Mar 23, 2012

Drinking Beer! ...Objectively

One of the best things about making your own beer is drinking your own beer.  And, if you are like me, when you drink your own beer, it will either be horrible or the best beer you have ever had in your life.  Ever.  You put your own effort into this beer which you are now drinking.  You want it to be good, and if it is good, in your mind, that is great!  But classifying your beers into one of two categories ("horrible" or "great") is not very helpful.  So, today I want to talk about objectively rating your own beer.

There are many ways to rate beers, but a good way I have found is to just use the Beer Judge Certification Program's method.  They provide a nice score sheet (which the judges use in competition).  I'm not a BJCP judge, but why reinvent the wheel?  The sheet is helpful and can help you be a little more critical of your own beers.  And as an example, I am going to use my IPA which finished up a couple of weeks ago.

But before we get to that, it is important to note what type of beer you have and judge against those same or similar beers.  A light lager is not going to have as much flavor as an Imperial Stout, for instance.  Judge based on what the beer is supposed to be, not the best out of all beers.

First on the sheet is aroma.
What do you smell?  Hops?  Malt?  Funk?  Fruit? Anything not pleasant is bad.  A beer should smell good, enticing.  Don't just stick your nose four inches above the glass; really get your schnoz in there.  Take three or four deep inhales.  What do you pick up?

As for my IPA, I get a nice hop aroma.  There isn't much else - just hoppiness. It's a nice aroma; pleasant.

Second: Appearance.
Color look good?  Clear or foggy?  What does the head look like?  Essentially, does the beer look good enough to drink?

My IPA:  The color is pretty good.  It is a little more orange than I think it should be, but that isn't a bad thing.  It has a nice head, but could be a little more.  Maybe a carbonation issue.  It is a bit cloudy and not crystal clear.  But it appears nice overall.

Third: Flavor.
Now we are getting subjective.  How does the beer taste on different parts of your tongue?  Hold the beer in there for a little while.  What do you notice?  Swallow but don't open your mouth.  Breath through your nose.  What lingers?  Again, if there is anything unpleasant, like sour apples or smelly socks, that is bad.  In some styles of beer, even some pleasant flavors are considered flaws, like butterscotch or some fruit.  Things to look for: metallic taste, "hot" alcohol, astringency, grassy flavors, sourness, etc.  There is a whole list of things on the left side of the BJCP sheet.

My IPA:  When I first taste the beer, I get a citrus burst out of the hop character.  There are no harsh or off flavors.  I do not get a lot of malt flavor.  The body seems a little thin.  This beer is overwhelmingly hops.  The flavor transitions from oranges to grapefruits to citrus rind.  The aftertaste is, again, hops.  This beer could use a little more malt sweetness in its backbone or tame down the hops so the malt that is there does come through.

Fourth: Mouthfeel.
Too carbonated or not enough?  Harsh or pleasant?  Smooth or astringent?

My IPA:  The beer is carbonated well.  Not too much and not too little.  There isn't a lot of body so the beer feels thin.  On the plus, that means it's an easy drinker!  The hops give it some bitterness and I think those who are not hop-heads will think it is too bitter.

Fifth: Overall impression.
Is this a good beer?  Is it nice to drink?  Come up with something that can be improved.  Most likely it is there.

My IPA:  The overall impression is good.  The beer is smooth and easy to drink.  There is upfront bitterness and some minor residual sweetness but not a lot of body.  The hops stand out with bitterness and flavor, but the bitterness wins.  The malt is a bit of an afterthought and doesn't really bring a whole lot to the party.  Next time, bulk up the malt a bit more.  That being said, I still think this is a good beer, average for the style, I guess.  I wouldn't be ashamed to serve this to my buddies.

Try this on your own beers, beers you bought, and beers out on the town.  Practice will help you notice those positive and off flavors.  And if you can, do this with someone who knows what they are talking about.  They'll help you learn.

The next step is taking what you want to do to a beer and actually doing it.  But that is another post.