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American Beer Month
Beer tasting 101

Ready, Set, Taste!

Because stronger-flavored beers can ruin your palate for the lighter ones, we are going to start light and work our way up to the big boys.

Your beers should be cool, but not super cold. The stronger beers will definitely benefit from a bit of warming, so don't feel bad if you need to take all the beers out of the cooler at the same time for easy access. By the time you get to the stronger beers, they should be just fine.

Tasting notes
Here's what we will do: Using the blank tasting grid that you can download here (left click to see the grid, right click to download directly to your computer), simply follow along through the tasting grid with each beer, reading the information I provide on each style.

Above you'll see a minature version of my tasting notes so you can see how I completed the grid. To read what I wrote about each beer click here or on the notes. That will open the notes in a second window so you may refer to them while making your own notes.

Ground Rules:
  • Please taste the beers in order -- you will hate yourself if you jump right to the stout. Trust me.
  • Wait for everyone in your group to complete their notes before moving on to the next beer.
  • At first, refrain from commenting on what you see, smell, taste in each beer, and concentrate on your own perceptions, writing them down in the tasting grid.
  • After everyone in the group has put down a few comments, feel free to talk about each beer. Sharing your perceptions and hearing what others think is part of the fun!
  • Remember: Beer appreciation is subjective. Just because you don't like a particular style or flavor doesn't mean it's a bad beer. It's just not YOUR beer.
  • Feel free to enter your comments in the tasting grid any way you like. If you think a beer smells like dirty socks, by all means, put that in the corresponding blank on the grid.
  • Be patient with yourself. Learning to pay attention to all the flavors and textures that play around in your mouth when you take a sip of beer takes time.
  • Have fun!
Using The Grid
Approach each beer with all your senses. Use the tasting grid to help you move from one sensory perception to the next, writing down your comments as you go along:

- Take a look at your beer first. Note the color. Is it cloudy? Clear? Does it have a head on it? What color is the head? Is it frothy? Are there big bubbles?

- Next, stick your nose down in your beer and give it a big sniff or two. What do you smell? Grass? Citrus? Chocolate? Coffee? Fruit? Floral notes? Maybe you just smell a faint sweetness or something you can't yet describe. That's OK. Just keep sniffing and write down what comes to mind. Hint: Sometimes, swirling the beer around in the glass helps stir up some of the aromas.

- Guess what! You are finally ready to taste your beer! Take a small sip, letting the liquid linger over your tongue. Swallow and breathe out. What was your first perception of the beer as it languished in your mouth? Was it sweet? Bitter? Did you taste anything that reminded you of other pleasurable flavors? Perhaps you tasted something like coffee, or maybe you detected some fruit or a spice. Take a few more sips, adding your perceptions to the appropriate space in the grid.

- What the heck is "mouthfeel"? Despite the fact that it sounds like the name of a really bad porn flick, mouthfeel is a word used to describe how a substance, believe it or not, feels in your mouth. It's also the next space on our grid. What you are looking for here is your perception of the beer's texture in your mouth. Some are effervescent, others can be silky smooth. In light-bodied beers, the mouthfeel can be nearly imperceptible while other beers might leave a silky, rich or velvety feeling as it goes down.

- As you begin to finish the sample in your glass, pay attention to the beer's aftertaste. Breathe in as you swallow your beer and breathe out after it goes down. (This is where it's good to do this with friends, just in case you mix up your breathing and swallowing and you need to call 911. Just remember: practice makes perfect!) When you breathe out, do you detect anything? Maybe you can taste a slight bitterness? More than a slight bitterness? Make note of those lingering flavors.

- I have provided a final space in the grid for "additional comments." That's your "free association" space that you can use however you want. Some folks use it to assign a grade to each beer, others use it to rank their favorites. One group of women in my SudSisters class used their additional comments space to daydream about the best place to enjoy each beer we tried. Talk about free association!

- Return to introduction
- Taste the beers