Ask a Brewer: Tasting Order

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Photo Cred: Ian Steele

Okay, so I’ll admit, to the casual craft beer enthusiast, this is where craft beer edges into the world of sommelier-like superfluousness (bonus Scrabble points for that one). If you are not quite as invested in the finer qualities and attributes that beer can impart, and simply want something tasty to get a buzz on, then this article isn’t for you. And, as always, this is a brief overview of what it is to build a tasting order, and the importance therein.

There is a huge variety of terms used to describe all of the flavors in beer, most for the positives, and many for the off-flavors that rear their ugly heads when something goes awry in the brewing process. That class of terms, however, is for a different article altogether. For the positive terms, you often hear things like “roasty”, “tart”, “clean”, “estery”, and, perhaps most frequent of them all, “notes”. These are a small portion of the words used to describe the flavor profile of beer, and “notes” makes its frequent appearance to give the impression of mild flavors that present most clearly when the taster is focused. For example, Summit hops are a more bitter variety of hop, with strong notes of citrus. It’s not citrus itself, but the flavor of the hop itself presents with a citrus profile.

All of these things are great, and being able to pick them out of a beer and describe it accurately takes time and practice. If the beers aren’t poured in an appropriate order, however, all of this knowledge is effectively useless. To taste a dessert stout followed immediately by a pilsner is quite the exercise in beer futility. This is where tasting orders in the taproom is of the utmost importance- in order not to burn out or overpower a customer’s tastebuds, the tastings have to be poured, for lack of a better term, and speaking generally, in order of intensity. 

You start with the simpler, lighter beers with more delicate flavors- pilsner, kolsch, Mexican lager, cream ale. Then you move up to your beer with a little more backbone- pale ales, ambers, perhaps a clean saison or a wheat ale. From there, you’ll move into your roasty/caramel-forward beers, i.e. Maibock, red ale, brown ale. Finally, you’ll move into your darks, super-danks, etc. The idea is (and believe me, I know how this sounds) to take the tongue and olfactory system on an upward sloping journey. It’s a slow build, otherwise the true impact and flavors of these carefully crafted libations is lost in translation. A super-hopped IPA is often referred to in the beer industry as a “palate-crusher,” quite simply because the intense bitterness of the hops will totally hijack your tastebuds and make all beers in the subsequent tasting order totally flavorless. 

This is, in essence, why it’s so important for a taproom staff to be educated on various beer styles, both in-house and beyond. The staff should be intensely familiar with your beers, but for frame of reference, should have a strong awareness of beers and flavors beyond the taproom too. 
Don’t forget to write in any questions! I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability. [email protected]. Cheers!