Consuming craft beer is easier than ever, and in the Triangle we are lucky to have quality craftsmanship surrounding us, often several options within a few miles. This local bounty means we consumers can figure out what we like in a beer and can find others that replicate that same flavor profile. Learning how to evaluate a beer makes it easier to consistently find tasty beverages.
Evaluating a beer encompasses four aspects: aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel.
Aroma is evaluated first to make sure one can smell the volatile or fragile aromatics that will soon dissipate. Typically one tries to pick out hops, malt and yeast characteristics from the aroma.
When weighing appearance, check how clear the beer is, the color of the foam, the size and shape of the bubbles and the color of the beer itself.
Flavor accounts for the most points in professional scoring. An evaluator will taste for flavors from the four main ingredients of beer: hops, malt, yeast and water. Yeast will add fruity or spicy flavors. The malt adds flavors ranging from uncooked bread dough to coffee grounds. Hops add a grassy bitterness as well as a wide range of flavors from tropical fruit to pine sap and floral notes. Water is normally unnoticed, but certain waters can add mineral notes, make beers taste more crisp and bitter or accentuate the malt found in malty beers.
Mouthfeel is often lumped in with flavor, but is defined as any physical sensation the beer provides. In mouthfeel an evaluator may first consider carbonation, or how much fizz is in the beverage. Mouthfeel also encompasses the beer’s creaminess, its body and how much alcohol you can taste.
Recently I sat down with Happy Place Golden Lager from The Mason Jar Lager Company out of Fuquay-Varina. It is a beer brewed in the German Helles style, the most-consumed style of beer in Germany.
Here’s how the beer breaks down according to the four aspects of evaluation. The Happy Place pours a light golden color with ivory foam. The bubbles are medium-sized and as a lager, the beer is clear enough to read through.
When you take a whiff of the beer, you have a malt-derived graham cracker, white bread dough and table water cracker. The hops give the impression of sage, freshly mowed lawn and wild flowers. There is also a faint red-apple aroma from the lager yeast used.
When you drink the beer the sweet malt character is balanced by the bitterness and grassy herbal hop flavor. At 4.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), Happy Place is an easy-drinking brew.
Now it’s your turn — grab yourself a Happy Place Golden Lager and compare it to my evaluation in the four aspects. Do you agree? Disagree? The best homework is to take the four aspects and try them across your other favorite beers.