How to Taste and Describe a Beer

It occurred to me that some of my friends don’t really know how to taste and describe beer properly. Even my wine friends, descriptive as they are, are pretty poor at describing beer. The methods of tasting are not all that different, really.  There’s more of a snobbery surrounding wine and some of people are loathe to come down to the beer world, even though we beer snobs are far bigger jerks. 😀

But I figured that I’d try and educate some people on the proper way anyway. What the heck, eh?

There’s four steps to tasting a beer. To make it fun, let’s make them all start with the letter S. 🙂

1. See.

When a beer is poured it produces a foamy head. This head usually dissipates quickly, leaving behind a bit on top called the “lace”. This same lace remains on the sides of the glass when drinking the beer. Hold up the beer and take note of the color as well. These are all descriptive aspects that help in understanding of the beer.

  • Color describes the malts used, or the brewing process.
  • The amount of foam describes the carbonation.
  • How it dissipates describes the thickness or heavyness of the beer.
  • The amount of lace describes the freshness of the beer, the freshness of the hops used.

2. Swirl.

Yes, damnit, swirl it a bit, like you would a wine. This agitation pulls out the scents and carbonations from the brew. It also tests the head retention, which gives you more info about the lacing.

3. Smell.

Smell the beer, obviously. Something like 80-90% of taste is actually smell. It’s the most important part of tasting. Breath deeply of the beer through your nose and then, yes, through your mouth as well. The combination of these two gives you the best experience of the brew. Describe the scents you have. Wheat beers, for example, are often fruity or citrusy, usually because the brewer adds these types of ingredients specifically. Hops have a distinct odor, of course, but different types of hops smell different. Cascade hops (the most common type) smells completely different from fuggle hops, for example, and they are used in completely different types of beers.

4. Sip.

Take a sip, swirl it around your mouth a bit. Don’t swallow right away, let it warm up a small amount. Important bits to remember here:

  • Mouthfeel. You see this one a lot in beer circles. What does it feel like? What’s the texture of the beer?
  • Consistency. Does the beer change a lot as you taste it? From beginning to end of glass even.
  • Breathe out while the beer is in your mouth. This increases the flavor experience. Really. Google “retro-olfaction”.
  • What does it taste like? Salty? Bitter? Sweet? Acidic? Oily? Fruity? Beer can taste like just about anything, think of what it’s similar to. Describe what it would go with.

Now, once you’ve done this, describe the beer. Here’s an example for PBR:

Clear golden color, with a 3/4 inch thick white head, which quickly reduced to a minimal thin lacing. Pleasant but subdued scent, mostly sweet lagered malts. Slight amount of grain flavors, with subdued grassy hop undertones. Minimal bitterness. Somewhat fizzy in apperance, but only lightly carbonated flavors. Crisp and dry mouthfeel, with a slight hint of oilyness when warmer. Overall clean flavor, very light malts used. Good session beer, would be excellent with stronger beef or spiced chicken flavors.


The media are a bunch of idiots.

I’m getting really annoyed with all the hubbub over the latest Tennessee gun law. You know, the one similar to the one passed in Arizona recently? TN and AZ are getting singled out as places that allow guns in bars.

The problem is that it’s not true.

That’s right, it’s just not true. Jon Stewart got it wrong. Stephen Colbert got it wrong. Every major media outlet talking about “guns in bars” got it 100% wrong.

You can’t carry a firearm into a bar in Tennessee. Period. It’s simply a lie.

To understand why it’s a lie, let’s examine the facts. Here’s a section of the TN State Code, before the law changed:.

39-17-1305. Possession of firearm where alcoholic beverages are served.

(a)  It is an offense for a person to possess a firearm within the confines of a building open to the public where liquor, wine or other alcoholic beverages, as defined in § 57-3-101(a)(1)(A), or beer, as defined in § 57-6-102(1), are served for on premises consumption.

(b)  A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

(c)  The provisions of subsection (a) shall not apply to a person who is:

(1)  In the actual discharge of official duties as a law enforcement officer, or is employed in the army, air force, navy, coast guard or marine service of the United States or any member of the Tennessee national guard in the line of duty and pursuant to military regulations, or is in the actual discharge of duties as a correctional officer employed by a penal institution; or

(2)  On the person’s own premises or premises under the person’s control or who is the employee or agent of the owner of the premises with responsibility for protecting persons or property.

For those of you that can’t read legalese, here’s a quick translation:

  • You can’t have a firearm in a place that serves alcohol.
  • Doing so is a misdemeanor.
  • Exceptions to this rule:
    • If you’re police or military, that’s okay.
    • If you own the place or are a security guard hired by the owner, that’s okay.

Pretty simple, right? No guns except for the obvious exceptions.

Now, look at the text of the new law… Basically, it adds a new exception. Here’s the text itself:

(A) Authorized to carry a firearm under § 39-17-1351 who is not
consuming beer, wine or any alcoholic beverage, and is within the confines of a
restaurant that is open to the public, serves alcoholic beverages, wine or beer,
and is not an age-restricted venue as defined in § 39-17-1802.
(B) As used in this subdivision (c)(3), “restaurant” means any public
place kept, used, maintained, advertised and held out to the public as a place
where meals are served and where meals are actually and regularly served, such
place being provided with adequate and sanitary kitchen and dining room
equipment, having employed therein a sufficient number and kind of employees
to prepare, cook and serve suitable food for its guests. At least one (1) meal per
day shall be served at least five (5) days a week, with the exception of holidays,
vacations and periods of redecorating, and the serving of such meals shall be the
principal business conducted.
(C) This subdivision (c)(3) is subject to the provisions of § 39-17-1359,
permitting a property owner to post notices on such property prohibiting firearms.

Still don’t get legalese? Well, let’s break it down more simply:

First, 39-17-1351 is the section of the law that defines Handgun Carry permits. So that’s what that is talking about.

Next, 39-17-1802 is part of the new non-smoking law. Wait, what?

Recently, TN banned smoking in all restaurants and bars. However, they added an exception. They defined an “age-restricted venue” as a place that only allows people in who are 21 and older, all the time (instead of just at night or something). These places can allow smoking. Obviously, a lot of the bars did this, since large parts of their clientle smoke. However, many restaurants did not. These places make most of their money from food, they can’t ban families from coming in.

Basically, this definition created a rather obvious separation between a “restaurant” and a “bar”, without actually making any definitions along those lines. “Bars” are 21 and up. “Restaurants” are not. There’s exceptions of course, but for the most part this is the way it went down.

Now, reading that law again, you’ll find that it says “and is not an age-restricted venue as defined in 39-17-1802”. That part matters. Remember, “bars” are age-restricted venues in order for them to allow smoking in the place.

So this new law adds a new exception. Basically you now have this:

  • You can’t have a firearm in a place that serves alcohol.
  • Doing so is a misdemeanor.
  • Exceptions to this rule:
    • If you’re police or military, that’s okay.
    • If you own the place or are a security guard hired by the owner, that’s okay.
    • If you have a carry permit and are not drinking and the restaurant is not age-restricted, that’s okay.
      • If the owner is okay with it too and doesn’t post a sign about it.

That not age-restricted bit means, basically, “and it’s not a bar”. If you prefer, it really means “and is a non-smoking establishment”, for the most part, but these are basically equivalent at this point.

So, the bottom line: you still cannot carry a gun into bars in Tennessee. Restaurants, yes. Bars, no.

So if you’re a member of the media (or even if you’re Stephen Colbert) then please, do your research first before laying down your opinion. Your ignorance of the subject leaks out into the public, and they form biased opinions based on it, and frankly I’m sick of correcting people about the new gun law. It’s not a bad thing, really, because it doesn’t allow anything that the media claimed it does. Sheesh.