Tasting Notes for Craft Beer

Tasting Notes for Craft Beer


Craft beer is more than just a drink. For many, it’s an art form, a science, and a culture! For craft beer enthusiasts, tasting notes are a way of appreciating and sharing the complex and diverse experiences associated with different brews.

Tasting notes are also useful for learning more about beer styles, ingredients, and brewing techniques. In this article, we will explore how to write tasting notes for craft beer, what to look for in different beer styles, the effect of terpenes (and other additives) in craft beer, and how to pair beer with food for a more enjoyable experience.

Beer Styles and Characteristics

Beer styles are categories of beer that share common features such as origin, history, ingredients, appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and alcohol content. There are hundreds of beer styles in the world, but they can be broadly classified into two main groups: ales and lagers.

  • Ales are beers fermented at warmer temperatures (59-77°F) with top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), which produce more esters (fruity flavors) and phenols (spicy flavors). Ales tend to be more complex, flavorful, and aromatic than lagers.
  • Lagers are beers fermented at cooler temperatures (41-59°F) with bottom-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus), producing fewer esters and phenols. Lagers tend to be more crisp, clean, and refreshing when compared to ales.

To analyze and describe the appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression of each beer style, you can use the CraftBeer.com Tasting Sheet, which has a scale and a list of terms for each aspect. For example, appearance can be rated from 1 (very pale) to 5 (very dark) with terms such as clear, hazy, cloudy, or opaque to describe the clarity.

For the aroma, you can rate the beer from 1 (low) to 5 (high) and use terms such as floral, citrus, pine, caramel, chocolate, or coffee to describe the smell. Flavor can be rated from 1 (low) to 5 (high) with terms such as sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or umami.

Mouthfeel can be rated from 1 (low) to 5 (high) with terms such as thin, thick, smooth, creamy, or fizzy describing the sensation. The overall impression can be scored from a value of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) with terms such as balanced, complex, refreshing, or satisfying to describe your general opinion.

Common Beer Flavors and Aromas

Craft beer is a rich and diverse world of flavors and aromas that can stimulate the senses and enhance your enjoyment. There are many factors that influence the flavor and aroma of a beer, such as the ingredients used, the brewing process followed, and the storage conditions applied.

In this section, let's identify some of the common flavors and aromas that can be found in craft beer and explain what causes them.

  1. One of the main sources of flavor and aroma in craft beer is malt, which is barley or other grains soaked in water, germinated, dried, and roasted. The degree of roasting affects the color and flavor of the malt and the beer. Lighter malts produce lighter-colored beers with mild flavors such as bread or biscuit. Darker malts produce darker-colored beers with stronger flavors such as caramel, toffee, chocolate, coffee, or roast.

  2. Another source of flavor and aroma in craft beer is yeast, which is a microorganism that converts sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Yeast also produces byproducts such as esters (fruity flavors) and phenols (spicy flavors) that contribute to the flavor and aroma of the beer. The type and strain of yeast used affects the flavor and aroma of the beer. Yeast can be classified into two main groups: ale yeast and lager yeast.

  3. Additives are ingredients added to the beer besides water, malt, hops, and yeast. They can be used for various purposes including enhancing the flavor, aroma, color, or body of the beer. Additives can include natural or artificial substances such as fruits, spices, herbs, flowers, honey, sugar, chocolate, coffee, wood, or chemicals. Some examples of craft beers that showcase additive flavors are:

    1. Fruit beer: A beer flavored with fruits such as berries, cherries, oranges, or apples. Examples: Lindemans Framboise, Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Fruit Beer, Blue Moon Belgian White.

    2. Spiced beer: A beer flavored with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or coriander. Examples: Anchor Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Hoegaarden Witbier.

    3. Wood-aged beer: Beer aged in wooden barrels or chips that impart flavors, including vanilla, coconut, or whiskey. Examples: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Innis & Gunn Original, Rodenbach Grand Cru.

Honorable Mention: Terpene-Infused Craft Beers

Terpene-infused craft beer is a new trend that combines the aromatic and flavorful compounds found in plants with the traditional brewing process. Terpenes are responsible for the distinctive smells and tastes of various plants, such as citrus fruits, pine trees, and cannabis. By adding terpenes to beer, brewers can create unique and innovative beverages that offer both sensory and functional benefits.

Some of the advantages of terpene infusion into craft beer include:

  • It enhances the flavor and aroma of the beer, creating a more enjoyable drinking experience. Terpenes can complement or contrast the existing hops and malts in the beer, adding complexity and diversity to the brew. For example, limonene can add a citrusy note to an IPA, while myrcene can impart a tropical fruitiness to a wheat ale.

  • It offers potential health benefits, depending on the type and amount of terpenes used. Terpenes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, and mood-enhancing properties. Some terpenes may also interact with the endocannabinoid system in the body, which regulates various physiological functions such as pain, appetite, mood, and memory. For example, beta-caryophyllene may help reduce inflammation and pain, while linalool may promote relaxation and sleep.

  • It attracts new and curious customers who are interested in trying something different and innovative. Terpene-infused craft beer can appeal to both beer enthusiasts and cannabis consumers looking for new or creative ways to enjoy their favorite strains.

Craft beer offers a wide range of flavors and aromas that can appeal to different tastes or preferences. However, tasting notes are not only about describing what you perceive in a beer; they're also about enjoying what you drink. One way to enhance your enjoyment of craft beer is to pair it with food that complements or contrasts its flavors and aromas.

Beer and Food Pairing Ideas

Pairing craft beer with food is a way of creating a harmonious or contrasting relationship between the flavors and aromas of the beer and the food. To close out the article, let's go over three specific beer and food pairings that enhance the tasting experience below.

IPA and Curry

The hop bitterness of the IPA cuts through the spiciness of the curry, while the citrusy hop aroma complements the aromatic spices of the curry. Try this pairing if you're looking for a combination that perks you up while opening up the lungs.

Stout and Oysters

The roasted malt flavor of the stout balances the briny flavor of the oysters, while the creamy mouthfeel of the stout contrasts with the smooth texture of the oysters. Give this pairing a try at the end of a long day when you want to treat yourself to a rich, luxurious flavor and aroma experience.

Wheat Beer and Salad

The fruity and spicy flavor of the wheat beer matches the fresh and crisp flavor of the salad, while the high carbonation of the wheat beer cleanses your palate between bites. This is a good pairing for quick pick-me-up in the run up to a long or productive day.

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