How To Taste Beer Like a Beer Judge

By Paul Marshall 

The more you know, the more you enjoy…

You don’t have to be a beer snob to increase your enjoyment of beer. But a lot of work went into creating that frothy beverage with a history that dates back 10,000 year. A little knowledge can help you get the full enjoyment of the glass of whatever kind of beer you drink.Under the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, beer should consist only of barley, hops, water, and yeast. German Wheat beers were somehow a tolerated exception. Craft brewers occasionally use rye as well. Many of the large brewers increase their profits by using corn or rice as a barley substitute.

Beer can be divided up into two categories: Ales, and Lagers. Ales are created with top-fermenting yeast at higher temperature while Lagers are made at a cooler temperature with a bottom-fermenting yeast that is a step-brother of the ale yeast.

Lagers ferment slowly in a cold environment, producing a delicate beer with the sweetness of the malted barley balanced by the slight bitterness and herbal spiciness of hops. Ales ferment faster, producing a beer that is bolder; it also expresses the sweet and bitter characters of malted barley and hops, but with fl

avors that are fruity and spicy, derived from esters that are a product of the ale fermentation.

Judges evaluate beers using the following categories: Appearance, Aroma, Taste, Body or Mouth Feel, and Aftertaste. First I will go through Appearance and Aroma, using the examples of three general beer styles: Light Pilsner (Lager), India Pale Ale (IPA), and Dry Stout (Ale). I will then talk about Taste, Body and Aftertaste; these involve the best part of the beer experience: drinking it!

A beer’s appearance (with the exception of wheat beers and some others) should be clear, even i

f the beer is too dark to see through. (Your cell phone can double as a small flashlight behind the glass.) The beer should have good carbonation, with fine bubbles and a long-lasting head. A light Pilsner should be the color of straw or gold. An IPA can range from a gold to amber in shade. A Stout should be dark, almost black, but can have some reddish hues as well.

Aroma is possibly my favorite quality in beer. It can be damaged by heat, light, and age. Certain smells can tip you off that a beer may not be quite right. If your beer smells like a skunk, it means that the bottled beer has been exposed to light. If your beer smells like cardboard, it is oxidized. This can be the result of age or exposure to heat or multiple temperature changes. If your beer smells like butter or butterscotch, then it has Diacetyl due to incomplete fermentation. A beer that smells like

cooked corn has residual Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS). (A major brewery in the US makes their beer with perceptible DMS. They do it on purpose, it is part of their recognizable smell and taste.) These are the most common aromatic flaws in beer; there are others, but they should not be common in professional beers.

Enough about the

bad smells, now for the good aromas. Aroma in beer is a product of the ingredients and the fermentation. In a beer, you can smell the hops and malted barley, and the results of the fermentation process. For example, a Light Pilsner should have a slightly spicy floral smell from the hops, and a slight bready sweetness from the malt. An IPA should have some sweet malt character that is often toasty, bready, or can have a slight toffee or

caramel smell if it an English-style IPA. These sweeter aromas are counterbalanced by spicy, citrusy, floral aromas from the hops. Generally, English IPAs tend to emphasize the aromas of the barley, while American IPAs favor higher hopping rates showcasing the hops. The dark roasted grains in Stouts can give this beer a coffee or chocolate aromas.

The flavor of a beer should be a balance between the sweetness of the malted barley versus grassy, fruity bitterness from the hops. Depending on the beer styles, this can range from very sweet to very dry and bitter, but the hops and malted barley should both be present. Body and Mouth Feel refer to the texture of the beer based on its density, carbonation, and ‘warmth’ due to the level of alcohol. Aftertaste is the

final experience of the beer: Was the final taste sweet, dry, bitter? Did you want more?

A Pilsner should balance the bready sweetness of the malted barley, and the spicy citrus character of the hops. The beer should be very clean, crisp, and fresh. It should have a light to light-medium body, with effervescence. The finish or aftertaste should be an expression of the sweetness of the malt, balanced with a crisp dry minerality.

An IPA will be hoppier than a Pilsner, but this bitterness from the hops will be counterbalanced by sweetness from the malted barley. Common flavors are of caramel, toffee bread, and fruit. The beer should be medium in body, lower carbonation than a Pilsner, and with a higher presence of alcohol. The aftertaste should be a balance of the grains and the hop bitterness, with more emphasis on the Barley in an English IPA, and more on the hops in an American IPA. Dry Stouts will have the roasted flavors of coffee along with chocolate and dried fr
In describing Pilsners, IPAs, and Stouts, I am using generalizations. While Pilsners are  much more specific in style, IPAs and Stouts come in many different styles. But rather than reading a boring article about drinking beer–wouldn’t you rather have one? I know I would.uit. They are generally low in carbonation, but the best have a creamy texture, and like a Pilsner will have a dry minerality, but with a roasted-coffee-chocolate finish.

Cheers!

PS For more good information about judging beer, go to the Beer Judge Certification Program at http://www.BJCP.org  .

About the Author

Paul Marshall is, among other things, a professional beer judge, a member of the Celebrator Beer News Tasting Panel, and Co-Founder of the wine-appreciation group The Pompous Twits. 

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One response to “How To Taste Beer Like a Beer Judge

  1. Good stuff, though I’m a bit disappointed that the family of wheat beers was skipped over. Those tend to be my favorites. I’m a fan of Witbiers and Hefeweizens, especially Deschutes’ Hefeweizen, Schlafly’s Hefeweizen, Paulaner, as well as Shock Top and Blue Moon. Leinenkugel makes a good wheat beer as well.

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