How Did You Learn To Taste Beer?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Fargrow, Jun 13, 2013.

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  1. Fargrow

    Fargrow Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2013 Michigan

    I've been into craft beer for a while, but now I'm trying to become a better taster. I'm reading Tasting Beer and learning a few things. But still, when I pour an IPA, I'd say it smells like an IPA and it tastes like an IPA. I know it's different from other IPAs, but I can't really describe how.

    The way some of you are able to write about what you see, smell, and taste is like poetry. What's the trick? What's your method?
  2. mychalg9

    mychalg9 Champion (835) Apr 8, 2010 Illinois

    Experience is the best way, in my opinion. You can speed that up by talking to people who also drink beer, reading books like you're doing, and probably the best thing you can do is find out what ingredients were used in the beer you are drinking so that you KNOW what you're drinking and can attribute flavors to the ingredients.
    utopiajane and Fargrow like this.
  3. ant880

    ant880 Initiate (0) Nov 7, 2010 New York

    You learn by tasting more beer
    Kerrie, jRocco2021, Michigan and 6 others like this.
  4. KS1297

    KS1297 Initiate (0) Apr 14, 2013 Wisconsin

    you have to get better at bullshitting
  5. BottleCaps80

    BottleCaps80 Initiate (0) Jan 12, 2013 Iowa

    I don't write reviews on here, but I think I would find it helpful to have a list of different taste descriptors by category (bitter, sweet, earthy, funky, etc.) to help find the right wording in writing reviews.
    Mersh, BlackBelt5112203 and Fargrow like this.
  6. leedorham

    leedorham Initiate (0) Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    I'll echo what others have said about experience.

    Homebrewing and tasting a lot of other brewers' homebrew can also accelerate the process quite a bit as you have more insight into what ingredients and process differences can contribute.
  7. otispdriftwood

    otispdriftwood Initiate (0) Dec 9, 2011 Colorado

    When I looked at the title before reading the post, my answer was "by drinking it". But after reading it, I believe that in addition to experience and researching what you are tasting beforehand, you also need to focus in on exactly what you are tasting and perhaps writing a few notes so that you have something with which to compare and contrast your next tasting. Or you can just be like me, that is, taste something you like and buy it again.
  8. ncstateplaya

    ncstateplaya Zealot (571) Nov 8, 2008 North Carolina

    I actually drank wine before getting into craft beer. Being able to pick out flavors comes with time and variety. You also need to remember that people tastes differ. What may seem citrusy to me can seem piney to you. You being all new to the game, I'm pretty sure its citrusy. Just bullshitting, but hope you catch what I am saying. There's not really a wrong or right IMO. The more you subject your tongue to these flavors the easier it will be to pinpoint what you are tasting. I think that is why so many craft beer drinkers are also foodies. And actually talk to someone about it. Hey I taste meyer lemons, are you picking up on any of that?
    Fargrow likes this.
  9. HisBoyElroy

    HisBoyElroy Initiate (0) Mar 4, 2013 Michigan

    I learned by putting it in my mouth.
    Cvescalante and SunDevilBeer like this.
  10. SummitSeries72

    SummitSeries72 Initiate (128) Mar 17, 2011 New Jersey

    You can also take a beer tasting class. The classes are usually taught/led by Ciccerones (think of a beer sommelier). A good ciccerone should be able to describe the different tasting notes present in any beer. Most one-session classes are not that expensive.
    deleted_user_1111368 and Fargrow like this.
  11. mnstorm99

    mnstorm99 Initiate (0) May 11, 2007 Minnesota

    For me, homebrewing has taught me a lot. But, the key is to focusing on your senses and what memories come to you when smelling and tasting a beer. Unfortunately it can be very hard to focus on these senses in certain settings, like a bar surrounded by friends. I do think others have a better ability that I do when it comes to the true level of focus needed.
  12. Tballz420

    Tballz420 Meyvn (1,114) Mar 4, 2003 Minnesota

    The way I learned was to find a couple of reviewers that I recognized were really good at identifying individual tastes and then reading their reviews while trying the beer.

    Anyone can say "this beer is hoppy," but if you can read someone who is experienced in identifying individual characteristics, (in terms of hops, I usually use floral, grassy, leafy, citrus, grapefruit, tropical fruit, earthy, herbal, medicinal, piney and resinous) that will help you become better and picking out what you are experiencing
  13. geocool

    geocool Disciple (335) Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    I'd say you seriously need to read some actual poetry. I'd say the reviews on here are more on par with the observations of your average man from Nantucket.
  14. palmdalethriller

    palmdalethriller Initiate (0) Dec 26, 2007 California

    First of all, half of the stuff you read in reviews is total bullshit. Most human palates simply aren't that complex.

    Watch out for reviews that get super deep into details. I'm excluding the bros from this one, because they are absolute pros (both at tasting and writing the reviews), but most of us really only pick up on a handful of flavors and aromas in beer/wine.

    I'm not a big reviewer, and I don't have a great palate (my sense of smell has been weakened by a childhood of chronic sinus infections... or so I tell myself) but I learned to identify I'm tasting by talking with brewers about their beer, hearing what they say is in it, then searching for that flavor. Maybe it's little more than the power of suggestion, but it's a good way to help isolate flavors in a beer. So if you read a review that says "tons of grapefruit and and pine" about the taste, close your eyes and try to isolate those flavors. Once you do, or once you can find something like clove or coriander, then you can start to identify those same tastes in other beers. But it takes practice - you gotta drink up.
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  15. Lorianneb

    Lorianneb Initiate (0) Apr 27, 2012 New Jersey

    It takes time and you really do have to drink more. Take some time to drink the beer. Sip, don't gulp if you want to pick up all the flavors. Also, let the beer warm a bit. Cold beer masks flavors
    palmdalethriller likes this.
  16. LeRose

    LeRose Poo-Bah (1,747) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts

    Be the first to admit that my reviews aren't up there with the icons here, but I do my best and review honestly. When I am trying a new brew or taking tasting notes I do pay attention and make an effort to be thorough, as best I can.

    I work in the juice industry and have had training, but I am far from being "good" at tasting. We were given all sorts of things in pure form to develop the ability to detect different flavors at difference concentrations. That was pretty cool...on their own, pretty easy. In a complex mixture? Can get ridiculously difficult and it takes time and patience. But pretty much in the context of work, it was experience and practice, plus learning from the real expert tasters to refine the vocabulary about describing things.

    Transfer that to beer - reading and learning then trying to identify different flavors/aromas someone else has pointed out has sort of worked for me. Lots of times I can taste "something" but not quite put my finger on what it is until I read some other reviewers. Even then, a lot of the real subtle stuff people call out I often can't find. Not making any comment on whether people really can detect all of the things they claim to taste - I'm sure those comments are soon to appear. Personally, I have worked with some fantastic sensory scientists and product developers in my career. I certainly believe there are some amazingly sensitive and discerning palates out there, but that is my opinion.

    Home brewing helps too - having the "raw ingredients" to experience makes it a lot easier to pick things out. Every time I brew a batch, it adds to the library of "oh...this is what XYZ tastes and smells like". As you combine, cook, and ferment, you can also see first hand how things play together and change in the process. That has been of value.
    utopiajane and Fargrow like this.
  17. StarRanger

    StarRanger Initiate (0) Nov 27, 2006 North Dakota

    You can't put a name on a smell or flavor until you make that original connection. For IPAs, there are a lot of words like grapefruit, mango, tangerine, and piney used to describe the aromas. If you can't identify what a tangerine smells and tastes like and how it is different from a generic 'citrus' from memory, then how can you pick it out in a beer?

    So go to a good grocery store, buy some of these and other items you see mentioned in beer descriptions. When you get home, smell them, taste them, and focus on the experience. Make those connections between what you experience and the words to describe it.

    Next go to a homebrew store or find someone who homebrews. Smell the hops, compare the aroma of one variety against another, make the connections. Smell the different grains and taste them so you can build your pool of experiences so you link back what you find in the beer to the ingrediants.
    Kerrie, KingSlayer, Sarlacc83 and 4 others like this.
  18. palmdalethriller

    palmdalethriller Initiate (0) Dec 26, 2007 California

    Yes, I find this to be helpful. I think with many of us, the problem with writing (eloquent) reviews is that we don't have the vocabulary to do so. In many ways its a language of its own.
    Fargrow likes this.
  19. palmdalethriller

    palmdalethriller Initiate (0) Dec 26, 2007 California

    Yes! Eating is key to drinking! great point.
    Lorianneb likes this.
  20. imfrommichigan

    imfrommichigan Initiate (0) Jul 12, 2012 Utah

    Watch this video. Everything will be just fine. Just start saying shit to sound like you know what you're talking about!
    Providence likes this.
  21. ESeab

    ESeab Initiate (0) Jan 3, 2013 New Jersey

    Find a friend, get about 6-12 of your favorite IPAs, and do a blind taste test. Being able to correctly identify them is a nice confidence booster in 'tasting' beer and being able to compare them all at once gives you insight in tasting each beers nuances.
    Fargrow likes this.
  22. LeRose

    LeRose Poo-Bah (1,747) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts

    This is a great point. I'm not a wine drinker, but got to do a pretty in-depth tasting at Robert Mondavi (work trip looking for used process equipment...that's my story and I am sticking to it). But we're in the private tasting room - more different kinds of glassware on the table than I knew existed. They took us through several "versions" of "the same" red wine (from the $10 to the $500 bottle) - walking us through it and lending us the descriptions he would use without telling us what to look for - very interesting. Having a guide - in this case a truly phenomenal expert - really helped in picking out the different attributes in flavor and aroma and giving the appropriate words to describe them. Could I do that on my own again - not a chance. It also convinced me that the different glasses are not a gimmick, but that's off topic :wink:

    And the practice is so much fun! Drink beer, think about it...drink more beer.
  23. Fargrow

    Fargrow Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2013 Michigan

    That's fantastic. "Is this contract brewed? I can taste the contracts."
    Kerrie likes this.
  24. Tballz420

    Tballz420 Meyvn (1,114) Mar 4, 2003 Minnesota

    So on the one hand you admit you don't have a developed palate, but you are still able to say that anyone who claims to be able to discern flavors that you can't is full of shit huh?

    Your ideas intrigue me, and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter
  25. LeRose

    LeRose Poo-Bah (1,747) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts

    LMAO! All the BS aside (which we've all heard at times), the most important part is at the end where it's "Cheers" and drink up!
  26. mnstorm99

    mnstorm99 Initiate (0) May 11, 2007 Minnesota

    Whoa. that is hideously infected...unless it's a lambic, in which case it's awesome!!! :rolling_eyes: :grinning:
    Joenajera and imfrommichigan like this.
  27. tjensen3618

    tjensen3618 Disciple (396) Mar 23, 2008 California

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  28. imfrommichigan

    imfrommichigan Initiate (0) Jul 12, 2012 Utah

    My favorite is... "Whoa that is hideously infected. Unless it's a lambic. In which case it's AWESOME."

    Edit: Got beat to it!
  29. joeebbs

    joeebbs Initiate (0) Apr 29, 2009 Pennsylvania

    I would post a reply to another beer video similar to this but I've posted it before and my post was removed. That being said it features this quote:

  30. loafinaround

    loafinaround Initiate (0) Jul 16, 2011 New York

    I find cooking helps....
    Tasting and adjusting spice levels, creating your own recipes, eating unusual ethnic foods and then cooking them so you understand each component in the curry sauce and what it does.

    then it just comes natural. you automatically taste components in foods and drinks.
    TongoRad and imfrommichigan like this.
  31. cookiequiz

    cookiequiz Aspirant (249) Apr 15, 2013 California

    Tasting malts can give quite a bit of insight. I've never tried hop teas, but that might be informative too. Eating hop pellets isn't that helpful.
  32. imfrommichigan

    imfrommichigan Initiate (0) Jul 12, 2012 Utah

    For a real response to the OP's question, this response I feel is what helped me as well. I worked in kitchens for 8 years and managed one for 3 and food is what got me into beer. Creating different dishes and dialing flavors aided with the tastes and complexities that can come out of well crafted beer.
  33. bulldogbrewhaus

    bulldogbrewhaus Initiate (0) Sep 17, 2012 Virginia

    I don't taste beer, I drink it.
  34. imfrommichigan

    imfrommichigan Initiate (0) Jul 12, 2012 Utah

    My wallet would love if I couldn't taste beer.
  35. Jacurdy60

    Jacurdy60 Initiate (0) Jan 23, 2013 Massachusetts

    I personally like reading other peoples reviews after I'm finished, so I can potentially pin down a phantom smell I was unable to discern.
    decimator, Sarlacc83 and HisBoyElroy like this.
  36. palmdalethriller

    palmdalethriller Initiate (0) Dec 26, 2007 California

    Yes. I said everyone who finds flavors I don't is full of shit. That's exactly what I said. Good job. I'm glad you were able to clear it up for everyone.
  37. Ri0

    Ri0 Poo-Bah (3,070) Jul 1, 2012 Wisconsin

    So, what you need is a beer flavor wheel.
    riemster, BottleCaps80 and cavedave like this.
  38. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,102) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    I never drank Raven's Eye Stout, therefore you didn't either.
    palmdalethriller likes this.
  39. BottleCaps80

    BottleCaps80 Initiate (0) Jan 12, 2013 Iowa

    That rules! Definitely printing that off.
  40. opwog

    opwog Zealot (570) Jun 16, 2008 Minnesota

    I was going to recommend something very similar to this. Personally, I am the guy who doesn't mind sounding nuts, by saying the first thing that comes to mind, like saying that a beer smells like a Twister mat. But if you look through the site for beers that you have and like, then look at how they are reviewed, you will start to see patterns in those reviews. Then you will notice frequent reviewers who continually nail things that not everybody catches and that you also may have thought of it, but didn't know how to say it. I got to personally know somebody who's reviews on BA are amongst the most accurate and unbiased (doesn't give a shit who brewed it, hype, etc) reviews on this site:

    His list may be West Coast heavy for what you can get, but I would recommend scrolling his list of reviews for beers that you have had or can get and then read his notes on those. I haven't checked out reviews in a while, but I just saw his review of the Class of 88 barleywine, because for me it seemed odd that everybody kept telling me how awesome this was, when I didn't think that it was very good at all. Sure enough, his deviation away from the average review on here is almost 25% lower. Again, I know him and he is able to approach every beer as if it was a blind tasting, being able to completely disassociate himself from the context or expectations of the brewery, to then identify everything in the beer accurately, then turn around and write a review that frequently puts that information back into context. So he disassociates himself at one point and then re-associates himself to write how beer X and it's characteristics are like or are dissimilar from other beers from that brewery.
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