Spit or Swallow: Differences Between Tasting Beer & Wine

Posted on: February 8th 2015

If you’re reading this, it is either due to the suggestive title, or maybe you just really want to know the differences between tasting beer and still wine (wine without bubbles). As the saying goes, “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine.” This is because after tasting high abv (alcohol by volume) wine all day, winemakers sometimes just want to drink a beer. The same may be said for brewers too. After making beer after beer, and tasting a sample from every batch, it may be nice to sit at the home at the end of the day and slowly sip on a glass of wine. Whether you prefer beer, wine or both, you may often wonder to yourself… “I know it’s ok to swirl, sip and spit wine to taste it, but is that how to taste beer too?” Well, we did a bit of “research” and came up with some answers for you!

In the past, it was said that taste buds in certain areas of the tongue detect different flavors like the back of the tongue can detect bitterness, the front of the tongue tastes sweetness, and so on. It was later debunked and new research says that taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue.

Tasting Beer:
Here at Deschutes Brewery, we have a sensory panel that tastes beer Monday-Friday at 9:45am and offers up a 1 hour training class once a week on properly tasting beer, how to pick out off flavors and tasting standards for the style. We also make sure that all beer is in spec before we send it out to our fans. With beer, we SWALLOW. After swirling and smelling, taking a sip and swallowing, there are lingering flavors from hops or a malty sweetness that can be detected. Unlike wine, beer has carbonation (CO2), and as you take a sip, CO2 escapes the liquid as gas and rises from your throat to your nasal passage carrying some flavor of the beer. Thus, the sense of smell combines with taste to get an overall flavor of the beer in a different manner than un-carbonated wine. To get the full flavor experience of beer, one must swallow. And while we want you to get the full flavor experience, please remember to drink responsibly.

Tasting Still Wine:
A long, long time ago (Bye Bye Miss “American Pie” song reference – great, now that song is stuck in our heads), professional wine tasters discovered that if they swallowed every wine they tasted out of every barrel or at every wine event, they wouldn’t be such thoughtful tasters. So by the time they reached 9 or 10 different wines, they’d be quite intoxicated, thus SPITTING became acceptable. Since wine lacks CO2, swallowing isn’t really necessary to fully taste a wine. To properly taste wine, put your nose deep into the glass and take a whiff, then take a sip and leave it in your mouth for 8-10 seconds and swish it around so you’ll be able to taste it thoroughly without having to worry about the effects of alcohol. Then make sure to find the proper spittoon (not the water rinser) and spit (don’t spray). You will not be kicked out of the “said winery” and now you can continue your tasting. Hopefully, you will really enjoy a few of their wines and take home some bottles to drink later. Now, with all of this said, if you are just out to enjoy a glass, or to share a bottle with friends, spitting may seem strange, so sip it, savor it, and share it.

More and more brewery and winery tasting rooms are opening up all over the world so you can taste a variety of flavors and discover your favorites. Your taste buds do change over time and also change with what you are eating, so something you didn’t like by itself may taste wonderfully with cheese, a hearty chili, or with a spicy dish. On the other hand, you may want the full flavor, so stay away from coffee, gum, and strong foods before tasting. It’s all about your level of experimentation. Try a beer style you’ve never had or grape varietal that is new to you. It’s fun to experiment with friends and family, just make sure you have a designated driver who will get you home safe.

Hope you found this blog helpful and fun! Cheers…