How to Evaluate Beer

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kadai everybody I'm Josh Micah for craft

beer and brewing.com we're we're here

today in my home brewery to talk about

evaluating beer I got into beer

evaluation because I was elected

president of the Stony Creek home

brewers and at the time the only

certified judge certified beer judge in

the club was our outgoing president so I

thought this is something I should

probably have on my resume if I'm going

to take charge of the of the homebrew

club and so I I took a class and sat for

the beer judge certification program

exam and that process opened up my eyes

to how technical and wonderful and

detailed beer valuation can be it can

give you a whole new language for

talking about the Aeron ways of thinking

about there and it ultimately makes you

a better Brewer

which is the real advantage of it

because you can become your own best and

worst critic when we're talking about

evaluating beer we're going beyond basic

preference there's nothing wrong with

using that as a starting point and for

most people whether you like a beer or

not is really the only sort of

evaluation that matters but the deeper

you get into the topic of evaluating

beer the more we need to move away from

from simple preference in other words

not not just did I like it or didn't I

like it

but we also need to get into why you

preferred or didn't prefer a beer and

ideally what we do is get we get away

from subjective standards entirely

objective evaluation requires first of

all that we are willing to set aside

what we prefer to drink in beer when we

evaluated their style so beer that I

don't enjoy drinking and as a result I

may not enjoy evaluating them but that

doesn't mean I can't distinguish between

a good quality example of a style of

beer I don't like and a bad quality

example of that for this by the same

token there are styles of beer that I

enjoyed very much that even when they're

bad or not well made or have faults III

can still enjoy them but that doesn't

mean I can't evaluate them in an

objective fashion when we're talking

about evaluation the easiest way to go

about it is to judge against some

objective standard luckily there are

guides that are published by a couple of

I wouldn't say you know authorizing

bodies but there are organizations that

produce style guidelines for beer the

two most commonly cited are probably

probably the beer judge certification

program who publish a set of style


for 30 32 different categories of beer

with about a hundred substyles

underneath those and then we also have

the Brewers Association guy style

guidelines which cover about 140 sub

styles the purpose of those the value of

those is that these are compiled by

people who get a lot of different

examples of different styles of beer and

look for commonalities between them and

look for the the ranges of expressions

of flavor that we get from malt from

hops from alcohol

how much bitterness is there generally

to be found in some beers and also which

beers can be called classic examples of

these styles that also are a little bit

anomalous one example of that would be

something like like you know Old Ale

which we think of as a strong ale and

yet one of the classic examples of old

ale is Theakston sold peculiar which is

only about 5% ABV so it they give us a

sort of generalized picture of what beer

styles are but at the same time they

allow for expression within those styles

but judging against those styles lets us

state without worrying about our own

personal preferences whether a beer is a

good fit for that for that style of beer

and at the end of the day beer

evaluation is done best when we're

taking what we expect from a beer and

matching it against what it actually

expresses and then deciding at that

point whether it's something we like or

don't like now that's not to say you

can't like a beer that doesn't fit a

certain style it just means that it

might not be a good representation of

that style

we should never confuse a valuation with

preference the first step obviously is

tasting the beer we can't describe what

we get out of it until we you know put

it in our nose and put it in our mouth

to do this well you need to set yourself

up for success though first we will look

at the conditions under which your

tasting you want to start with a clear

palette you don't want to just have

eaten a lot of spicy food or eating

garlic or something like that something

that's gonna linger with your

perceptions if you smoke you want to

make sure you haven't haven't smoked

recently that you've you know you know

cleared your palate in some fashion

there are certain foods that are good

for clearing palates the coffee is a

good example a sip of coffee is a good

good palate scrubber but usually just

bland starches just crackers bagels etc

so if you know you're going to be trying

beer for the first time or if you're if

you're evaluating beer as part of some


formal setting whether you're judging

beer or whether you're taking part in a

brewing competition and you're part of a

panel of judges or a part of a People's

Choice Award try and clear your palate

out between beers the second thing you

want to look at is the conditions under

which your tasting and this might sound

silly but one of the first goes I had an

evaluating beer I was preparing for the

beer judge certification program exam

and I went to a brew pub with my wife

and she was giving me samples of beer

and I was smelling and tasting and

describing to her exactly what I smelled

and there was one beer rike just could

not smell anything I couldn't get any

room out of it at all and then I all of

a sudden it came to me I saw I said aha

I can smell like green peppers well I

can smell that because someone had just

walked behind me with a plate of nachos

so you have to recognize that the smells

in your environment are going to impact

your perception so you want to in to

whatever degree you can limit drafts

limit the number of you know ambient

smells that are around don't wash your

hands with a strong smelling soap like

you find in a lot of bathrooms like

today I have you know pumpkin waffle

soap in my powder room and if I judge

sorry if I was evaluating beer today

everything would have a nutty aroma to

me so you have to be aware of that I

mean you know that minimize them

entirely you don't have to evaluate beer

in a sterile environment but just be

aware of that and keep it to a minimum

the second thing we want to think about

is not really art conditions but the

conditions of the beer both the

temperature of it and what it's served

in in a perfect world every beer would

probably be served right around cellar

temperatures around 50 degrees

Fahrenheit give or take

beer fresh out of the refrigerator is

probably too cold it's not going to

express itself as readily those Romans

are gonna stay essentially bound up in

solution whereas when the beer is warm

or you get more off-gassing as co2 comes

out of solution and it actually pulls

aromas with it so you want beer served

at the proper temperature too cold and

you're not gonna smell anything too warm

and it might not give the right

impression when compared to when it's

served in proper temperatures the next

thing you want to look at is glassware

and you want to match the glass to

whatever it is you're evaluating beers

have certain you know unique glassware

for for example this is the

is a Stang a colsch Stang and it's

designed specifically to serve Cultch

the native beer of Cologne Germany other

beers tend to present better a lot of

Belgian beers you'll see coming out in

goblets goblets are good for Belgian

beer because they have very complex

aromas and you want to make sure you can

sort of get all of it at once otherwise

would be overpowering something that's a

little more restrained you might want in

sort of a snifter glass because it sort

of captures those aromas and of course

we have the good old fashioned classic

you know Nick pint glasses or just the

traditional shaker pint and each of

these might be the right choice for the

right type of beer and also for our

purposes if you're just evaluating a

range of beers or if you're sharing a

bunch around it can come in handy to

have just a bunch of small rocks glasses

around and just pour smaller samples in

so be aware of it again you don't have

to be s you know a slave to this if you

know if you like to drink everything out

of it for example I love drinking almost

everything out of a no-neck pint glass I

just like Louisville

you know just the feel of it really some

people for dimpled mugs other people

prefer you know snifters

it really doesn't matter but it makes

enough of a difference that if our goal

is to evaluate beer that we want to give

it the best chance it can have to be

what it's supposed to be and so if you

serve you know a double IPA and a

snifter you're probably going to have

too much in the way of hop aroma or

alcohol aroma compared to if you served

in its proper glassware most of beer

evaluation is mainly an exercise in

perception and description you want to

try and break out your flavor

perceptions as minutely as possible and

at the same time you need to be able to

apply language to those that can make

sense to other people so for example we

wouldn't just say something smells hoppy

I mean that's a good start but we

wouldn't want to leave it at that

because hoppy can mean a lot of

different things hops can smell like

herb and earth and pineapple and and

candy I mean you name it so we want to

be as specific as we can and then beyond

that we want to make sure we're

approaching tasting and something like a

systematic way and really using our

whole sensory toolkit to to get as much

out of it as we can nothing is going to

be more valuable to you in terms of

evaluating beer than aroma and you

should be smelling your beer a lot more

frequently than you're doing any of

else do not be shy about getting your

nose down into it you're not really a

craft beer person I don't thing until

you've snorted foam so get right in

there and really enjoy it

and when you smell there's a certain

pattern you should be you know driving

towards and you should smell and then

clear your nose and smell and then clear

your nose the olfactory receptors get

overloaded very quickly because they are

very sensitive which was what makes this

a very good tool for evaluating beer but

I also need you to occasionally need to

reset so you might you might put your

nose in and take a good long sniff but

then to clear your to clear the

mechanism there and sort of reset to

smell again you want to smell something

something else and the easiest way is to

smell yourself

that sounds if you sniff your own sleeve

it will essentially reset your olfactory

receptors a little cup of coffee beans

is fine too but there's nothing easier

than just just smelling your sleeve and

then right back in you go

so smell and smell and smell and in

aroma realize that you're going to smell

things that you don't taste and vice

versa but you should be able to see some

kind of commonality between the aroma

and the flavor and obviously those are

reinforcing so you smell the beer a few

times and you can break out the

perceptions that you smell again be as

specific as you can be and then after

you've smelled a few times you want to

go ahead and taste get enough into your

mouth that you can sort of coat your

whole tongue you don't want to take

these tiny sips and also this isn't wine

we're not swishing it around in our

mouths and then spitting it out you

should swallow every sample that you

taste and in flavor you're gonna try to

break out your perceptions into sort of

initial flavors or dominant flavors

secondary flavors you're gonna want to

note the level of bitterness because

every beer is bitter to some degree and

then you're gonna think about the finish

and the aftertaste is the beer generally

dry or sweet and what flavors linger

behind and that's not gonna all be in

the same sip in most cases you know take

your time and look for a specific thing

every time you take a sip of your beer

and let will give you a much more

well-rounded perception of what you're

tasting and of course every time you sip

go ahead and smell to let those senses

reinforce each other another thing you

might want to do to enhance the the

aroma the aromatics go ahead and swirl

your glass I'm sort of cheating here by


a curved glass but you can do this in

any glass what this is going to do is it

is it aerates the beer and it also

agitates it agitates the beer which

forces co2 out of solution so it pushes

those aromatics up out of the beer and

to the point where you can smell them if

you're a little more extreme you can

actually sort of cap your beer with with

with another glass or I mean you can use

your own hand but then you run the risk

of sort of introducing those aromas in

but what that does is it concentrates

the aromatics in that headspace and as

strange as that sounds you are smelling

individual particles so the more you can

concentrate those the better experience

you're going to get in terms of smelling

and then finally you want to think about

how the beer feels carbonation gives a

certain impression on the tongue alcohol

gives a certain impression on the tongue

water chemistry from certain regions

will make a beer feel Flint e'er or

drier in the mouth think about those

things - they're part of the experience

what's the body of the beer like and

once you have all of that when you have

a description of the ER and of course

appearance I mean look at it it should

be pretty to look at at least to some

degree once you have all of those

perceptions now now you're in a position

to really start evaluating you can ask

yourself does this match what I expect

it if I if someone told you this was a

stout you'd probably have a problem

simply because it's way too pale right

so it's a question of how well those

expectations match what we would expect

given that the beer is called whatever

it's called and then after you've

reached that determination you can then

get into also whether or not you

preferred whether you can let those

subjective evaluations back in but like

I said approach in in something like a

systematic way you don't need a pattern

you don't need to take notes on every

beer but you know smell taste feel and

then just sort of think about the beer

when thinking about what's wrong with

the beer this is too often the default

position of people once they start

taking beer seriously they approach

every pint of beer every pour as an

opportunity to fault find let me

encourage you not to do that we

shouldn't take it that seriously if

there is an obvious fault in the beer

that's fine it's perfectly fine to

notice it but it's it's it's the beer

equivalent of going to the movies with

with a veteran and they point out

everything that's wrong on the unifor

when that's not really what the movies

about okay so don't try to fault find it

sit your detracting from your own

experience and when thinking about

faults keep in mind that your first

question should be is this inhibiting my

percent of the beer that should really

be the first thing in many beers

diacetyl is a fault that that popcorn

movie popcorn butter aroma but in other

beers a it's not a fault and B you might

actually just enjoy the way it presents

in those beers so don't always look at

this as a way to identify something

negative you should be able to approach

a beer by saying that you know flavors

or flavors and fault with the negative

connotation it carries is really about

whether or not it's impacting that

flavor to a degree where you think it's

bringing it down where it's costing at

some points if it's not doing that then

I would say don't obsess about it and

certainly approach every beer with an

eye towards whether it generally tastes

good or not don't go hunting for faults

don't look for a reason to be unhappy

you can be as holistic or as technical

and specific as you like on faults

there's literally nothing wrong with

saying something in this beer just

tastes off to me you don't need to have

the technical chemical or biological

vocabulary to you know explain that

there's an excess of you know of isoamyl

acetate in the beer you can just say no

it just tastes funny

there's nothing wrong with that and you

shouldn't let other people you know

shame you on this one if you if you

don't like the way it tastes there's

nothing wrong with Express in that

opinion even if you can't articulate

exactly what it is that you don't like

some people hear the phrase beer styles

and assume that you're just a curmudgeon

who's out to ruin their fun there's no

rule that says a beer brewed to a

certain style must meet these

characteristics every beer style and the

style guidelines we talked about from

the BJCP and the BA allow for a lot of

interpretation so it isn't like you're

brewing to one fixed recipe and if

you're gonna call it a pilsner it must

taste like a B and C there's a lot of

room for expression there having said

that beer styles are useful they provide

us with a preview of what we're going to

get and you'll find that you know when

you go into a bar when you're looking at

that tap list you're going to get

usually the name of the beer and then

what style it is and sometimes the style

is part of the name the reason we do

that is because it aids us in selecting

a beer that we think we're going to

joy if you don't like roasty flavors

then you're probably not going to order

a stout if you don't like hops you

probably won't order an IPA so it's

important that we recognize that beer

styles exist and what their purpose is

which is is which is to preview what's

going to come out of the tap around of

the bottle some beer styles are more

clearly defined than others

Hefeweizen is a good example of this

have a veidt's in in most cases is a

hazy low alcohol light beer it's made

with a significant amount of wheat

approaching 50% it is a beer that tends

to exhibit what we would call veidt's

and yeast characteristics tests of

banana and clove and so if you call

something a Hefeweizen or a veidt's n'

or a vice beer you're creating a pretty

clear expectation in the minds of the

people you're talking to the same is

true for some of the some of the Belgian

beer styles Belgian Tripel Belgian


you create expectations in terms of

carbonation and dryness and alcohol and

flavor and so you have to be aware that

when you're using that language people

are going to expect certain things many

styles of beer though are not that

specific they're not that explicit in

terms of what they represent IPA is a

great example of this I know it's I know

every beer on them on the shelf is an

idea these days but in reality calling

something an IPA really just means that

it probably has a substantial level of

bitterness though even that is sort of

up for grabs these days but it

definitely has a lot of hop flavor and

hop aroma and if it has those two things

than calling it an IPA is is fair

there's no reason you can't do that IPAs

can be pale in colour up through you

know red even brown even black IPA it's

contradictory though that sounds there

are beers that you know emphasize

bitterness more than the hop flavor and

or an aroma and vice versa they can all

be covered by this one umbrella though

of this style so recognize that in most

cases the older or more traditional

style is the more likely it is to have

some hard and fast rules and the newer

style is the more flexible it might be

we still don't know what a New England

IPA is it's it's hard to say for certain

in the realm of beer styles that are

more established and you would think we

would know how to define those we still

have a lot of wiggle room for example if

anyone can if anyone tells you they know

the difference between

Porter and a stout and can define it

specifically they are lying to you there

is no obvious dividing line between

Porter and Stout within that realm of

different kinds of stouts you could have

tropical stats dry stouts export stouts

imperial stouts Russian imperial stouts

American imperial stouts and it's not

totally clear what defines each of those

things so just because we slap a style

name on something that doesn't guarantee

that we have a checklist of things that

must be present it's possible but in all

likelihood the absence of one element or

the emphasis of one element doesn't make

something a perfect fit or you know a

wildly imperfect fit for a style you

know if there's always gonna be room for

maneuvering for certain beer styles as

well you can use known examples that

have been around for a long time that

are considered classic examples of their

style to educate yourself on what these

beers usually taste like if you want to

know what an Imperial Stout tastes like

you can go find north coast all the


old raspbian and tasting that will tell

you what most people would think and a

Russian Imperial Stout tastes like if

you want to know what diacetyl tastes

like what an English Pale Ale tastes

like you can find old Speckled Hen which

is an ESB that's commonly available in

our market and that is a good example of

that style of beer something that's kind

of representative of it look for those

examples to help educate your palate

because very often what we tend to think

of as a classic example or classic

flavors are not really that because

we're getting the beer at a point in its

development where that might not be true

anymore if you tasted nothing but German

beer German beer Styles brewed in

Germany then you're also tasting a lot

of aged on those beers because it takes

a while for them to get to us and when

you go to Germany and then taste those

beers again you might think that these

are completely different from what I

from what I thought they were because

they don't match what our expectations

were so always look for a local and

fresh examples of these beers and also

try to find breweries that take good

care of their beer and and you know get

it out the door quickly and and

distributors that you know don't leave

it sit in a hot warehouse for two months

so that way you can sort of taste what

they're supposed to taste like so how do

we train up

our palates there are a few ways to go

about doing it for sure the easiest way

and the most systematic way is to take a

proper beer flavor training class most

people who are gonna sit for the beer

judge certification program exam or the

Cicerone exam will actually take a

course where we take known styles of

beer spike it with a chemical

concentration of some flavor or all

flavor and then serve it to you with a

control sample so you can actually train

your palate between that control and the

spiked sample and if you do that for

enough flavors you will gradually build

up the sense memory to be able to say

this beer came Taine's diacetyl this

peer contains acetaldehyde this beer is

oxidized and that really is the best way

to go about it there's almost no

substitute for that but that's not

practical for most people in their

everyday lives no not so many people

going to take this into that seriously

having said that you don't need to take

a proper class to do it you can just set

up your own all flavor and flavor

training kit at BJCP org they have a

list of common all flavors and common

ways to spike those flavors into beer so

for example for diacetyl die acid ill is

just movie popcorn butter that's

literally what movie popcorn butter is

made from and you can buy imitation

butter and if you spike a little bit of

that into a beer you will taste with

diacetyl tastes like for alcoholic

flavors hot alcohols you can take a beer

and simply add vodka and that all of a

sudden will tell you what a beer with a

lot of fusilar calls tastes like so

there are ways to deliberately give

yourself that that flavor training

experience and in a perfect world what

you would do is do a triangle test where

you pour 3 samples of a beer or two

samples of beer that are not tainted or

are tainted and then one that either is

or isn't just you know you mix it up and

you taste all three and see if you can

pick out the different one and there's a

called triangle tests it's a great way

to test your perceptions and sort of

teach you the difference between them

the big advantage of doing that formal

flavor training is that you can start to

identify if you have certain flavor

sensitivities or flavor blind spots some

people are very sensitive to

the the paper and cardboard II flavors

of oxidation other people can't taste it

at all and this can even apply to more

complex compounds there's one in

particular that every one of my homebrew

club knows I cannot taste is I so

valerik acid which tastes like really

old cheese or gym socks it's a grotesque

flavor that should not be in beer to me

it just tastes like raspberries so

that's a lucky one for me when we get to

the ice oval Eric sample in the class I

just get to drink everyone else's cuz it

tastes really good to me but you'll

never know that if you don't actually

taste a controlled sample because you

won't you obviously if you're deaf to

something you don't know you're deaf to

it so this is a good way to sort of

build up that that sensory toolkit

another good way of doing it though is

is going to homebrew club meetings you

will taste lots and lots of beer

and you'll be surrounded by people who

taste beer a lot and some number of them

will probably even be certified judges

or certified Cicerone if that's true

then that's a good way to train yourself

up because that way you can you know say

okay well this person over here are

these ten people over here all say this

beer is very bitter but to me it only

tastes moderately better well you might

have a you know an insensitivity to

bitterness and so now you know you can

begin to dial in that you know that

thermostat in your brain on different

flavor compounds another good option is

to compare either your beer if you're

looking to evaluate your own beer or

just you know to train your palate taste

known known examples of that style

especially next to your own beer if you

made yourself you know a doppelbock and

you want to know if it tastes like a

doppelbock as most people would

understand that term get yourself a nice

bottle of Paulaner celebrator and taste

which is the classic doppelbock taste

that against your beer see if they taste

about the same if they do then you're

probably on the right track if there are

differences then you know that too so

evaluation can come from lots of

different sources and you don't need to

always do it yourself if you're a home

brewer enter every beer you brew in

competition you will get the objective

feedback of two judges who are tasting

your beer blind who are tasting it as

part of an entire flight of beers in

that style or category and you'll get a

very quick sense of sort of you know

what you're doing right and what you

might need to improve upon one more

thing on evaluation even if you're not a

certified judge

you can volunteer to be a steward at a

Homburg competition and your job is

simply to bring the beer out from the

fridge and you know bring extra cups and

score sheets when the judges need them

but in exchange for your cooperation

the judges will usually let you taste

every beer that they taste especially if

you express an interest so even not

being a certified judge you can spend a

morning even just one flight and taste

12 or 15 saisons and there is really no

substitute for that even among people

that have formal palate training there

is nothing for evaluation like tape like

tasting multiple samples of the same

style of beer and you will very start to

vary you will very quickly begin to

understand exactly what we mean when we

say that you know something has a grainy

flavor or something is very bitter and

is very high when you're just drinking

one beer at a time at the bar you're not

going to get that same kind of exposure

and you're not gonna be the same kind of

contrast so look for options to taste a

lot of different kinds of beer the

Golden Bear evaluation is not to be

excessively negative being critical

doesn't mean finding every fault in a

beer being critical means evaluating

what you taste and deciding whether it

all works together and whether it

matches the established standard so be

more critical that when you're drinking

beer I take it seriously try to get as

much flavor out of it as you can and try

to remember you know create it create a

memory for yourself on what that beer

actually is but that doesn't mean that

you should approach every beer trying to

figure out what's wrong with it most

beer on the market from almost any

producer is at a minimum pretty good and

usually when you have the great beers

out there you'll know those right out of

the gate so don't go into this thinking

that you need to tear every beer down to

really understand it always be able to

take a step back and ask a very basic

question of whether you liked the beer

whether you want to finish that glass or

not because being critical doesn't mean

you have to be negative thanks for

watching stay tuned for more lessons

from craft beer and Brewing and Cheers