Sometimes it’s intimidating to try new things. I frequently hear folks say “I just don’t like beer.” To be honest, I didn’t really have any interest or affection for beer up until a couple years ago, when the handsome hop headed husband of mine finally convinced me to give beer another try. I conceded, tried something new, and wound up liking it! My relatively recent change in opinion, also means I’m pretty “green” when it comes to this world of craft beer. I think that’s important to note should you follow our adventures, and I hope you do. It will likely mean that we’ll be trying new types and brands of beer together. It also means, I can understand your struggle with trying to understand your preferences and to relay to others the qualities of beer types you prefer or dislike. Here are some of my tasting notes as you embark on this process as a seasoned veteran, or for the first time.
Allow yourself the opportunity to try a beer three different times before you form a final conclusion. I say this because, there are so many environmental circumstances that may have impacted the tasting experience, that a one-time sip (or gulp) isn’t enough for you to form a conclusion. You could have tried the beverage at a temperature that wasn’t ideal, you could have a palate that has been tainted by certain foods or other drinks, you could have just not been in the mood for that particular type of beer at that moment in time. Three separate tastes, with an open mind, will help you to form a more honest opinion of the beer. Who knows, you may still wind up not liking it, but you may actually grow to enjoy it!
It’s okay to have your own opinion and it’s okay for that thought process to differ from that of the “experts.” I value the existence of resources, such as publications like Beer Advocate because they can provide information on a large variety of brews. That being said, I rarely refer to those types of publications before trying beer because I don’t want my thought process to be skewed by someone else’s opinion. If I pick up on notes of coffee when trying a beer, and no one else brings it up, does that mean my senses were “wrong?” No, because everyone’s palate is different. If you like a beer, that the experts have written off, who cares. If you like it, enjoy! If you disagree with other resources and hate a beer everyone else seems to love, that’s totally fine too (as long as you’ve given yourself the opportunity to abide by my first point, of trying it at least three times).
Make a note of the entire tasting process. It will enhance your senses. Take a moment to observe the hue, clarity, and carbonation level of the beer as you pour it and as it settles in your chosen glass. Take a sip of the beer after you’ve made an observation about its smell. Do you pick up on smells that are reflected in what you taste? Let the beer rest on your tongue before you swallow. This may allow you to notice bitterness or even sweetness that you didn’t sense when it touched the tip of your tongue. After the liquid is consumed, do you notice any sort of aftertaste? Are these flavors accentuated by the food you’re consuming?
Ask questions. If you’re in a group, speak with your fellow beer buddies to see what they’re picking up on in relation to flavor and smells. Sometimes, after chatting, you will notice the things they’re mentioning because you are more aware of them. The same is true the other way around. If you’re picking up on flavors like citrus, or spices, your fellow malt minded compadres may not have noticed until you brought it up.
Don’t judge a beer by it’s label. Just like with wine, the most expensive beers are not always the best and the least costly beverages, don’t always mean poor quality. I’m a sucker for marketing, I admit it. I will get drawn into making a selection based on the imagery on the packaging. Sometimes, I also find myself making assumptions about the contents based on the price tag. It’s important to try to remind yourself that certain businesses are more commercial in nature, which means they can be produced in such a way that manufacturing cost is reduced, thus trickling down to the consumer. Just because it costs less, doesn’t mean it’s a bad beer. Additionally, some start up businesses, cannot afford fancy graphic design firms yet, or simply do not want to. If there isn’t a clever drawing of a abominable snowman cutting firewood on the label, that doesn’t mean the beer inside isn’t worth trying. Take Maine Brewing, as an example. They are a well established company with a reputation for making some amazing beers, particularly their beers like “Mo” and “Lunch.” Their labels are incredibly simplistic, with no imagery at all in some cases.
Have fun! Don’t take yourself, or the tasting process too seriously. In the end, it’s just beer. Enjoy your beverage of choice, and drink responsibly. Cheers!