Beer Tasting

By Gemma Creagh - Last update


Get Daily news and updates directly to your Email




Beer – a definition: An alcoholic beverage made from the fermented extracts of malt, with or without the extract of other cereal grains. It is usually flavoured with hops.

Beer, beer and more beer!  A yob’s slogan no longer, let me assure you.  Beer has reached the lofty heights of wine as the domain of a connoisseur. But then, as someone pretty fond of wine, (you’ll have gathered from previous articles), I found that the ritual of tasting samples before dinner table approval is even more suitable to the appreciation of humble old beer.

Beer Tasting – what you need to know!

The flavour of beer immediately begins to deteriorate as soon as it leaves the brewery. Therefore, it’s imperative to consume beer as fresh and as near to the source as possible. The best way to do this is at the brewery itself. This, of course, is why drinkers have fallen in love with microbreweries and brewpubs around Ireland. It simply doesn’t get any fresher than in these delightful places.

Let us begin with the basic assumption that beer is a product, produced ultimately for the expressed purpose of “providing pleasure”. The tasting of beer requires you to understand just how much pleasure you get from or lack in your beer.

Using your senses

Just as if we were tippling at good old red vino, we’ve got to use the senses of sight, smell, and taste when we tackle the beer. Unlike the large brewers, the microbrewery presents a craft-based production approach with small batch sizes and more labour and care involved. This scale allows the creation of more wholesome, stylistically accurate and full-flavoured beers that aim to please the palates of (hopefully) more discriminating beer drinkers like us. Unlike the large brewers, the focus is not on volume and efficiency, but rather on taste, balance and quality. Small brewers do tend to command a premium price for such attention to ingredients and handling but the price of the microbrewed pint entitles the punter to the view that he or she is getting something of special quality for their money!

One of the best microbreweries this writer has ever visited is Dwan’s pub and restaurant, opened in 1998 in a restored granary building right in the heart of Thurles. The brewery (now closed)produced a range of own brew beers including two stouts, an ale and two lagers; which were all made from Irish ingredients the Dwan official line assures.

A fun experience

After a long evening of tasting beers in the company of some other enthusiastic aficionados, this writer had a hilarious time deciding on favourite beer categories with the other tasters.  There was the malty, liquorice – like Rich Ruby, the tough-going An Dubhain Extra Stout, Black Pearl Extra Stout and Silver Frost – an American-style lager. Cool Amber, a German-type beer, is also on tap in this connoisseur’s paradise.  One glass of each wasn’t enough for this writer.  It was a pity we couldn’t have stayed there longer to fully appreciate the quality of the beers – one glass of each is not enough!

Know your stuff

You’ll have to learn something of the background to beer before you begin your tasting career.  The raw materials that make up the origin of a beer’s flavour are malt (pale or roasted), which bring sweetness to the brew.  Then, there are the hops (aromatic or bitter), which throw some bitterness to the taste.

The style of a particular beer depends on how the brew master chooses raw materials, for example – the types of yeast interactions desired. The idea is to style the beer for the intended consumer market.  Good beer tasters must be able to recognise the mix of flavour between the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness/aromatics of the hops.

Develop your palette

Your best bet if you’re starting out as a taster is to find a bar with a good knowledgeable bartender.  Then, if some of your friends share your love of finer beers, organize a tasting, or find organized tastings in your area. Brewery tours also give you an opportunity to taste and learn.  The two most famous tasting centres in Dublin are the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Irish whiskey centre.

You could attend a beer festival; there’s loads of them across the country, especially every October – you’ll have numerous replicas of the incomparable Oktober Fest in Munich, Germany. Beer festivals have workshops to help people learn about beer.  Learn to shop around in drinks shops, especially if you travel abroad. Read labels, brochures and information circulars and don’t be afraid to taste new brands.  You could also keep a tasting book where you’ll note your impressions about the visuals (the head and colour) and the tastings (aroma, taste and aftertaste). Otherwise, just lower the pints and enjoy!

Do your homework!

Do your own rating before referencing experts’ opinions.  Develop your own opinions first. After that, check what you wrote against what the experts have written. You might find that you and the experts agree a lot, which will build your confidence. When you don’t agree, look for the reasons why. If you rated a beer lower than the experts, it could simply be a style that you don’t particularly like, or a beer that is more extreme in its character than you’re used to. If you rated the beer higher than the experts, don’t worry about it – have another and enjoy it. Never trust your first impression, but let it guide you. Go back to a beer that didn’t tweak your taste buds first time, just to see if it was the wrong frame of mind or circumstance to try that beer.

Remember, the beer you taste may be different from the beer the experts tasted and rated. For example, there are dozens of Guinness styles, sub-styles and local variations and a half-intelligent beer drinker can quickly tell the difference. Distance can also make a difference.  The Guinness you drink in Tirol, Austria, for example, will not be as fresh as the one you drink at St. James Gate, Dublin.

Keep it local

The Dublin Brewing Company is a perfect place to visit if you want to acquire a broad knowledge of the world of beer.  Tours of the brewery are open to the general public and the tour comes with a taster’s instruction.  Check with the brewery first for times, as they tend to vary.  Much as this writer might love drinking the super-fresh Guinness on tap in Ireland, these days he and other fussy drinkers can also enjoy the smoky fragrance of D’Arcy’s Stout, from the Dublin Brewing Company.  Produced by the same company that brews the very consumable Beckett’s Beer, D’Arcys is available today in many in Dublin city-centre. The Dublin Brewing Company makes four other beers and has even tapped into the export market, primarily to the UK.

At present, there are brewpubs or microbreweries now strewn across Ireland, from Thurles to Newry.  So, no excuses, beer enthusiasts!  Just watch the bellies – you’re nearest and dearest won’t be impressed with a beer taster who forgets to exercise…


Gemma Creagh

Gemma is a nomadic writer, filmmaker, & journalist. She was born in Cork, lives in Dublin, and studied in Belfast & Galway, where she graduated from NUIG’s Writing MA. She has penned articles for national publications and is the editorial assistant for Film Ireland Magazine. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy ‘Rental Boys’ for RTÉ’s Storyland. Her short films have screened at festivals around the world.
French Language Courses
Film Production Courses


Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We'd love to send you the latest news and articles about evening classes, further learning and adult education by email. We'll always treat your personal details with the utmost care and will never sell them to other companies for marketing purposes.

Comments and Reviews Policy