Hoppiness and mouthfeel: a beer tasting guide
Written by Dominic Barstow (bar man and beer lover)
When I was floated the idea of “What would you think of taking part in our Zoom beer tasting session?”, my first thought was the obvious “I don’t even need an excuse to drink so hell yeah!”. But then it hit me, quite a worrying thought really as a bartender. “What do I actually know about beer tasting?”. Sure, I know when something tastes malty or hoppy (what hops? Hoppy ones), having at least average eyesight I can recognise haziness, and having sunk a fair number of Guinness in my life I know a smooth beer when I taste one. But when it came down to brass tacks that’s not an awful lot to go on is it? Especially when part of my job at The Crafty Fox is literally recommending customers beer (please don’t sack me Baz I’m getting better).
So, this new initiative to start up a Zoom beer tasting club was the perfect opportunity for me to open up myself to the slightly snobby side of craft ale. The beer tasting connoisseur.
Before I jumped into the Zoom session where I’m sure everyone else expected my beer knowledge to match my beer drinking, research had to be done. What is beer tasting? Like really, what is it? I’ll tell you. Beer tasting can be broken down into four main components: Appearance; aroma; flavour and mouthfeel. Let’s go through each in order.
Appearance is fairly straight forward, what does the beer actually look like (in a glass rather than a can preferably). In today’s craft beer zeitgeist hazy beers are in vogue, but there exists a spectrum. Some are hazier than others, some are almost transparent. Some are dull, others are practically fluorescent. Then you have the obvious colour. Pales tend to be an amber-y/yellow, stouts and porters brown and black, and sours and saizons can be pretty much any colour you’d find in a bag of skittles. To help keep these things in mind, I’ve put together these nifty little cheat sheets:
Then we have aroma, fairly straight forward. Give the beer a quick swirl around the glass and give it a smell. Something I’ve seen many times behind the bar is an older gent giving a taster sample a sniff and remarking “far too flowery is that”. Flowery beers are definitely on the rise, but there’s so much more to aroma than just perfume-esque ale. We can get piney, herby and grassy beers, as well as the more obvious fruity ones. This can be an often-missed step in beer tasting but in my humble opinion is essential, predominantly down to scientists estimating 80% of taste, is actually smell. Don’t miss out.
Now onto the obvious, flavour. This one likely takes very little explanation, as we have all tasted fruitiness, bitterness etc. in our lives. Or at least I hope you have. Some more out-there flavour profiles are nuttiness and tartness, which can give an element of savouriness and sourness respectively. Don’t be afraid to give these beers a try, I promise they’re only as half as weird as they sound.
Finally, the altogether more nebulous mouthfeel. This can be best described as the actual physical sensation of the beer in your mouth, distinct from taste. Think of how a pint of Guinness is characteristically smooth. Or how a particularly hoppy ale can have a dryness to it. This is something as a stout (imperial at that) drinker I’ve really noticed, as a lack of heaviness and viscosity to the ale really dampens my enjoyment. Whereas in contrast, if I was supping a 4% IPA in the sunshine, I’d be hoping it would be crisp, refreshing and light.
Now that we’ve equipped ourselves with the right tools, let’s apply them to the beers Baz provided at the first tasting night. All beers had their labels hidden and were revealed at the end:
Beer 1: Neon Raptor – Kaleider – 4.8% – Pale
- Appearance: Bright, opaque, yellow to amber (tropical juice-esque)
- Aroma: Citrus
- Flavour: Slight malt then citrus tones, a little too subtle
- Mouthfeel: Thin body with a smooth texture
Beer 2: Brew York – Holding back the tiers – 5.2% – APA
- Appearance: Clear with an amber colour
- Aroma: Non-distinct
- Flavour: Bitter
- Mouthfeel: Dry
(Note: I am a little prejudiced against APAs. No apologies)
Beer 3: Vocation – Perfect Storm – 6.6% – New England Pale
- Appearance: Very hazy and bright
- Aroma: Citrus
- Flavour: Tropical and fruity with distinct hoppyness
- Mouthfeel: Thick and soft
Beer 4: Pamona Island – I still believe – 6.5% – IPA
- Appearance: Very cloudy and murky. Strong yellow-orange colour
- Aroma: Fruity
- Flavour: Strong hoppiness from the Mosaic hops
- Mouthfeel: Smooth and creamy
Well! You’re probably are a tad thirsty and want to try out this new found knowledge. No excuse not to sign yourself up to the next tasting session on 26 February. Not only can you try out the fantastic beers, but it’s a cracking laugh and you’ll get to put a face to my writing. That’s why you all come to The Crafty Fox right guys? Guys?