Beer Tasting for Beginners

Contrary to popular belief, there certainly is a clear right and wrong way to pull off a successful beer tasting.

Your old college buddies might be content with slurping down their beers (sometimes straight from the keg) as quickly as they can, but that’s no way to truly appreciate the drink in your hand.

If you really wish to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of craft brewing, you’re going to have to learn how to taste the brews like a pro.

Luckily for you, we have a few tips here that can get you started. Let’s jump in.

Picking the Correct Glassware

Before we even start thinking about the beer itself, you need to take the time to select the appropriate glass.

After all, a dirty or otherwise incorrect glass, stein or mug can actually alter the flavor in a significant way.

Pouring a fresh beer into a glass that still retains remnants from a separate previous beer is one of the easiest ways to muddle the brew’s flavor.

If you really want to get down into the nitty gritty, you’ll want to make sure you’re selecting the correct shape of glassware as well.

Bear with us here; there are lots and lots of different choices available, each with their own unique strengths. For the sake of time, we’ll only cover the top four:

Steins and Mugs

The German “steinzeugkrug” (or stein, for short) is the oldest beer vessel that we know of today.

We can talk about steins and mugs in the same context, as the only real difference between the two cups is the hinged lid that’s attached to the stein. Mugs and steins are valued for tradition, as well as durability and insulation.

These days, they’re crafted using thick glass that’s difficult to break and are outfitted with a handle that helps keep your hand from warming up the brew prematurely.

Mugs and steins make great homes for all types of beers, but their large capacity makes them suitable homes for beers with lower ABVs, such as American ales and lagers and Irish dry stouts.

Chalices and Goblets

On the other end of the spectrum are the delicate, stemmed chalices and goblets.

These wide-mouthed vessels help aerate the brews and gives the drinker a better sense of the beer’s aroma.

You’ll typically find beers with higher ABVs resting in these types of glasses, as the wide mouths help them maintain head for much longer.

An experienced beer drinker would fill these glasses with Belgian tripels, German bocks and any other beers that have high gravity and equally high ABV.

Pilsner Glass

Much like the name implies, you should fill these sleek, modern vessels with light, crisp brews, such as American pilsners, hefeweizens and blonde ales.

The tall, slender design is perfect for showcasing the brew’s color, carbonation and clarity.

You also don’t have to worry about losing the head as quickly, since you should only be filling these glasses with lower ABV brews.

A wider mouth at the top of the glass still allows the drinker to get a good sense of the brew’s aroma during the tasting.

Tulip Glass

Many experienced beer drinkers swear that a tulip glass is the best choice for any tasting.

You can think of this type of glassware as a more elegant, modernized version of the chalice or goblet.

Tulip glasses are stemmed and much more slender than a traditional goblet. This shape makes the tulip glass perfect for stronger, aromatic brews, such as double IPAs, Belgian ales and other malty, hoppy brews.

The tulip shaped bowl at the base of the glass curves into a slender lip that helps maintain the head in these higher gravity brews.

Selecting Your Beer

Now that we’ve sufficiently discussed your beer vessel, it’s time to actually choose a beer.

Everyone has their specific preferences for beer type, and that’s perfectly okay! However, it’s equally as important to keep an open mind and try new brews that you never would normally consider selecting.

Here are some tips to keep in mind before you settle on your first beer:

Check the Expiration Date

Since restaurants and breweries will not serve you expired beer, this is really only something you have to keep in mind if you’re drinking from home.

To put it extremely bluntly, beer is essentially liquid bread. And much like regular bread, that beer is perfectly capable of going stale if it exceeds its shelf life.

Always make sure to check the “enjoy by” dates on your bottles before you take your first sip.

Always Pick Draft, When Available

There’s nothing inherently wrong with drinking bottled or canned beer, but it will never be as fresh and crisp as a beer poured straight from the keg.

According to Michael Roper, owner of Hopleaf Bar in Chicago, “Draft technology and maintenance is so good now that any reputable bar’s draft beer is the freshest and cleanest in the house… it’s the best way to taste beer the way the brewmaster intended it.”

Don’t Forget About Local Brews

These days, the local brewing options are better than they ever have been before.

Each new place has their own unique style and quirks, which ensures that each new beer is always an adventure.

This rule is especially important if you’re traveling; local microbrews don’t often distribute outside their immediate area, so drinking local is the best way to ensure that you’ll try something entirely new.

Plus, most local microbreweries brew in-house, so the beer will be that much fresher.

Tasting Your Beer

Now that we’ve finally gotten through all preparation process, it’s finally time to sit down and taste your brew for real.

If you wish to get the most out of your tasting, there’s a very specific method that you need to employ. Let’s walk you through it, shall we?

1. Attain the Perfect Pour

Again, this step is only something you have to worry about if you’re drinking from home.

As we discussed previously, you want to make sure you select the correct glassware to pair with the brew that you’re about to drink. If you’re unsure of what would work best, you can’t go wrong with a classic pint glass or a tulip glass.

Never pour your beer directly into the bottom of the glass. This creates unnecessary carbonation that froths up the beer and creates an absurdly large head.

Tilt the glass slightly and pour the beer down the side, gradually straightening it as the liquid rises to the top. The perfect pour should have about one to two fingers width worth of head, depending on the type of beer.

2. Pay Attention to Aromas

We know you’re eager to start drinking, but take a brief pause to appreciate the beer’s aroma.

A brew’s smell can give you a pretty accurate indication of the flavors you’re about to experience, after all. Swirl it around in the glass a little bit, if you have room.

If you’re drinking an ale, or another beer that’s intended to be served at room temperature, you can cup the glass with your hands and allow your body’s warmth to release even more aroma.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to just stick your nose right in the glass for a couple of deep inhales.

3. Check Out the Colors

There are a few different qualities that you should check for when visually inspecting a beer.

The first thing you’ll notice is the brew’s actual color. Is it a light straw color, or a dark chocolate brown?

You should also check to see how clear or hazy the liquid is. This trait can give you a good indication of the brew’s overall mouthfeel.

Take note of your beer’s physical qualities and compare it to traits you’ve identified in similar brews. This can help you learn to differentiate between the brews.

4. The First Sip

Now it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for. We know you’re excited, but still try to take it easy.

Make your first taste a delicate sip, not an aggressive chug.

Hold the beer in your mouth for a bit, letting it spread out over your tongue.

Keep your mouth closed when you swallow and exhale through your nose to help enhance the overall flavor.

Take note of the flavors you experience when you first sip the beer, versus the ones you are able to identify as you swallow the beer.

Different brews may have what’s known as a “finish,” or a secondary, different flavor profile as the beer leaves your mouth.

5. Enjoy Your Tasting

Repeat the same process for your second sip, noting any major differences that may be present.

Some brews may taste different when they initially touch your palate than they do once you grow accustomed to their flavor. Take note of any unique differences or qualities that you notice.

Once you’ve done that, you’re free to enjoy the remainder of your drink. If you wish to enhance your beer’s flavor, ask your bartender for food pairing recommendations.

As always, don’t be afraid to branch out and explore new flavors.


Read Next: