Picture yourself in a crowded and dimly-lit bar with your best pal, trying out a fancy new kombucha flavoured beer. You’re sipping it, you’re well on your way to reaching pinnacle Adventurous Beer Drinker status, and the Untappd badges are just rolling in. Tastes like glory. But then, in a cruel twist of fate, the girl next to you looks at you and says, “I don’t know, it kind of tastes like ketchup.” You take another sip, convincing yourself that there’s no way that this super awesome beer could taste like a processed red condiment… oh wait, there it is. It’s all you can taste now. (This story is based on true events, sorry to publish your pain, Melissa).
Even though that’s a tragic tale that ended in a dumped pint- there is an important lesson to be learned here. Beer is completely and exclusively subjective, and the way you taste a beer can be affected by a whole lot of different factors. The kombucha story wasn’t enough to convince you??
Take for example a story from my coworker: she was guiding a tasting of 7 different beers at Your Friendly Neighbourhood Brewery, and bravely led people through flavour profiles of one of her favourite Scotch Ales, only to realize afterwards that she actually poured them a very bitter American brown ale (okay, okay, it was totally me, I am ashamed). But the weird part is, as she (ahem, I… cowers in embarrassment) was describing the sweet flavours of honey, caramel, bold notes of coffee and espresso etc. to the group, absolutely NOBODY stopped her and said “I don’t know, I taste pine needles and a grassy bitterness.” Could this have come from lack of experience on behalf of the tastees? Quite possibly. But it brings up an important point: you probably shouldn’t believe all of the things people tell you about flavour.
On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve had someone taste the same APA as me and tell me that they taste dill. Like the pickle. To that person, I say bravo. Congrats on not letting anyone tell you how to enjoy your beer, and I applaud this person’s ability to dig deep and find complex flavours out of their beers. This method is referred to as The Drinking Whatever You Want, and Not Giving A Shit Method, and I wish for all beer enthusiasts to embrace it.
Basically, the purpose of this article is to tell you to trust in your own abilities and tastes. People will always be eager to tell you what you SHOULD be tasting, and sometimes that can be really helpful. But the best way, in my opinion, to truly taste a beer is to draw your own conclusions rather than adopting the views of others. This requires a certain degree of attention to context (see more about being present in Mike’s article here) because there are way too many things that can affect the way you taste your beer. Whether it is what you ate earlier that day, what the room smells like, what order you tried beers in, or what the label says- there are tons of ninja deception tools that can trick your tongue into tasting specific things. It can get pretty confusing, but it will inevitably always lead to you tasting a beer differently than someone else. It also takes a degree of confidence- it can be hard to offer up your take on a beer to a bunch of seasoned beer snobs.
Ultimately you have to learn how to come up with these tasting notes yourself, and discover new aromas and flavours that are personal to you. It starts with being able to distinguish flavour profiles that you like and don’t like, and then from there, trying out more and more different styles of beers until you can decipher what it is that you are tasting in a brew. Trust your own palate, and understand that your opinion about a beer is the only one that matters. When it comes to Yours Truly, I’m recently discovering that I am not a huge fan of Galaxy hops- or at least that’s what my beer sleuth skills have been leading me to believe. I could be wrong, but hey, that’s my take on it. Yours can be completely different.
P.S. Yes I work at a brewery, no they don’t pay me to say anything, yes I can still have neutral views on issues in the beer industry. Drops mic