6 Beer Tasting Mistakes We've All Made Before
Important Note before we dive into our beer drinking mistakes. Today we are specifically going to discuss tasting beer. I know it might sound funny, tasting beer, drinking beer, it's all the same. Tasting beer is the act of analyzing our beer and using all of the tools we have at our disposal to figure out what is going on in the beer. While tasting beer we're going to talk about the history of the style, the complex flavor notes, the culture where the beer was developed, ingredients involved, etc.(if this sounds fun, check out our monthly beer subscription box). Drinking beer is simply the act of consuming the liquid. Tasting beer and drinking beer are both great! I personally involve myself in both, but it's important to note that they are different.
So here we are, the 6 beer tasting mistakes you should be avoiding.
1. The chilled glass
A chilled glass on a hot day is refreshing, thirst quenching, and downright delicious. Unfortunately it's a big no go for tasting beer. The biggest reason is that when the beer gets too cold, it basically dulls the flavor of the beer. It goes from tasting like (hopefully) delicious craft beer, to tasting like cold. The beer will lose all of its complexity and when you're tasting beer you're looking for that complexity. Not only does it dull the flavor of the beer, but having a chilled glass will also water down your beer! When you pour into the chilled glass condensation will occur effectively diluting your beer. No thanks, I'll have my water on the side. The final, and most off putting, is sanitation. When washing a beer glass, soap is used to get all the nasty bits out of there. When that glass is frozen directly after washing it there is going to soap residue left behind, giving you a soapy beer. If you do want to get your beer as cold as possible maybe you can try freezing the beer instead?
2. Straight from the can
When tasting beer, you should be using all the information that's readily available to try and figure out what's going on in the beer. Two vital avenues for information are lost when we drink from the can. Sight and aroma
What does the beer look like? Is it clear, hazy, dark, light, etc.
What does it smell like? Am I getting huge grapefruit notes, subtle bubblegum, a distinct lack of aromatics, etc.
Obviously while in the can, you just can't see the beer. Seeing the beer is going to start giving us hints at what to look for and what to expect when we taste the beer. Noting our carbonation, the head retention, color, and clarity.
While you can smell the beer from the can, you're really losing out on a lot of the aromatics if it's not poured into a glass. Even further, the type of glass can change how the beer will smell. Different beers will perform better or worse in different glasses. So much information is gained when smelling the beer. Why do we get so much more aromatics when pouring the beer into a glass? Foam.
Throw away all of your college beer knowledge and embrace the foam. Foam helps with aromatics and is the best tasting part of the beer. It is sweet and delicious.
3. Old beer
A 12% bourbon barrel aged stout, that's been aging for years, can be a super awesome experience! What isn't awesome is an old, stale, IPA. You want to drink IPAs as quick as possible. The general rule of thumb is that anywhere under three months is good for an IPA. Anything past that date and the beer is going to start to lose it's flavor and end up tasting stale.
There are a few ways to make sure you're drinking a fresh IPA. If you're grabbing cans at a bottle shop, look for the 'canned on' date or the 'best by' date. Typically these dates will be printed on the bottom of the can and formatted as month/ day / year. Some breweries will use an in-house date system, but this is becoming less common.
If there's no canned on date or if you're getting a pint at a bar or brewery the simplest way is to just ask the person serving the beer. A quick, "Hey do you know how fresh that beer is" will never hurt. If there are multiple IPAs you're debating on getting, "Do you know the freshest IPA on the menu?" will probably yield you the best results in getting a delicious beer.
4. Bad food pairing
The purpose of a good food pairing is to elevate both the food and the drink. Ideally the two blend together so well that they elevate each other and make each other better then they would be by themselves. It's not an easy task to accomplish, and unfortunately when it goes wrong the opposite of what we want to happen, happens. Both the food and the beer are worse by associate. There are a lot of different rules when it comes to food pairing but I have two simple ones I like to follow. Strength with strength, and stay within the culture or region.
Strength with strength means that match high flavor dishes with stronger beers and low flavor dishes with lighter beers. If you have a huge steak dinner, you don't want to have a 5% ABV Belgian white because the steak will just overpower it, you need to do something with a higher ABV to match the strength of the steak.
Staying with the culture is simple. Match the style of beer you're drinking to the culture that makes the food you'll be eating. It's simple, the beer in the region has grown with the cuisine in the region, both influence each other, and they have been bent and molded over time to match up well.
A great example (that follows both of the above 'rules') is if you're eating Mexican fish tacos you'll want to do a Mexican style light lager. We have a light dish, so we match it with a light beer. We're having a dish from Mexico so we get a beer that was created in Mexico. Easy.
5. Over consumption
I've been there, you've been there, we've all been there. Having one to many happens, it's understandable, no big deal. For tasting beer though, it's a big no go. Not only will getting drunker just inhibit your tasting ability but you're going to run into serious palate fatigue as well! Your palate can only take so many 12% triple IPAs before it just goes numb and you end up not being able to taste anything anymore. Drink some water, take your time, eat a pretzel, and give your palate some well needed rest.
Expand your horizons! Tried a sour beer three years ago and hated it? Your taste buds change over time, you might warm up to them a little! Tried a brewery a few years ago and it wasn't all the great? Try another beer from them, and see if they've gotten better. Let go of your preconceived notions and focus on the beer in the moment. We have to do our best to go into every tasting with an optimistic outlook, if we go in with a negative state of mind then I guarantee the beer won't taste as good as it could have.