Craft beer tasting: Savour the flavour with every sip

We’re all familiar with the subtle art of wine-tasting – give it a sniff and swirl before swishing it down (let’s be honest, no one ever spits) and passing lofty comments about tannins. But what about craft beer tasting? While not quite as la-di-da, there’s still a fine art to savouring each sip of a perfectly balanced craft brew. The caramel liquid, heady aromas, velvety finish – flavours every bit as complex as a well-aged bottle of red. Indeed, the depth and difference in taste from one craft beer to the next are what make the growing industry so exciting. Every brewer puts careful thought into the combination of ingredients and the flavour profile they aim to achieve. At 1000 Hills Brewery, for example, we like to experiment with styles and flavours, with a strong emphasis on food pairings.

Developing a feel of the different notes in each craft beer is not as difficult as you imagine. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to wow your friends with your refined palate. Are you ready to take your love of craft beer up a notch and become a tasting pro? Gather your senses and let’s begin.

Craft beer tasting in 4 easy steps

We know, you’re raring to get going, but before you start make sure you line your stomach with a good meal. We all know what happens when you consume alcohol on an empty tummy. Not pretty! Try eating at least thirty minutes before, giving the spicy foods a miss as these can affect your taste buds. It’s also wise to avoid wearing any strong perfumes or aftershaves which could overpower the scent of your beer.

Step 1: Preparation is key

There’s nothing more refreshing than cracking open a cold one and glugging it down. Right? But if you want to master the art of craft beer tasting, it pays to take your time. Don’t whip the cap off straight after fetching your brew from the fridge. The temperature of the liquid can impact on the taste experience, muting some of the more subtle flavours. So, if you are planning on a proper tasting, let your beer thaw a little before proceeding. Also, don’t skip the glass. Pouring your beer into the optimum vessel is vital if you want to release the intoxicating aromas. (Read up on which glasses are paired with which beers).

Step 2: Drink with your eyes

Forget the saying “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” when craft beer tasting. There’s much to glean from the outward appearance of your artisanal brew. The colour, clarity and even the head all tell a tale of the delicate flavours. To begin, examine the colour of your beer. Is it light gold, deep amber or darkening towards black? Light beers indicate a mild malt flavouring with hints of toast or grain. A rich amber colour suggests caramel and toffee notes, while a darker colouring conveys tones of coffee and chocolate. Next, look at the clarity of your beer. Is it clear or cloudy? A hazy appearance doesn’t necessarily indicate poor quality – it points towards the style. Lastly, examine the head. The level of carbonation affects the feel on your palate. Soft, whipped cream peaks have a smooth, creamy finish, while light, zesty bubbles indicate a drier finish.

Step 3: Breathe in the wafting aroma

Now that you’ve had an eyeful of your bubbling brew, it’s almost time to taste. But first, bring your glass to your nose and take a good long whiff. Your sense of smell plays a valuable role in how you perceive different tastes. Breathing in the subtle aromas before taking your first sip will help prime your palate for the complex flavours hidden in your brew. Floral hops, fragrant caramel, traces of fresh fruits – take your time to identify various notes before moving on to the next step. Don’t forget to give your glass a gentle swirl first to release and enhance the aroma.

Step 4: It’s all about the mouthfeel

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the craft beer tasting. As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to gulp down that crucial first swig. Instead, start with a small sip and swirl the liquid around your mouth, reaching every corner of your palate. Keep the scents you identified earlier in your mind as you establish the delicate balance of flavours dancing on your tongue. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Also, take note of the mouthfeel when swishing the beer across your tongue. Is it crisp and prickly, thick and creamy? Does it make you want to go in for another sip? All these factors combine to bring you maximum enjoyment when sipping on a well-brewed craft beer. Although, whether you enjoy your draft or not ultimately boils down to personal preference.

Now you know the steps to follow, are you inspired to get craft beer tasting? Join us at the brewery on the weekend and put your skills to the test. We offer free brewery tours, followed by complimentary tastings. Booking is essential, so pop us a mail on trevor@craftbrewers.co.za or call 031 777 1566 to book your next tour.