HOW TO REVIEW BEER

There are many opinions out there, some more educated than others. I’m an amateur when it comes to beer reviewing, but don’t mind sharing a few thoughts about the beers I’ve tried with you all. I have tried to learn from websites such as ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com, craftbeer.com, and so on and have gathered some of the better information on this page for you.

To start, when you are wanting to review beers there’s are a few things you should know about if you don’t already. First is to know that every beer style has specific characteristics that should be present. If the beer doesn’t exhibit these, then it’s what is considered a hybrid, and falls into the dangerous ‘gray’ area of brewing which is also referred to as ‘experimental’. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s just nice to know what you’re supposed to be drinking and how it pushes or falls within the boundaries of that specific type or style of beer.

I have often explained to people that reviewing beer is just like reviewing wine or talking about your favorite cake. The terminology is similar to that of wine reviewing, and the process for producing the kinds of beer can produce a wide variety of styles and the outcomes really do vary based on environmental factors, ingredients, and skill used to create the end product (like baking a cake). Imagine trying to create the exact same cake from scratch multiple times using the same ingredients and the same oven. I guarantee it might turn out close, but not exactly. The same applies to smaller batch beers that are not produced on large scale. Time, measurements of ingredients, the ingredients themselves, exposure to bacteria, slight temperature changes, these all effect production of both cake and beer. 🙂

Also, it is important to note that in the US, you can call or label any beer you make anything you want, there is no law like in Germany which helps govern the production, labeling, and distribution of beer. This is known as Reinheitsgebot The German beer purity law passed in 1516, stating that beer may only contain water, barley and hops. Yeast was later added after its role in fermentation was discovered by Louis Pasteur.

TYPES OF BEER


Beer falls into two categories, ALES and LAGERS. These are singularly defined by how yeast is utilized during the brewing process. Click on the title for examples and additional details for each style.

ALE

Ale’s tend to yield more intense flavor profiles than lagers. Depending on the brewing style, they can be their best when very young (a couple of weeks) to very old (several years). Here’s a list of the types of ALE’s you might encounter, just click the name for additional details:

BELGIUM
GERMANYSCOTLAND
ENGLAND
IRELANDFRANCEOTHER COUNTRIES

LAGERS (Bottom Fermentation Yeasts)

Lagers have only been around for several hundred years and were not even fully understood until after the invention of the microscope. The yeast strains that make them were originally propagated on accident. Like white wines, they are fermented and served at cooler (cellar) temperatures. This limits the formation of esters and other fermentation by-products, producing a clean flavor. Lagers are the most popular big-brewery beers in America, although the version most often consumed here is nothing like the European counterparts. Again, just click the name for additional information:

GERMANY

PILSNERS- GERMANY
VARYING COUNTRIES

BEER TERMINOLOGY

Then there’s a whole bunch of terminology regarding beer that you might want to know about. I would highly recommend becomming familiar with these, and use them at your local brewery or pub when you have questions. Normally bartenders aren’t terribly ‘up’ on what some of the terms are, but a few might. AND on the rare occasion, the brewer might just be nearby and they would be happy to discuss their beer with you. Just click each term below for the definition.

CONDUCTING A BEER REVIEW

So finally there’s the reviewing part. Here are some specific things that should be mentioned when performing a beer review. Keep in mind that a lot of external factors can effect your interpretation of the beer. You might want to keep in mind these points: Did you eat something spicy or acid prior to tasting? Is the beer in the right glass? Is the glass chilled or room temp? Did you start with lighter or darker beers?

With those in mind, you can move onto the reviewing. There are a few basic things you use when reviewing, the appearance, smell, taste, and mouthfeel. You should also do an ‘overall’ or ‘summary’ of your take on the beer.

Appearance

Describe the beer’s color and note the SRM. The SRM is the official color scale that goes from light yellow to dark (opaic) black or brown. Here’s a chart to help you know the #’s

  • Pale, golden, amber, ruby, brown, black
  • In addition to the color, what is the clarity of the beer. Hopefully you’re looking at the beer in a clear glass with enough light to see what you’re drinking. Hold it up to a light if you can’t tell easily.
  • Clear, hazy, cloudy, turbid
  • Lackluster, lively, inviting, foamy, creamy

FOAM
Remember that you should also note what the beer foam/head retention and lacing are. These range from fluffy to non-existent and the color of the head can vary as well. The way the head behaves is partially due to the carbonation amounts.

DESCRIPTORS TO USE
Here are the descriptors utilized by the BJCP from their scoring sheet. http://www.bjcp.org/docs/SCP_BeerScoreSheet.pdf

Acetaldehyde – Green apple-like aroma and flavor.
Alcoholic – The aroma, flavor, and warming effect of ethanol and higher alcohols. Sometimes described as hot.
Astringent – Puckering, lingering harshness and/or dryness in the finish/aftertaste; harsh graininess; huskiness.
Diacetyl – Artificial butter, butterscotch, or toffee aroma and flavor. Sometimes perceived as a slickness on the tongue.
DMS (dimethyl sulfide) – At low levels a sweet, cooked or canned corn-like aroma and flavor.
Estery – Aroma and/or flavor of any ester (fruits, fruit flavorings, or roses).
Grassy – Aroma/flavor of fresh-cut grass or green leaves.
Light-Struck – Similar to the aroma of a skunk.
Metallic – Tinny, coiny, copper, iron, or blood-like flavor.
Musty – Stale, musty, or moldy aromas/flavors.
Oxidized – Any one or combination of stale, winy/vinous, cardboard, papery, or sherry-like aromas and flavors.
Phenolic – Spicy (clove, pepper), smoky, plastic, plastic adhesive strip, and/or medicinal (chlorophenolic).
Solvent – Aromas and flavors of higher alcohols (fusel alcohols). Similar to acetone or lacquer thinner aromas.
Sour/Acidic – Tartness in aroma and flavor. Can be sharp and clean (lactic acid), or vinegar-like (acetic acid).
Sulfur – The aroma of rotten eggs or burning matches.
Vegetal – Cooked, canned, or rotten vegetable aroma and flavor (cabbage, onion, celery, asparagus, etc.)
Yeasty – A bready, sulfury or yeast-like aroma or flavor.

Smell

Describe what you smell by sticking your nose close to the beer head/foam. Remember that if you are in a busy bar, restaurant or brewery that has a busy kitchen or aromas from various activities, these can and do effect what you smell. When you do smell the beer, do you smell any malt, hops, yeast and other aromatics. I also slightly swirl the beer before I smell it if it’s not completely filled to the top. This helps pop some of the bubbles in the head, and releases more of the aromas of the beer.

  • Malts: sweet, roasty, smoky, toasty, nutty, chocolate, toffee, caramel, biscuit, bread
  • Hops: dank, resiny, herbal, perfumy, spicy, leafy, grassy, floral, piny, citrusy, grapefruit, citrus rinds
  • Alcohol: sharp, boozy, spicy, peppery
  • Yeast: breaddy like dry aromas
    • Ales: fruity or flowery esters, spicy or peppery phenols
    • Lagers: clean, allowing the malt and hop subtleties to pull through
    • Wild Yeast/Bacteria: funk, barnyard, horse blanket, medicinal, band-aids, diapers

Taste

Sip, let it warm and wander on the palate, swallow, and then breathe out. This process of exhaling is called retro-olfaction and will release retained stimulations at the mucus and mouthfeel level, but at a higher temperature. The nuances will often be the same as those detected during olfaction, but sometimes different and complementary. Note that beers served really cold tend to mask flavors. Try tasting the beer after it warms up a bit, which will allow more flavors to emerge and become more pronounced. Here is an example of a flavor wheel that is commonly used by professional tasters to help you think about the flavor profile:

When you take that sip does it remind you of any food or flavors you recognize? You should describe any malt, hops, fermentation byproducts, balance, finish or aftertaste and other flavor characteristics.

  • Flavor descriptions will often be similar to smell, which is expected.
  • How well does it fit the style guidelines?
  • Is it balanced, or was there a specific dominating ingredient or flavor?

Mouthfeel (Feel)

After that initial sip, you should think about the beer’s body to include: carbonation (sharp foamy bubbles, flat), warmth, creaminess (or lack thereof), astringency (bitter, acidic, rounded) and other palate sensations. Here are some additional descriptors you might want to use:

  • Flat, seltzer-like, crisp, over-carbonated
  • Light, heavy, chewy, oily, thin, watery, smooth, raw, coarse

Overall Judgment

Describe your overall impression of the beer. Don’t be afraid to hurt the brewers feelings. Be as honest as you can.

  • How was the overall drinking experience?
  • What did you find pleasurable or objectionable about it?
  • Offer suggestions for improvement.


References

The Dictionary of Beer and Brewing ©1998 Brewers Publications.
The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery ©2006 Brewers Publications.
Designing Great Beers ©1996 Brewers Publications.
Craftbeer.com Beer Glossary
BJCP Score Sheet

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