THE ART OF DEGUSTATION
Beer is a combination of 100% natural ingredients: water, malt, hop and beer yeast and can be found under various forms: from classic beer to porter. Beer can be found in a various color range, from pale yellow to black, taking all the intermediate nuances.
Beer can be divided into two large categories: “ale” and “leger”. “Ale” represents the “fresh” beer, obtained by quick fermentation, while the “leger”is prepared by slow fermentation and acquires the final taste after a minimum period of “ageing” at cold; it is light-colored, it contains little alcohol and is more foamy.
The uniqueness of the taste of each beer type comes from the used combination of hop species. There are hundreds of species , which explains the incredible diversity of the beer, from the 3000 Belgian types to over 5000 only in the central states of USA .
- Pale ale, types: with little alcohol, light, usual, superior and pills. It is consumed especially in summer, due to the small quantity of alcohol that it contains and because it replaces the micro elements lost by perspiration.
- Porter, types: usual, superior and porter. It is consumed especially in cold seasons due to its higher alcohol content.
- Special, types:
- Without any alcohol for drivers, it has maximum 0,3 % alcohol
- Hypocaloric, for diabetics, with maximum 1% glucide
- Beer with little alcohol, 1.5% for young people
How does one degustate a beer? General rules:
Glass: the degustation process starts with choosing the proper glass:
- the glass of tulip type, that has a narrower superior diameter, in order to maintain the foam
- the longish glass, for the pills beer, in order to highlight the light color and the pearling of the carbon dioxide
- champaign glass, for the champaign beer
You can choose to drink from a pint, metallic dose or from the bottle. It is very important that the glass should be very clean and not contain any spots of grease, detergent or cleanser.
Temperature: in order to feel the entire taste of the beer, the beer should have 8 – 13 °C. The stronger beer types can be drunk at 3 – 5 °C higher temperatures, and the temperature of the types of beer with little alcohol may fall until 3 – 8 °C .
Pouring out: the foam reveals a lot on the beer quality. In order to obtain a perfect foam, pour out the beer at the middle of the glass tilted to 45 degrees. Do not shake the bottle before you open it!
The steps of the beer degustation are:
1. Estimation of the foam: a high, small – bubbled foam that lasts a longer period of time represents the symbol of a quality beer. If the bubble size is not uniform, if most of the bubbles are big, and moreover, the foam disappears very fast, you have all the reasons to believe that something is not all right, which is probably due to a defective fermentation technique or to base raw materials. The fact that an initially high foam disappears fast mean that either the beer has been brought in to you too warm, or that the glass has not been properly washed and it contains invisible grease or detergent deposits.
Not all the beer types have the same foam: creamy, steady foam is present in case of beers that contain lots of hop and in case of all malt beers and Irish stout (strong porter, out of barlay that has not been burnt). The foam of a pills beer is firm, creamy and downy, « like a cloud«.
The English bitter beer, known under the name of «ale» forms less foam due to the reduced content of carbon dioxide. The beer of the «lambic» type, whose name derives from the name of the Belgian city Lambeek obtained by spontaneous fermentation out of wild yeast, does not form foam at all. The beers faro, gueuze and framboise belong to this category. The exception to it is the beer from the wood kriek: its foam is absolutely fantastic.
The foam of a high quality beer should be: white, dense, 30-40 mm high, persistent for at least 3 minutes, and accompanied by constant bubbling. After it disappears, it leaves a white, laced trace on the walls of the glass. The size of the foam is also dependent on the way in which beer is poured into the glass.
2. Colour: The colour of the beer may offer information about the malt which was used. The beer made exclusively from pilsner malt is different shades of yellow. The beer types which contain caramelised or coloured malt, i.e. fried, range in colour from brown, red-brown, to opaque black.
3. Clarity and consistency: Most of the beer types are filtered in order that crystal clarity may be ensured. But there are also certains types of beer which are not filtered and which are a little thick because of the presence of yeast in them at the time they are consumed. Any transparent beer will become opaque as it ages. This process will be accelerated if one stores beer in a place which is too hot or exposed to solar light. Cooling down at very low temperatures may also cause beer to become opaque, but it will regain its transparence once heated.
The consistency of the beer can give an indication of its alcohol content. This is true mainly for high alcohol beers, such as doppelbock. Strong beer will leave a wet layer on the walls of the glass if the latter is turned round slowly.
4. How can one determine the smell of beer?
Hold the glass by the middle part and turn it around several times in order to set the beer in circular motion. The easiest would be to do this by pressing the glass against the table.
Because of the circular motion of the beer, its smell from the upper part of the glass will be concentrated in the middle of the glass and pushed upwards like a miniature tornado.
In this moment, when the sensation can be maximum, smell the surface of the glass. Try rather to sniff once than breathe in, so as to make air move backwards and forewards over the olfactory cells and intensify thus the smell of the beer.
Don’t taste the beer before sniffing, because your sense of smell will be affected by it.
Beer may have a weak smell, fresh and fruity, but also sweet and flat. It can smell of spices or honey and light-coloured beers can even smell like bread. Fresh beers may have a plant smell, similar to the smell of boiled vegetables, while old beers have an unmistakable smell of wet cardboard or leather.
The smell is typical for each type: pleasant, with no foreign smells (mouldy, sour), with an aroma of hop and malt. It is dangerous to drink beer smelling of phenol or cresol – like the smell of the countryside cinemas whose floors are wiped with Diesel oil, or like the smell of traverses greased with tar. Beers smelling of wet cardboard are old. This smell is caused by the air (oxygen) getting into the bottle.
5. Taste: Most of the beer brands have, in different proportions, all the four tastes: sweet, bitter, salty, sour. The bitter taste, which persists for long, is an indication of a low quality beer – obtained from low quality raw materials or by not respecting the requirements of the technological process. Light beer has a bitter hop taste, which disappears fast whereas dark beer is slightly sweet (the taste of malt). Its taste is denser, that’s why its consistency seems “denser”. The taste of a good quality dark beer can be described as: “weak”, “empty”, “malt-like”.