There are over 5,500 different real ales brewed regularly in the UK. With such an amazing range of different beer styles, such as bitters, old ales, milds, barley wines and stouts and the biggest variety of draught beers in the World it’s no wonder that tasting British real ales has become every bit as sophisticated as tasting wine.
There has never been a better time to appreciate our traditional British drink, but you don’t have to be an expert. Such a wide range of flavours are available to you that you will soon realise what beers most appeal to your taste buds, whether they are chocolatety stouts or light floral golden ales.
Tasting beer is just like tasting wine, but forget about spitting it out. The first step is to make sure the beer you are tasting is served at the right temperature. Too cold and real ale loses many of its complex flavours. Served too warm, it can develop some you don’t want and quickly loses condition in the glass.
Use your eyes!
Beer should look good. It should be colourful and bright and if it is meant to have a significant head of froth, this should be thick and creamy. Remember that many beers, particularly from the south of England, are not brewed to be served with creamy heads. Remember too that some beers, such as wheat beers may be cloudy, but these too should look attractive and not dull or flat in appearance. Generally though, your beer should be bright and clear and your glass should not contain any sediment.
Use your nose!
The best way to sniff your beer is with a glass which is half-empty. This enables you to give it a quick swirl, place your hand over the glass to hold in the lovely aromas fighting to escape and then dive in and take a nice deep breath. You will soon learn to recognise key features such as hoppiness from a classic pale ale, the burnt chocolate flavours of a stout or the banana nose of a wheat beer.
Now the taste!
As you take your first taste of the beer you’ll notice the sweetness from the malts at the front of your mouth while dry bitter flavours from the hops dominate the back of your mouth as you swallow the beer and learn to appreciate the ‘finish’
Just like wine, beers have their own unique characteristics and complexities from the style, the ingredients and the recipe. Tasting beer is every bit as satisfying as tasting wine and you’ll soon learn to appreciate the various styles. Beer can be enjoyed on its own, but it is also exceptionally good with food, so don’t think for a moment that the dining table should be reserved for wine!
Experiment and you’ll soon become skilled in matching different beers to different food dishes.
How to Taste Real Ale is reproduced courtesy of the Campaign for Real Ale; www.camra.org.uk