Hello and welcome to our 2nd installment.
Today I’d like to dovetail from my last topic on achieving a perfect pour and the corresponding glassware and discuss sampling beers. It’s more complicated than you might think, especially if you are engaging in a session trying various brews, or simply want to experience all the nuance of a particular beer. I know my craft beer brethren: you are a promiscuous bunch! No harm there, I certainly do my fair share of shall we say sampling, but let me help shed some insight into how you might perceive or maintain the fairest assessment.
There’s one very important thing to remember: It’s likely that nothing will be perceived with as much of a neutral palate as that first sip/beer you try. This is especially true if the first beer you are having has bold character. Your palate shifts and morphs with the embrace of all the flavors and aromas you experience, and almost needs to be rebooted after an impactful drink. Some folks are more adept at understanding how their respective assessment may shift (qualified judges, for example) but in my observation many simply do not understand this. I’ve seen many superb brews receive less than stellar reviews because they followed a different yet equally expressive beer; its attributes muted by a shifted palate/perception. A strong argument for bringing back the time-honored tradition of sticking with one brew throughout a session. But even with that, the palate will fatigue and somehow the subsequent pours won’t be as magnificent as that first one. Welp, that’s just one of the trade-offs of being a fallible human and not a perfect robot.
Taking a break in between each sample helps. Try drinking a full glass of water, and sit with that for a while to help your palate and sinuses reset. Pretzels/crackers are classic neutralizers too. Folding in a good chunk of time in between to even the playing field is also a factor (yes it’s very hard to keep from reaching for that next pour but if you’re aiming for true perception, 10-15 minutes minimum is critical in my experience. Ouch – Sometimes one must suffer to achieve mastery!
I mentioned sinuses and I’m sure you’re already aware, flavor perception is greatly linked to aroma (which is why if you sample something with your nostrils pinched you won’t perceive much of anything). So taking a good whiff of the brew is key before consuming. How hearty a whiff you take is a factor, a strong inhale will net a different result because you are introducing more than what is being released directly above the glass. I like to inhale gently and move my nose around the surface of the brew, maybe 2-3 inches above the head. Let that experience set in before taking a sip.
How clear are your passages at the time of sampling by the way? Allergies, a cold, or stuffiness in general will dramatically compromise the ability to perceive. Because my assessment of our brews is critical, I do so at home in a humidity-controlled and air-purified room that helps ensure my perception is to spec. A brewery floor is the worst place to sample – the smells of fermentation, dry-hopping, mashing, sanitation, etc all fill the air and adversely skew perception. One tip if you are unsure of the condition of your sinuses and want to go next level while doing something that is good for your health – invest in a Navage. This is essentially a battery-operated neti pot that circulates a warm saline solution thru your passages. Very effective and invigorating! But trust me, it’s best to do it in private and over a sink. ‘Nuff said on that.
Sample size is a consideration if you plan on trying a number of brews. If you’re going to try many, keep each sample to 5oz, giving your palate a fighting chance to stay neutral.
How slowly do you sip? Or do you gulp? Do you let the liquid swish around your mouth? Do you let it hit the front, middle or back of your tongue as it goes down? All important factors in how you perceive the nuance of a beer. Me – I do a bit of all of the above to try to average out the experience of the general consumer rather than concentrate on how I might consume when I’m assessing any SingleCut release. But play around with these techniques to see which you enjoy most.
Finally, for the most accurate assessment I believe taking a number of days off from consuming any alcohol beforehand is a factor. I aim for a bare minimum of three days if I need to taste test a brew for analysis.
I hope this has been insightful and of use. Of course disregarding all of the above and going back to just drinking beer is the right answer too if that satisfies you! Hope to see you for our next month’s installment, cheers.
Founder & Chief Creative Officer