How long does it take to develop a palate?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by ChristopherProvost, Aug 5, 2015.

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  1. ChristopherProvost

    ChristopherProvost Initiate (111) Dec 24, 2013 New Hampshire

    I'm a relative newbie to the tasting world. I look at my reviews and compare them to others and sometimes I feel clueless. I feel like I can only identify the major flavors or aromas. I get citrusy, grassy, malty, hoppy, boozy, etc. but I just don't get how people can taste things like biscuit or marmalade or herbal or whatever. I realize it's all subjective but still. Does detecting these finer nuances just happen over time as you taste more and more?
     
  2. LennyOvies

    LennyOvies Initiate (0) Jul 22, 2015 Mexico

    Same here, relative newbie and I'm around the same place with you. I can't seem to get all this fine flavors/aromas.

    Sometimes I think people just type random stuff to make their reviews be so cool looking hahaha.
     
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  3. Raime

    Raime Meyvn (1,338) Jun 4, 2012 Greenland

    Every bodies palate is different so you simply may not pick up certain tastes because of that.

    But some things just take time. Keep at it. I've been doing this for about three years and I still can't get the whole kitchen sink in a lot of the beers I try
     
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  4. CraigP83

    CraigP83 Defender (622) Dec 19, 2014 Minnesota
    Trader

    I've been drinking craft for years, and really got into trying and keeping track of what I've tasted about a year ago and I still struggle picking out subtle flavors. I'm under the impression that some people just don't have a "developed palate" and won't get one.
     
  5. Tripel_Threat

    Tripel_Threat Poo-Bah (2,873) Jun 29, 2014 Michigan
    Society Trader

    Practice is a absolute must to develop a nuanced palate.

    At least, that's what I tell the wife.
     
  6. Sound_Explorer

    Sound_Explorer Poo-Bah (1,853) Dec 29, 2013 Washington
    Society

    I know exactly how you feel......I taste only the big broad flavors and smells. Don't always get the nuances but it may be that, like me, I can't think of the word or what that flavor is but you know it is there. It may develop over time a little so that you: pick up the notes faster, the depth of it (lightly peppered or a bit stronger), and recognize how the taste changes as it moves over your tongue and as it warms. Maybe we just aren't destined to know every single spice/fruit/flavor/grain in it anyways.

    Give it time and just think about how it tastes to you, then look up the reviews and see if they help you identify some that escape you. That has helped me over time to get a better understanding of how to best describe what I taste. Also reading the bottles after, and I stress after when reading any description as you don't want it to give you expectations and make you taste blind.

    TL;DR ~ We're brothers from other mothers. Give it time. Work on it by tasting then reading descriptions afterwards to help develop. Good Luck.
     
  7. amalburg

    amalburg Disciple (392) Jan 7, 2014 Michigan

    I can't really describe why I like some beers over others. The reviews here are incredible. Some of the things people taste and smell really impress me. I don't think I'll ever be able to do it.
     
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  8. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,707) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    55 years.

    Just kidding, it all depends on how passionate you are about beer, its styles, and its wide range of characteristics.
     
  9. newbeeraday

    newbeeraday Defender (687) May 1, 2014 Pennsylvania
    Trader

    I would say it takes time for sure. Also if you want to give a boost to that time frame I would say try this out...
    Take notes on the beer you are drinking and really try to think about what it taste like. After you think you have detected all that you are capable of then go online and read other reviews and continue drinking and see if you pick up on anything else people are mentioning. Like I said do your notes first so not to be bias.
    Also drinking with friends can help, I have a buddy not as much in the beer scene as me, but he is really good at picking up on things I would so we share thoughts as drinking.
    Just remember have fun with it and not to turn it into a chore.
     
  10. Tripel_Threat

    Tripel_Threat Poo-Bah (2,873) Jun 29, 2014 Michigan
    Society Trader

    Some advice on things that helped me, when I first started into it:

    Glassware can be important. I find that I can pick out more aromas and tastes based on drinking vessel. I usually use a tulip, pils, or snifter. I found I can pick out different notes using those glasses more than anything. YMMV.

    Seriously practice. Instead of a single, try buying a sixer, and drink each bottle a little different. Try one colder, one warmer, try different glassware. Try it right from the bottle. You never know what you might pick up.

    And just try to pay attention to taste and smell on a daily basis for a point of reference. Not just with food, but also out and about.
     
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  11. WesMantooth

    WesMantooth Poo-Bah (3,056) Jan 8, 2014 Ohio
    Society Trader

    You are never going to taste everything that the rest of us do. Taste is subjective. I still have a hard time describing what I taste or smell. You will find with time/beers, your senses will become more refined. Don't underestimate proper glassware. It's not essential, but not a myth either. Check back in a year or so.
     
  12. winningwes91

    winningwes91 Initiate (0) Jan 4, 2014 North Carolina

    Took me at least a year, and it's still developing every time I drink a beer.
     
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  13. pat61

    pat61 Poo-Bah (5,858) Dec 29, 2010 Minnesota
    Society

    Get a copy of the BJCP style guidelines here: http://www.bjcp.org/ and use them when you sample a beer and see if you are noticing the things in the guideline for the style. It will help develop your palate.
     
  14. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (550) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    It's a constant project. I'm about twenty years in, and I'm still learning.
     
  15. esimonoff

    esimonoff Initiate (0) Dec 2, 2014 California

    People may disagree, but I think it's more about developing a vocabulary rather than developing your palate. Sure, I think that the more you drink/experience beer (or anything), the more adjusted your nose and tongue (and brain) get to identifying certain elements of that beer (or thing). However, I think that the more important thing is just to learn how to recognize certain flavors or aromas and how to describe them. Most of the tasting notes people use (for anything, really) are bullshit.... well.... SOMEWHAT bullshit. No, they are not tasting a cracker or a blanket or an apricot pit any more than they might be tasting something bready, funky, or fruity. But, the way the flavor is presented may remind them of something drier than straight fruit, earthier than straight funk, or sharper than straight bread.

    At least that's what I think.
     
  16. esimonoff

    esimonoff Initiate (0) Dec 2, 2014 California

    I mean, it's the way the brain/nose/tongue work anyway.... you only have a handful (dozens) of different types of receptors in your nose. That means that there can only be that number of specific and/or fundamental aromas/flavors period. However, it is the relative amounts, combinations, and intensities of those fundamental flavors that can make up more complex smells/tastes. Placement of those receptors in your nasal cavities along with how long a certain compound will persist in your nose/mouth also contribute.
     
  17. edward_boumil

    edward_boumil Defender (617) Jun 28, 2015 New York

    I used to think the same way, that most of it was just exaggeration.

    Key to picking out those flavors (and they absolutely are real) is to find the best examples of the styles they are most prominent in.

    For instance, you might read about the bubblegum/banana-bread/clove esters or peppery phenols that people pick out of beers. The way you can get that is by drinking a Weihenstephaner or Ayinger hefeweisen out of the proper glass. And go into it knowing/looking for those flavors and aromas, after half of your beer you will probably begin to notice them.

    Another example is the graham cracker malt character common of quality German pilsners, chocolate/coffee characteristics of robust porters, and the citrus aroma of a nice IPA. Once you start getting super familiar with a certain style you begin to notice subtle differences between different offerings within that style.
    But the keys here are knowledge of the style, knowledge of the notes attributed to that particular style, and the best examples of those notes, and you will pick them out in no time.
     
  18. Chickenshack

    Chickenshack Initiate (0) Jun 18, 2015 New Mexico

    Have to agree with esimonoff- it's about learning with to identify (with language) what you are already tasting. You might develop a palate when it comes to beers unfamiliar to you, which is to say the first time you have an IPA it tastes overwhelmingly bitter and you don't notice grapefruit peel, but for the most part you already have the palate and its a matter of naming what your palate is tasting. And as to the tasting notes, when they are not bullshit it is because the taster is identifying the same flavor compounds in the hops of an IPA as are in a grapefruit peel. One person's grapefruit peel might be someone else's bitter orange but both people are tasting the same flavor compound- here is where it gets "subjective".
     
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  19. Cat-Licks

    Cat-Licks Initiate (0) Jan 10, 2014 Pennsylvania

    Taste with groups and converse about what you're smelling/tasting. Often times someone else will pick out and associate an aroma or flavor with a great identifier that you simply couldn't put your finger on. Like someone mentioned - it deals a lot with expanding your vocabulary to articulate what exactly it is you are experiencing.

    Listen to podcasts like The Beerists.

    Go for a certification like Cicerone or BJCP.

    Work on pairing beers with complementary/harmonious dishes. Food will often pull out distinctive notes of a beer that would not be easily detected otherwise.

    You can't expect to simply develop your palate by sitting around slinging cases of beer. It takes practice, focus, and guidance from others who are more experienced.

    edit: yeah proper glassware is huge for aroma. when i drink at home, all beers go in the snifter.
     
  20. beerded_drunk

    beerded_drunk Aspirant (210) Aug 30, 2013 Pennsylvania
    Trader

    Also, some beers are easier than others. sometimes I listen to music and sometimes I need it a little quiet. Sometimes you come up with crazy out of this world descriptions, like horse blanket notes, or body odor, wet dog, seaweed, brine, burnt notes, specific spices things like that. but you need to be patient. Not to be corny but there is a certain romance to it. pour it in a decent glass, look at it, big sniffs and long sips, let it melt in your mouth be creative. It doesn't hurt to know a thing or 2 about brewing or the specifics of the style either. give it time.
     
  21. DaverCS

    DaverCS Zealot (579) Dec 9, 2014 Arizona

    Like many have said: Practice.

    Begin by tasting beers with flavors that are known. Begin to learn what grapefruit in an IPA tastes like, what Brett tastes like/ evolves into, and the different characteristics that barrel aging has on a beer.

    Then convert into more blind tastings, where you don't know what everyone else is getting. Compare your notes to theirs and continue to practice!
     
  22. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,794) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    It's constantly developing, with every new food, fruit, juice, beverage, spice, etc., that you consume- all new experiences to add to your smell and taste vocabulary. Just do your best, don't let where you are right now make you feel like you are missing out on something, and enjoy the ride.
     
  23. esimonoff

    esimonoff Initiate (0) Dec 2, 2014 California

    "Bullshit" maybe was harsh... but I just think that the ultraspecific way that tasting notes can be given can sometimes be a little misleading.
     
  24. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (5,252) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia
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    I agree with the sentiment expressed by these posts: if you want to try, taste after or while reading reviews to see what you agree with. And more recently I have actually found that drinking with others and describing the beer in realtime is even more enlightening.

    Also consider that a lot of the flavor and scents aren't necessarily always exactly what people are experiencing, but impressions. Similarly don't expect a peach flavor in a beer to taste like artificially flavored peach things.

    Regardless have fun and make notes that will help you decide whether to revisit a beer or not, and always consider re-reviewing as your palate develops and changes.
     
  25. halo3one

    halo3one Crusader (788) Jun 6, 2014 Georgia

    Intentional properly executed practice. Drinking just to drink will help a little, but you need to really define and understand what you're tasting. Brewing yourself will help even more as you're hands on and can smell the unspent hops, barley, etc.
     
  26. October

    October Initiate (103) Jul 10, 2015 Pennsylvania

    Some good perspectives here.

    I'd just like to add that In the "how to review a beer page" on this site they list diaper as an example of an aroma you might get from a beer...
     
  27. sharpski

    sharpski Meyvn (1,176) Oct 11, 2010 Svalbard & Jan Mayen Islands
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    Surprise! You already have your palate, we're all just mapping the existing terrain. The ultra specific notes come from previous experience in food or drink. Part of developing your vocabulary is actively seeking new flavors outside of beer.
     
  28. Kuaff

    Kuaff Initiate (0) Mar 31, 2013 Alaska

    I don't think there is any set time it takes, as everyone is so, so different. I personally kinda felt like my palate was just immediately awakened in my first two~three weeks of trying craft, in which I tried the big intense styles like imperial stout and IIPA (Ruination was my first IPA ever!). For me, it hasn't so much been that my palate has developed or changed as it has that I've sampled a large enough variety of distinctive beers that I can now compare and contrast between many and acquire a broad sense of what certain traits smell and taste like. So the more new and varied beers and styles I try, my palate "learns" what various nuances are like.

    So I subscribe to a theory of relativity: everything tastes a certain way relative to everything else, and experiencing the diversity out there will throw individual beers into sharper contrast.
     
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  29. Chickenshack

    Chickenshack Initiate (0) Jun 18, 2015 New Mexico

    It used to be that overly specific, pretentious tasting notes were the province of almost exclusively wine drinkers but now craft beer, specialty coffee, artisanal cheese, etc. etc. all stake their claim. When it comes to beer, sometimes you just want to drink it and tell all these tasters where they can put their grapefruit peel. Amen to that. At the same time, ah what a wondrous variety exists and someone who truly loves beer loves all the different beers there are to be had just as someone who loves women... ...developing one's palate is just a matter of getting specific with one's appreciation.
     
  30. Pantalones

    Pantalones Devotee (450) Nov 14, 2014 Virginia

    For the most part, it's just drinking something and thinking "hey, something in this beer reminds me of (insert flavor/smell here)" and then once you've noticed that sort of flavor it becomes easier to pick it up again when you try other beers with the same sort of thing in them. Part of it is getting used to certain flavors, too -- when I first started drinking beer, everything just "tasted like beer," it was difficult to pick out different flavors at all. Now the thing that I previously described as "tasting like beer" tastes different or is not present at all, and I pick up different flavors instead. It's probably the same way with getting used to extreme flavors you might not be exposed to much in other foods/drinks (bitterness/hops in IPAs, sourness in the various sour beers, etc.) which could drown out the other flavors if you're not used to that extreme element.

    There's also definitely a subjective thing to it, the same thing won't taste the same to everyone who tries it since everyone's more or less sensitive to certain things, and everyone's going to have a different way of putting into words the things they tasted (I think I've only had one beer that I thought could possibly be described as having a "floral" flavor to it, and it's not one that I could find very many reviews describing it that way -- the "floral" flavor/smell in beer seems to be one that for the most part does not exist according to my nose and tongue.)

    I do sometimes wonder if those reviews where people list off 25 different flavors, some of them only barely different from each other and almost definitely indistinguishable when combined with each other and 23 other things, are at least partly bullshit, though!
     
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  31. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,847) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona
    Society

    Kindly disagree with some above.

    I think it is largely an educated matter and quantity of beers "ticked" and such can be irrelevant, actually.

    An analogy comes to mind of how someone who is educated in music, can play multiple instruments, etc. for example - they will "hear" the same music differently than the average person. While the same music might enter the ears of both people, what takes place in the mind and what is experienced is entirely different for the two people. This is nothing controversial, in my opinion. I think that it would be absurd and ignorant to think that any two people who listen to the same music would, by default, experience it the same (given what I said above). Not so.

    Ideally go train at a top notch brewing school, or some of the more reputable certification programs and such. At a minimum, read books on tasting beer and take notes over the YEARS as you experience beer. That sort of approach will help the palate far more than just trying a bunch of beers or trying to just work on your vocabulary.
     
  32. VetsPackage

    VetsPackage Aspirant (242) Jun 29, 2015 Massachusetts
    Trader

    My biggest tip would be to keep this in mind: Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, scent and taste are heavily related. SMELL ALL THE THINGS. I really started noticing a difference in tastes I was able to pull away when spending time in college out in UMass. Amherst is lush with local agriculture and farm stands. I was surrounded by herbs, fruits, spices all at varying levels of ripeness and began to build up a mental vocabulary of scents that I began to relate to taste. My tasting notes of "strong citrus" became more intricate to things like "unripe lime" and "blood orange zest". I literally pulled "Lipton Powdered Iced Tea" from a Belgian IPA today. Not Tea, not Iced Tea, fucking Lipton brand Powdered Iced Tea. 2 people almost dropped their glasses after having flashbacks to their childhoods and couldn't taste anything but iced tea after I mentioned it.
     
  33. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (5,252) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia
    Society

    Although I generally agree with you on the volume part, mentioning multiple almost indistinct flavors happens because beer isn't those things and isn't usually trying to taste just like those things, so none are right - or wrong.

    Also sort of agree with @yemenmocha that developing a palate is at least an active endeavor - it isn't just "drink it, and the palate will come." But I feel you can improve without formal training, perhaps just not as much.
     
  34. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,971) Mar 12, 2009 New York
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    Have a tasting session with @utopiajane , who I believe is a supertaster, and you will understand we are not all created equally when it comes to taste and smell. I have read that some folks have ability more than 50% better than others for detecting flavors.

    I myself cannot detect diacetyl at very low levels, and never get the metallic/copper penny some folks get. OTOH I am very sensitive to cat piss aroma and taste, and sometimes get it strongly when others don't get it at all. I read there is one compound (not found in beer) that one group of people sense as fecal, another group sense as floral (not making this up)
     
  35. utopiajane

    utopiajane Poo-Bah (2,556) Jun 11, 2013 New York

    @cavedave is kind to be sure. I actually learned anything I know from reading reviews here. It was some of the poetry in the descriptions that kept me reading and the taste of the beer. Each time something new clicks then it's yours. I think that as you continue to explore styles you can appreciate the nuances more and more.
     
  36. ChristopherProvost

    ChristopherProvost Initiate (111) Dec 24, 2013 New Hampshire

    Thanks for the advice everyone. I've got Randy Mosher's book, Tasting Beer, and am working my way through it. There are also a couple of fellow beer geeks at work I can trade with (in fact, I'm bringing some Jammer in to one today to return a favor). In the meantime, I'll just try as many different styles as I can and work on trying to identify just what it is I'm tasting. Hey, as far as hobbies go, I could be doing worse!
     
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  37. Zorro

    Zorro Poo-Bah (4,888) Dec 25, 2003 California
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    For sour?

    Never.
     
  38. oldn00b

    oldn00b Champion (890) Feb 23, 2015 Virginia
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    For me something like that is huge - the power of suggestion. Once someone says "I get this huge note of ____" I go looking and more times than not I either taste it or convince myself I do.

    I also agree with @VetsPackage in regards to smell. I was trying 4Beans last night and at first for the life of me didn't get vanilla. I went and stuck my nose in a jar of vanilla beans to remind my nose/brain what real vanilla smells like and lo-and behold there it was.
     
  39. 12tb

    12tb Initiate (144) May 18, 2011 Iowa

    I think this is a little ridiculous. For most here, this is a hobby. To the OP, remember that you're drinking beers to enjoy them, not just see how many different things you can taste. There's no need for formal training. Drinking beers on your own will do just fine.

    For your purposes, I think esimonoff nailed it. Drink lots of beers, develop your vocabulary, and stick with what YOU taste. At least half of the reviews on here that note ~25 different tasting flavors are vastly exaggerated. I've drank with those people plenty of times. Don't compare yourself against them. A better exercise is to keep your own tasting notes over the course of 6 months. Then, compare your notes at month 6 from your notes at month 1. It's likely you'll see a marked improvement in how well you're experiencing the beer. Fast forward a year, and you'll see a similar marked improvement.

    In your travels drinking beer, you'll undoubtedly hear something like this: "MMMMMMMMMM, I'm getting wood chips, skunk hair, pencil eraser, marmalade, and, is that..? Yes, I think it is.. traces of Giraffe shit. AHHHH, this beer is incredible!" Ignore it.
     
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  40. DoctorZombies

    DoctorZombies Poo-Bah (3,557) Feb 1, 2015 Florida
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    A thoughtful question...and many thoughtful responses supra...what little can be added by me to the conversation is that regardless of your age, experience, and the tongue that you are blessed to have, your enthusiasm for the endeavor coupled with contemplative reflection on the beverage in front of you, over time, you will taste those "subtle" flavors (sorry for the run on sentence) and when you do, you will know it and smile...keep at it! Cheers!
     
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