If you hang around beer nerds long enough, you’ll notice that they have a different way of drinking beer than most people. A normal person usually defers to the time-honored method of drinking, which is to hold the beer up to your lips and tilt it just enough to cause the liquid to crest over the walls and flow into your mouth. Beer nerds, on the other hand, have a more structured and academic (some might say exaggerated) way of doing things.

They’re not crazy. They are simply practicing the art of “beer tasting” or critically and deliberately scrutinizing the beer in order to a) learn more about it and b) appreciate it more. It is the way the professionals do things, but you don’t have to be a professional. Here are the steps to effective beer tasting:

  1. Pouring the Beer

Pouring truly is the trickiest part of this whole thing. Your overall goal is to aim for about two-fingers-worth of head after the pour. Most people learned long ago to “sneak” the beer down the side of the glass when pouring in order to avoid head. You can do this, but remember to allow some head because the bursting bubbles of the head release the beer’s aroma, which is important for step three. A good trick is to pour straight down the middle of the glass until you have two fingers worth of head and stop the pour. You don’t have to fit the entire bottle of beer into the glass all at once.

Also, some beers contain visible yeast at the bottom of the bottle that is meant to be drunk with the beer. If this is the case, stop the pour with a bit of beer left in the bottle. Swirl the remaining liquid to lift the yeast sediment and pour it into your glass.

  1. Appearance

After you’ve poured your beer, visually inspect it. Note whether the head is dense or thin. Heads are sometimes described as rocky if they are especially dense with dips and peaks forming as some of the bubbles pop. The color of the head is also worth noting and can range from pure white on Pilsners to light or medium brown on some stouts and porters.

Also examine the appearance of the beer itself. Hold the glass up to the light and note the color and whether it is cloudy or clear.

  1. Aroma

Next, bring the glass up to your face so that your nose is practically inside the glass and sniff (It’s important that your nose is not in the beer itself during this phase—although that does happen quite frequently). Note whether it smells primarily of hops or malt. Generally speaking, light colored beers will smell more of hops while darker beers tend to have pronounced malt, roasted, chocolate, or coffee aromas. Many types of ale have a hard to pin down spiciness or fruitiness that comes from their yeasts.

Take your time with the aroma. Try to take three good sniffs before your first sip. If you’re taking notes, stop to write your impressions before the first sip distracts you.

  1. First Sip

When taking your first sip, try to note the initial sensation as the beer enters your mouth. Think about whether it is sweet, bitter, or something else. Beer, especially ale, can be very complex. There can be quite a difference between the first taste and the finish.

  1. Mouthfeel

This is the texture of the beer or how it physically feels in your mouth. Beer ranges from silky dry stouts, to thick and chewy Scotch ales to thin and fizzy Berliner weisses. This is an important characteristic of a beer.

  1. Finish

Note the lingering flavors after you swallow the beer. Often it can be bitter from the hops or a lingering malty sweetness.

Stop before your next drink and try to write down everything that you just detected. Try to confirm it all with your second drink or see if you need to rethink your conclusions.

Additional Tips:

  1. Do not taste new beers with food or soon after eating. The lingering flavors from food can greatly affect your impression of the brew.
  1. Cleanse your palate with water. Crackers or cheese are fine but you should remember that even these foods can affect the apparent flavors of the beer.
  1. If you’re tasting a number of different beers, let the color be your guide. It is best to taste from light to dark.

That’s all there is to it. As you can see, it’s very easy to drink beer like the professionals do, and you’ll find that the more you do this, the more you’ll appreciate the endless makes and models of beer that are out there! Plus, the next time your beer nerd friends start analyzing their beers, you’ll be able to keep up and join in the nerdiness.

To the Republic (if you can keep it)… Cheers!

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