Drinking beer is a sensual experience. Consuming beer (or any food, for that matter) should be a full sensory experience; the more senses involved, the more you’ll remember the experience — positive or not.
When barbecuing a steak, you don’t just see the meat cooking on the grill; you hear the sizzle and pop of its juices and smell its tantalizing aromas wafting through the air. When you taste the steak, you not only savor the flavor but also describe it in a tactile manner — for example, you may say that it’s moist and tender or dry and tough as shoe leather.
Transfer these mental notes to tasting beer. When pouring a beer into a (clean) glass, listen for the plop-plop of the liquid and the fizzing of the escaping carbonation. But wait — don’t drink it yet! See the tiny bubbles race upward only to get lost in a layer of dense foam. Watch the head rise and swell up over the lip of the glass. Breathe in the full bouquet of aromas emanating from the beer. Taste the many flavors of the grains, hops, and other ingredients. Feel the viscosity of the beer and the prickly effervescence of the carbonation on your tongue and palate. Savor the lingering flavors of the aftertaste.
You don’t want any distractions when you’re seriously tasting beer. Use a glass large enough to hold a whole bottle. And no frosted glassware, please! Subtle and nuanced flavors are difficult to discern if the beer is too cold.
Beer tasting has a particular order. Some of the most important tasting work is done before you even drink!
Smell: Check aroma and bouquet.
Look: Check appearance.
Taste: Check flavor.
Touch: Check body and mouthfeel.
Reflect: Check final judgment.
Of course, you can just skip all these steps and go ahead and drink, noting only whether you like the beer. But if you ever want to tell someone about a beer you like, you’ll find all this discussion helpful.
Although the eyes, nose, and mouth are the key players, the ears can give you some important information as well. Hearing beer is pretty much limited to its carbonation (fizzzt) upon opening the bottle or the sound of breaking glass when you drop one. If the beer doesn’t fizz when you open it, be prepared for a flat beer. If it doesn’t fizz when you drop it, no loss (though it’s a mess to clean up and you have to grab another beer).
Following from the steps of the five senses, you can easily see that you evaluate beer in five corresponding areas. Each beer style should have certain characteristics in each area, and these characteristics are what beer judges look for in beer competitions; on the other hand, as a consumer, you need only note the characteristics for comparison, except, of course, for affection or rejection.