There are lots of websites out there which tell you how to taste and judge beer. I suppose this blog forms my bluffers guide. Not surprisingly judging beer comes down to: Sight, Smell and Taste.
SightHold the beer up to the light and swirl it in the glass. What colour is it, is it clear or does it have sediment or haze, does it have some life (bubbles) is there a good head/foam, is there lacing or legs (which is a good sign)? Some sommeliers insist the beer is drunk for the correct glass, but for judging I prefer all beers to be served in the same stemmed tulip style glass. This allows me to swirl the beer without spilling it, to hold it without warming it up and the narrow neck allows the aromas to collect.
Swirl the beer to release those wonderful aromas and bring the glass up to your nose. Can you detect citrus, spicy, grassy, floral and herbal notes coming from the hops? Can you detect biscuit, toffee, chocolate, coffee or roasted notes coming from the malt? Are there any aromas that you believe shouldn’t be there such as sulphur, sweetcorn (DMS), butterscotch (diacetyl), skunky (sun struck), green apples and/or paint emulsion (acetaldehyde) or vinegar (acetic acid).
Take a good sip of the beer and roll the beer around your mouth to warm it up slightly. You should now taste many of the flavours that you initially smelled but other flavours should come through. Think about the order in which the flavours present themsleves as you pass it across your tongue. Do the flavours linger, does the beer have depth and is it well balanced? How does the beer compare to the basic taste sensations, is it sweet, bitter, sour, salty or savoury? Also how does it feel in the mouth, is it smooth and full-bodied, is it warming (strong alcohol), is it dry, and is it astringent rather than bitter?
When summing up the beer try to use a rich vocabulary, using some of the descriptors highlighted above, rather than simply say you do or don’t like it. Whilst hoppy is a common beer description, hops provide many different aromas so think of what they are creating.
Before tasting and judging beer it is important to know the style of that beer so you understand what you are judging it against. For example, sweetcorn flavours are common in American lagers and banana flavours in wheat beers. Whilst these flavours are acceptable in these beers they will not be expected in other beer types. And, of course, it is important to try different styles of beer.