You are probably wondering if beer should even be tasted. Isn’t beer a thirst-quenching drink? Beer, the oldest and most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, is extremely interesting as it contains many vital vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins.
Especially many of them are found in unfiltered beer, as it is the decomposed yeast that ensures that these vitamins are found in the sediment of a bottle of beer. A proper beer tasting reveals all the secrets of premium beer.
Beer tasting starts at the basics. / Photo: Jan Kocjan
How do we differentiate beers?
Beer is divided into 3 groups according to which yeasts we use, namely we know:
LAGER beers: these are bottom-fermenting beers where special lager yeasts, adapted to low temperatures, are used for alcoholic fermentation. Alcoholic fermentation of beer takes place at a temperature of 5-13 degrees Celsius. Beer ferments a bit longer due to low temperatures and that is why it is necessary for the beer to age in tanks for some time after fermentation. Hence the name lager or ležak in Slovenian.
Both Laško and Union are lager beers. The most famous styles are pilsner, light lager, dark lager, bock, German Marzen, etc.
ALE beers: these are early-fermenting beers where special ale yeasts, adapted to higher temperatures, are used for fermentation. Fermentation usually takes a short time at temperatures between 20-22 degrees Celsius. Due to faster fermentation and higher temperatures, esters are released as a by-product, which affects the much more pronounced fruit aromas of such beers.
Craft breweries mostly produce ale beers because of their more pronounced flavours and aromas. The most famous styles of this group are pale ale, India pale ale (IPA), porter, stout, red ale, amber ale, etc.
SOUR beers are formed by adding different cultures (bacteria) to beer. These are usually selected strains of lactic acid bacteria that convert the sugars in beer into acidic products. Such beers are naturally sour. The most famous among them are Belgian lambic beers.
This is how we classify beers at the tasting in our brewery. From the easiest to the hardest. We often hear from our guests that this is the easiest way to remember different types of beer. / Photo: Jan Kocjan
How do we prepare beers for tasting?
If we have a range of different styles of beer in front of us, the first thing we need to do is to sort the beers and prepare the right order. As with wine, we start here with lighter and gentler flavours, low-alcohol beers should also be included at the beginning.
We always start with light bright lagers or pale ales. We then place beers with greater bitterness and higher colour in the middle, as such beers also have a more intense taste. Beers of the same styles are classified so that they are graded by alcohol level – the higher it is, the closer towards the end of the line the beer goes. Dark beers are placed at the end, especially beers of higher alcohol content and stronger character, such as stout.
Another important thing before we start tasting is to always have a clean glass. It is best to rinse it with cold water before each beer sample. In this way, we get rid of any detergent residues that negatively affect the aroma and taste. A clean glass is also very important because of the durability of the foam itself.
We often lecture about our pioneering work and tastings of craft beer at the Biotechnical Faculty in Ljubljana. / Photo: Personal archive of Pivovarna Vizir
Beers of different styles are also tasted at different temperatures. The serving temperature is extremely important as it strongly influences the release of aromas and flavours.
– Lager beer is best served at a temperature between 6 and 9 degrees Celsius, as it is best when chilled.
– Light ales come to life at a temperature of 7-11 degrees Celsius. Beers of a stronger character are served at slightly higher temperatures so that we can detect all the variety of flavours and aromas. The recommended temperature of the stronger ales is thus about 13 degrees Celsius.
– Beer styles such as barley wine, beer aged in kegs or matured beers are served at room temperature, similar to whiskey or cognac. Only in this way are we able to experience the full range of flavours and aromas that these styles offer us.
The most important thing is that we have a good time tasting beer and enjoy a quality drink. The photo captures the moment at the tasting when we were visited by members of the Bela Krajina Students’ Club. A big part of our mission is to make both young and old aware of craft beer and to spread the culture of beer drinking. / Photo: Jan Kocjan
5 steps of proper beer tasting
We have come to the point where we can properly taste beer and explore the world of flavours and aromas of this great drink. Pour the beer into a clean, water-rinsed glass and start tasting in accordance with the steps below.
- Evaluate the appearance and take a brief sniff: bring the glass to your nose and smell the contents gently. Also focus on the beer’s colour and clarity. The colour of the beer tells us a lot about what the beer will taste like. Light beers are more delicate in taste, while amber or copper colour already suggests that the beer will taste more caramel-like. The completely dark colour of the beer will be reminiscent of coffee, roasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate.
- Spin the beer in the glass: We turn the beer in a slightly different way than we do with wine; namely, we cover the glass with the palm of one hand and gently turn it with the other hand. This will release additional aromas. Then move your hand away and smell the beer more fully.
- Take a small sip and hold the beer in your mouth for a few seconds: do not swallow the beer immediately but try to move the sip in your mouth to recognise a different range of flavours. At this stage you will already taste everything that is in the beer – gentle biscuit notes, caramel notes, chocolate, etc.
- Take a bigger sip and swallow the beer. When you swallow beer, your taste buds also detect bitterness, as the receptors for this are located right at the root of the tongue. Now you will notice how bitter the beer is. In styles like IPA, the bitterness is more pronounced and also lasts for some time.
- Enjoy your beer! Tasting is behind you, and now it’s time to refill your glass to the top with beer and enjoy the flavour. Remember to have the right amount of foam, which should always be at the height of one finger width, so that the beer in the glass also looks attractive.
Maja Imširović, univ.dipl.ing.zivil.tehnol. and the first official craft brewer with a 2nd degree beer taster