Most beer drinkers just drink beer, but one day you’ll taste a really good one (probably a craft beer) and actually think about what you are drinking – the flavours, the aroma, the colour. What you’re doing is reviewing the beer, just like a wine drinker would form opinions of a wine. This article will try to help teach you how to review beer.
The first thing to remember is that everyone has different tastes – some prefer dry blondes, others (like myself) prefer darker ales and porters. Respect everybody’s opinion and don’t be (mis)led by what others think of the beer you are about to taste.
A good place to start is with a beer’s style. Review the beer according to its style category, keeping in mind the characteristics of that style. If you know you don’t like a specific style, don’t even bother reviewing it because you will already have an opinion before you start. For more on beer styles, see the BJCP list here.
Senses are very important when reviewing beer! Bad odours, smelly or strong flavoured foods or a cold may affect your sense of smell and even your sense of taste! Even reviewing a stronger flavoured beer will change the taste of a beer. Cleanse your palate between reviews with a glass of water or some crackers or plain bread. The temperature of a reviewed beer can also affect its flavor – for paler beers, drink them between 5°C and 10°C and for darker beers between 10°C and 15°C.
Glassware is also important – clean and in the correct glass. Don’t review from sample glasses – they are usually too small to really get to know the beer. Remember to swirl the beer to bring out the hop or malt flavours and aromas. Beer Advocate has an excellent list of glassware and beers to drink from them.
The last thing to note is the order in which you review beers. Start with the lightest, least hoppy beers and move towards the darker, higher alcohol or hoppier varieties. Remember, some light (in colour) beers can be very hoppy, and this will ruin the flavor of the following beer.
The following five things are what we look at when we review beer:
- Appearance – The colour of the beer, its carbonation level, head and head retention. Is the beer clear or cloudy?
- Smell – What aromas do you get when you sniff the beer? Malts: sweet, roasty, smoky, toasty, chocolaty, nutty, caramelly, biscuity? Hops: dank / resiny, herbal, perfumy, spicy, leafy, grassy, floral, piney, citrusy? Yeast will also create aromas. You might get fruity or flowery aromas (esters) from ales and very clean aromas from lagers, which will allow the malt and hop subtleties to pull through.
- Taste – The flavours will have similar descriptions to the aromas. Is the beer well balanced or does it have a specific character? Most importantly, does it fit into its style category?
- Mouthfeel – How does the beer feel in your mouth? Light, heavy, chewy, watery? Flat, over-carbonated?
- Overall – What is your overall impression of the beer? Did you like it?
These are some basic tips on how to review beer. If you would like to take the experience further, there are many excellent books out there on how to review beer or you could take a BJCP course or even become a BJCP certified beer judge!
For more info, look through the Beer 101 section on BeerAdvocate.