I sat down recently with Amanda Benson, Deschutes Brewery’s Sensei of Sensory Satisfaction (thank you Geof Hasegawa, Mastermind of Keg Movement). We talked about all things tasting. I had no idea how much fun the ritual of tasting could be. I also had no idea how much there is to talk about (I thought we were tasting!). Swirling. Sniffing. But no swishing allowed. I learned that beer tastings with friends are the perfect setting to determine who spends too much time at the movies eating buttered popcorn and who ate wet cardboard as a nutritional supplement in first grade. Let me explain, as the Sensei did…
She recommends gathering a few accomplices, beers of your choice (either a set of a particular style or not), and pen and paper for recording all of your irresistible thoughts. It’s like board game night, but better! Don’t forget a little water for mouth rinsing. Tasting vessels should be glass. Tulips are great, but straight-sided will work, even pints. And clean! Amanda stressed “beer clean”. (I would never invite her to my house.) How do you tell? Rinse the glass. Sprinkle with salt. Any place the salt does not stick is unclean. Why? Seemingly clean glassware can retain mischievious oils that will prevent a true appreciation of the beer at hand. Who wants to do that? Fill your glasses with enough beer for at least two healthy mouthfuls; but not so full that you commit the cardinal beer foul (e.g. spillage) when you swirl the glass.
The table is finally set. But no tasting yet, oh ye bumpus hounds! Hold that glass up. Admire its color, clarity, and carbonated head. Say ooooh and ahhhh. Set it down. Swirl it around. Don’t sing. Do smell it with a combination of short sniffs and long ones. Swirl again with the glass covered, trapping the volatile aromas. Export those aromas to the throne of your olfactory palace. Cup the glass. Warm the beer slightly. And (finally) taste…..but no swishing, gargling, or rinsing. Take a decent mouthful and let it glide slowly over your entire tongue on its way to your bloodstream. Pause for a Jack Handy moment. Take another taste. Record your experience on paper. No special vocabulary necessary. Please share those thoughts after everyone has written something down. (No need to burden everyone else with “I taste soggy old broccoli” unless absolutely necessary). Rinse with water. Repeat.
Here a few other notes from Amanda: taste beers from light to dark, or lightly hopped to heavily hopped, low alcohol to high, and taste no more than four beers to avoid palette fatigue. In order to impress the girl or boy next door….if you taste a little wet cardboard, call it oxidation. If you should experience a buttery popcorn sensation, call it diacetyl. But don’t mention movies you watched in first grade.
Need more info? Got questions?
Check out the Brewers Association website for style guidelines.