just...a beer?
Simon Nielsen, head brewer at Central Waters Brewing Company recently contributed an article to Craftbeer.com titled "Don't drink another beer before reading this" that resonated with us in an unexpected way.
Simon's statement, "I think we forgot how to drink craft beer" and following argument prompted us to wonder if this apparent lack of appreciation for the work of palatable art that is craft beer is a conscious decision by the taster or if we in the brewing industry are so accustomed to tasting beer we're forgetting that the average consumer is not necessarily educated on how to "properly" taste a quality craft beer. (Or maybe they are, and they don't care, which is fine too!)
In an effort to not be self righteous know-it-alls, let's not assume everyone is as ignorant as the drunken festival go-er. Let's instead take this, and every, opportunity to share some knowledge on the ins and outs of craft beer tasting. According to Beer Advocate, a supporter of independent craft brewers and an independent community of enthusiasts and professionals dedicated to supporting and promoting better beer, a complete tasting can be done in four steps: look, agitate, smell, taste. Or LAST for those that love acronyms.
Let's break this down.
First we LOOK. Before diving right in, take a minute to actually look at the glass of craft beer in your hand. Though you may be tempted, try to refrain from holding the beer up to direct light as it will distort it's actual color and tone. In looking at the beer you should be able to take note of and describe its color, its head and its consistency.
Next we AGITATE. Before smelling, we need to agitate the beer to bring forward the aromas and subtle notes. To do this, simply swirl your beer gently in the glass. (No, it doesn't matter if it's clockwise or counter clockwise.) This gentle swirling will loosen and stimulate carbonation and test head retention.
Then we SMELL. Did you know that 90-95% of what you experience in a craft beer tasting comes from what you smell? Bodies are crazy cool, am I right? Smelling things seems pretty straight forward, but for those who want to do it like a pro, simply breathe through your nose with two quick sniffs, then with your mouth open, then through your mouth only (nose and mouth are connected in the experience). Agitate again if need be, and ensure that you are in an area that has no overpowering aromas.
Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for, we TASTE. When you take your first sip of beer, remember to resist swallowing immediately. Hold it in your mouth and swirl it and swish it around your tongue so it touches all your taste buds. Take note of the mouthfeel, the viscosity, and breathe out during the process of tasting. This process of exhaling is called "retronasal olfaction" and will release retained flavors at the mucus and mouthfeel level, but at a higher temperature, contributing to the overall taste. Try to detect any sweetness, salty flavors, acids and general bitterness. Explain what they are, or what they are similar to. Also, try tasting the beer again after it warms up slightly. Super cold beer tends to mask some of the flavors. As a beer warms, its flavors will become more pronounced.
A few other tasting tips include:
- Make sure you're tasting a beer at the correct temperature
- Use the proper glassware when available
- Take your flight in the correct order so as not to fatigue your tastebuds
- Talk to the brewer or bartender at the brewery for the inside scoop on the brew
Whether it's a Texas craft beer, a glass of red or plate of BBQ at the neighbor's house, tasting should always be an experience to be enjoyed. So most importantly, be present and ENJOY! That's what life's all about, Charlie Brown.