Beer is about more than just taste. How it looks in the glass, how it smells when you raise it to your lips, and how it feels when you take a sip are all part of the beer drinking experience. In this section you can learn more about how to fully understand and appreciate your beer.
The first sense to get involved in evaluating your beer is sight. Basically, your beer should look inviting the first time you see it. So, what are you looking for?
Filtered beers such as lagers should be bright and clear. Even yeasty beers such as wheat beers shouldn’t be too cloudy, and the yeast should be evenly distributed without clumps.
Different beers have different colours, but they should be true to type. A stout should be black, not brown, and light lagers should be golden yellow without red or brown tones. The most important aspect of colour is consistency – so when you pour a glass of your favourite beer, you should see the same colour each time.
Most popular lager beer types should have a moderate head and when correctly served will be about 2cm high. The head should collapse slowly, and leave a lacing of foam on the glass as it is consumed. Some beers, such as Guinness, display a thick, dense foam that takes several minutes to pour correctly, while in some countries pilseners come with a very high head. At the other end of the spectrum, English ales and many US beers have no head to speak of.
The Aromatic Experience
Smell is the second sense to come into play when enjoying a glass of beer. As you raise the glass to your mouth the aroma rises to your nostrils and, as you drink, the smell combines with the taste to create the total beer flavour.
Humans can detect more than 50 primary aroma sensations, compared to just three primary sensations for colour and four for taste. So what might you smell when you enjoy a beer?
This fruity, sweet aroma comes from the yeast. An example is a banana characteristic, but if it is more pronounced it may give a solvent-like aroma.
The hops can impart a resinous, green, grassy, floral or tangy aroma to the beer.
Malt can create a sweet, floury, brewhouse aroma.
Sometimes called burnt, the butterscotch or coffee characteristic comes from the roasted or caramel malt.
Getting your nose involved in your beer drinking experience is also important from a quality assurance perspective, because your nose can be used to detect problems with a beer. Some smells that may signal a problem include:
Papery or cardboard scents, which come from aged or oxidised beer.
Honey or buttery scents, which is also called a diacetic flavour. This can arise through poorly controlled fermentation or bacterial infection.
Skunky or sulphury aromas, which come from light-affected beer.