How to… Taste Beer

Posted: 02 October 2013

Blog category: Cask Ale Week

You’ve probably tasted a bit of beer in your time. But have your really stopped to savour the delights of cask ale: bitter sweetness, bananas, toffee, biscuits, pineapple, lychee – they’re all there somewhere…

Everyone has a different palate and preference, so the fun is trying lots of different ales and finding one to suit you.
It’s also important to remember that when tasting beer, you need to use all your senses!

Look at it – you are looking for four things, the four C’s:

  • Colour – don’t assume all cask ale is brown. It can go from the palest, straw (such as Brilliant Ale), through to honey and copper (Spitfire), amber through to dark chocolate and espresso colours (Porter)
  • Clarity – can you see your fingers through the beer in the glass? All cask ale (apart from wheat beer) should be crystal clear and polished
  • Carbonation – does the beer look ‘lively’? Can you see the carbonation when you swirl the glass? If the beer is completely flat, it may be a sign that all the ‘condition’ has been lost, indicating a beer that has been on sale for too long
  • Cling – the head needs to leave a cling on the glass as you drink it. This is also known as lacing: another sign of a cask beer in great condition

Smell it
The aroma of beer is key as 80% of taste comes from the nose. Put your hand over the top of the glass, swirl the beer, then inhale the aromas. You may get a range of different aromas, depending on what type of cask ale it is. Some smell like biscuit, toffee or are malty. Others may be grassy, citrusy, and herbal.
Sometimes there may be a fault with the beer and this manifests itself in ‘off’ aromas. If beer smells vinegary, medicinal, or like cooked vegetables, it’s not a good sign.
Taste it
Drinking the beer is the bit everyone looks forward to. Our taste buds are located all across our mouth, not just the tongue. Start with a small sip to get the initial flavours and then take more of a mouthful. You should experience different tastes across the tongue. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to the taste of a beer, but considering most of sense of ‘bitter’ is right at the back of the tongue it’s important not to spit it out, but to swallow it (one of the main differences between beer tasters and wine tasters.)

You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned touch. While we don’t recommend you stick your finger (or any other part of your body) into your beer, your sense of touch will help in one particular way: temperature. Holding your glass should tell you very quickly whether your beer is the ‘right’ temperature. There’s plenty of debate about what that temperature is, but we like to let our customers decide for themselves. Typically a cask ale will be drunk at somewhere around 12C-14C – certainly Briton’s having a penchant for warm beer is a myth.

Throughout Cask Ale Week give you beer a second thought – think of the aromas, the malty notes and the fruitiness.
Make it a drink to savour.