When it comes to tasting beer, we here at Summit Brewing Co. are experts. After all, it really is our job!
So much so, we have a group that’s fully dedicated to tasting beer to ensure the quality of each and every batch of beer we brew. These expert tasters have refined their skills and we’re sharing a peek into their seasoned approach to being master tasters!
Before we even taste a beer, we have to look at the beer. We begin with visual aspects of the beer because this can tell us a lot of what we should taste. Is the color dark or light? This is determined by the malts used. A darker beer probably has more roasted malts, and may then have more roasted flavors. Is it brilliant or hazy? What does the head look like? Good beer should have a head that lasts and leaves lacing as you sip. Pro Tip: Hold the beer against white paper to see brilliance.
After visually examining the beer, we move to smell. This is often the most difficult stage of tasting, in part because the aroma is not just experienced as you bring the beer to your mouth but also throughout sipping and swallowing. It’s also through smell that we find the most descriptors and flavors, more so than even tasting as the flavors that you perceive with your tongue are limited to sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. This is where your vocabulary will be tested as well. For Extra Pale Ale, do you smell just orange? Or is it a candied orange? Or the orange zest? Is it malt, or is it graham cracker, Honey Nut Cheerios or bread dough? What does earthiness really equate to? Where are you experiencing the aroma? Expand your horizons! Pro Tip: We always recommend you have a glass of water handy to wash out between sips and to smell the corner of your arm to get to scent zero before smelling each beer! If you really want to taste like a professional, also avoid eating or drinking 30 minutes before you taste.
Next up is finally taste! This is where you can identify the overall taste of the beer — sweet, bitter, sour, certain styles may have some salt but if you are tasting umami that is an issue! Focusing on where each taste hits in your mouth too will help you determine the overall balance of the beer. Pro Tip: Take one sip first just get an overall experience of the beer. Then on your second and third try to focus on bitter and sweet.
Finally, we finish with mouthfeel. Does it linger in your mouth? Is there a creaminess to the body or does it sting with effervescence? Pro Tip: Summit brews beers with a mouthfeel that invite you to take another sip.
Here’s how we’d break it down for a beer like Summit Extra Pale Ale:
You should see a brilliant bronze color with a nice white head and tight, tiny bubbles. Aromas should be orange pith, orange marmalade, graham cracker, caramel and earthiness/grass. The taste should be very balanced with a light sweetness up front and soft bitterness at the end. It finishes clean with moderate drying mouthfeel and no lingering flavors.
While enjoying a pint of beer is a pleasurable experience in-and-of itself, explore how much more you can enjoy its flavors by elevating the experience with these tasting tips!