HOW TO JUDGE BEER

You’ve been to a meet the brewer event or punctiliously taken notes at a beer festival and then like Saul on the road to Damascus you realise you would like to learn how to taste beer, appreciate it, know what you are talking about and become a beer judge. So what do you do?

Of course, you could take a course with the Beer Academy with its How to Judge Beer module; you could take online papers with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certificate Program). Or you could read a lot of books and blogs on beer and find out how beer writers and bloggers get to become judges. It’s not rocket science, but experience and knowledge gained from brewers and other writers can be as worth as much as any certificate (my first judging gig was in 2000 and I was placed next to Michael Jackson — no pressure then).

Here in a few words is an idiot’s guide to tasting beer, which you might or might not want to carry on forward. So how to taste it, how to know what you’re looking for? Is it as easy as falling off a log or something more ambitious? Surely, say those with a penchant for a pint, beer is a matter of mere swigging, a matter of hanging out with your mates, taking a deep draught and declaiming Brian Blessed-style, ‘by God that’s a good pint’?

That’s true to a point — pontificating on the white pepper notes in your glass is the sign of a show-off. However, the beer drinker can have a discerning palate as much as the wine sipper.

Here’s how

1 Look at the beer. It should be clear (unless it’s a wheat beer or unfined).

2 Judge a beer’s condition by assessing its liveliness — let it dance lightly on the tongue.

3 Note the beer’s colour, which varies according to the malt used.

4 Swirl the beer around to release the aromas and perk up the flavour. Malt might suggest dried fruit, coffee beans, biscuit, smoke, Ovaltine, chocolate, toffee or caramel. Hop-led aromas are fruity, resiny, aromatic, citrusy, peppery, herbal, spicy, lemony and floral. It’s possible to pick out Seville orange marmalade (sometimes lime), juicy grapefruit and tropical fruits such as lychees, passion fruit, mango or papaya). With stronger beers yeast esters add their own complexities such as tropical fruit, banana, apricot skin or a spritzy feel.

5 Taste the beer. Concentrate on the flavour sensations you pick up. Some beers come bearing plenty of fruity flavour, others boast rich, malty savours. What is the essence of the beer in your mouth? Is it smooth, tingling, grainy, thin, acidic or chewy?

6 Does it make you want to reach for the sky when jotting a score? If it should then congratulations, you have just tasted a winner.  

For details on the Beer Academy’s judging beer courses for to www.ibd.org.uk/about-us/beer-academy; meanwhile details on the BCJP can be found at www.bjcp.org.