How to taste Beer with Jane Peyton
Jane trained through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and is a tutor at the Beer Academy.
I caught up with her to find out what makes a beer taster, it has to be the most ideal job ever created but can anyone do it?
Jane On beer tasting
What is the difference between beer tasting and learning how to taste wine, and what is the difference between beer and wine tasters too.
Beer tasting tends to be less formal and more fun than wine tasting – but that depends on the tasting tutor and the atmosphere that they have created. And this is a generalisation but in this country, there will be more men at a beer tasting than women. Also a beer tasting event has an element of surprise and exploration as quite a lot of people have not tasted a range of beers or know that such beers exist.
No difference in principles of wine or beer tasting – if you can taste wine, you can taste beer too. I do. I specialise in beer, cider, wine, whisky, gin, Champagne.
Is there a particular type of person who becomes a beer (or any drink) taster? Do you need to have any special talent, for example extra sensitive taste buds, or is it something anyone can do?
Beer tasting is about education – informing other people about the amazing drink that is beer. So someone who is keen to educate and share their knowledge is the ideal person.
The nose and palate can be trained to recognise aroma and flavour so lots of practice is required! But some people have a condition called ‘onosmia’ (smell blindness) and unless a person can smell properly then they will not taste properly so should not try being a professional taster. Some people do have more sensitivity than others so they would be ideal. Also women in general have more sensitive noses and palates than men so women might consider a career in drinks/beer tasting. It helps too if a person has a good turn of phrase and imaginative ways of describing aromas and flavours. Roger Protz is a genius at this! So are Oz Clarke and Rupert Ponsonby.
Is there a specific procedure to adhere to and what is it?
With any drinks tasting there is a similarity of principles:
1) Look at the drink in the glass
2) Swirl the liquid to release the aromas and sniff. Try to identify what you smell. Keep swirling and sniffing.
3) Take a sip and let it sit on the tongue for a few seconds. This will warm the drink/beer and release aromas which then travel from the mouth into the olfactory glands in the nose. A few seconds later the brain will register the flavours. Let the drink cover the tongue so all the taste buds are engaged – our tongues register different tastes in separate parts of the tongue – salt, sweet, sour/acidic, bitter, and umami (savoury). Some complex beers are sweet & sour, with bitterness too so the tongue and nose get a work-out!
4) Check for the body of the drink/beer – this is how much it fills the mouth. Lower alcohol beers will be light bodied, higher alcohol beers tend to be fuller bodied.
5) Swallow the drink/beer. The after-taste is important. With beer the after taste will be degrees of bitterness. In beer tasting this aftertaste is often called ‘the Hang’ – i.e. how long the flavours hang around on the palate. It can also be referred to as ‘the finish’.
6) Repeat the above!
Do you think knowledge of the brewing process can enhance the enjoyment of beer?
If the drinker is curious about life then yes.
If a beer doesn’t fit into a specific style, does this matter and if not how do you reference it?
Quite a lot of beers are tricky to categorise – especially nowadays when there are so many more breweries in Britain who are creating beers.
Some brewers confuse their customers by describing their beers as a certain style when it patently is not that style. One of Britain’s biggest selling beer brands does this and it confuses customers. There is a fashion now for Black IPAs – a bit of an oxymoron. Some brewers make Milds which are very hoppy – a contradiction.
If you’re having difficulty categorising, it’s handy to call it a hybrid of **** and ****
Beers don’t always have a powerful smell, or indeed any smell is “no nose”, a valid enough assessment?
Yes – this is especially so with Pilsners. But that is the style of the beer so it’s not a fault. If an ale has little nose I would be worried! Ales should have more aroma than Pilsners.
When looking to describe flavours are you looking for food comparisons or are there a set of beer flavour that you keep to.
Food comparisons are really useful in helping people recognise aromas and flavours. I always use those references. But beer can be extremely complex and some surprising aromas and flavours appear e.g. sweaty socks, barnyard, burned rubber. With cider and perry, Stilton cheese is a very common aroma. I always say to people that if they smell something peculiar that they are not expecting then they should say it – because everyone is right when it comes to describing what they are experiencing. Our senses are our own so we’re always right!
Jane on Beer
If you had to pick a top 5 of beer what would they be?
- Brewster’s Pale Ale
- Fuller’s London Porter
- Verhaege’s Duchesse de Bourgogne
- Brooklyn Brewery ‘s Chocolate Stout
- Schneider Weisse’ s Aventinus
And a UK only top 5?
- Brewster’s Pale Ale (My number one beer worldwide or UK)
- Fuller’s London Porter (My number two beer worldwide or UK)
- Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh
- Meantime’s India Pale Ale
- Fuller’s Golden Pride
Are there any beers/breweries to watch out for in the next couple of years?
Brewster’s (in Grantham) is constantly good and they have a dynamic range of beers. They’ve recently invested in some bottom fermenting kit and have been brewing some excellent Helles beers.
Harviestoun have an excellent lager called Schiehallion – it’s a cask lager using ale hops so some people are confused. Hopefully it will help change ale drinkers perception of what lager is.
A trend in brewing at present is to bring back heritage styles of beer. Kernel and Meantime are very good at this. And Fuller’s have been delving into their brewing bibles from the 1890s to brew beers of that era.
If you could design a perfectly flavoured beer, what would go in it.
I actually brewed it last month – at a brewpub called The Botanist in Kew, SW London. It is called Limey Porter, made with chocolate malt and flavoured with kaffrir leaves which gave it a very subtle lime aroma and flavour. Chocolate, coffee and lime aromas and flavours are an excellent match.
To book a beer tasting course with Jane For in London and around the country please contact School of Booze. Choose from: beer tasting, beer and food matching, chocolate and alcohol tasting, wine tasting, Champagne tasting, sherry tasting, cider tasting, and School of Booze will devise a bespoke entertainment for you.