How to Taste Beer Like You Know What You’re Doing

So, you’ve decided to have a bit of a craft beer get together.

But suddenly, you feel a sinking in your stomach.

You want to maintain your status as a craft beer aficionado but are worried you might be shown up by your friends.

Don’t fear my beer-loving friend!

hoppist is here to teach you how to taste beer like an absolute boss.

How to prep your beer

First of all, you want to make sure you’ve all set for a good evening.

Choosing your beers

When choosing the beers you’re going to taste for the evening, you’ll want to:

  • Check the enjoy by date before you buy the beer. Beer can oxidise over time spoiling its taste.
  • Taste a maximum of seven beers in one sitting. And no, getting up from the table doesn’t restart the counter. Experienced beer tasters have reported palate fatigue when tasting more than seven beers. You may find you stop picking up flavours well before this, so judge it for yourself.
  • Start your tasting with the lightest beer and work your way up to the darkest.

Keep it neutral

Whether you’re doing just one tasting session or several – you’ll want to try to keep your environment as neutral as possible so you don’t affect the taste of your beers.

  • Cleanse your palate with water between beers.
  • Don’t taste with food or soon after eating.
  • Taste your beer in an environment with neutral odours and colours. I.e. no incense sticks or dark rooms. Differences in the environment can alter the colour of the beer and the way we perceive taste.

How to prepare for drinking

A good beer tasting is all in the preparation. So don’t fall at the final hurdle.

  • Whether your beers come in a glass bottle or can, you’ll want to taste them in glasses. Drinking from a bottle or can will change the taste significantly. Pouring into glasses will start to release aromas, allow you to smell them and make sure you’re taste isn’t affected by whatever your beer’s been stored in.
  • Get yourself some good tasting glasses, a 140 ml glass is a good place to start. With this size you get to share a bottle between friends, result! The glass shouldn’t be more that 6.5 cm in width at the rim, any bigger and the aromas will escape too quickly.
  • Make sure your glasses are clean and don’t chill them as it can lead to excess foaming and numb the palate. Pro tip – if bubbles start to form on the inside of your glass, it’s not clean.
  • Get your beers out the fridge 10 minutes before you start tasting. Around 12 °C is best for beer tasting. Obviously, this also depends on the style of beer. Hoppy IPAs can often hold their own at lower temperatures, but darker beers are better suited to warmer temperatures.

How to pour your beer

It’ll come with practice, we promise.

Before you start, check whether the beer has been bottle conditioned by looking for yeasty sediment at the bottom of the bottle. It’s up to you whether you mix this in or not, but it will have a marked effect on the taste.

If you don’t want to drink the lees, pour the beer carefully and leave 1-2 fingers worth of beer in the bottom.

If you do want to drink it, pour half then give the beer a gentle swirl and finish the pour.

  • With a slightly tilted glass, begin pouring the beer down the inside of the glass.
  • If the beer isn’t forming much of a head, pour the beer towards the centre of the glass. This agitates the beer, releasing CO2 and forming a head.
  • You’ll want to finish with about 3 cm of head. The foam protects the beer from oxidation, allows it to stay carbonated for longer and helps release aromas.

Assessing the beers aroma

It’s time to do your best Oz Clarke impression.

The beer is out of the bottle and will quickly heat up. Now is a great time to pick up the major players in the beer’s aroma. Leave it any longer and the citrus and floral notes will start to disappear leaving you with a flat and heavier nose.

  • Gently swirl the beer. This will release CO2 and aromatics along with it.
  • Inhale the aromas through your nose three times in quick succession, exhaling through the mouth between each sniff.
  • Inhale one last time. This one should be longer and slower than the previous three.
  • Take your time to appreciate the bouquet.
  • Try to focus and articulate the aromas you are picking up.
  • Aim to answer these questions:
    1. What aromas are in the foreground (strong).
    2. What aromas are in the background (weak).
  • If you’re having trouble picking up aromas there are two things you can try.
    1. Trap the aromas by placing your palm over the top of the glass while swirling.
    2. Warm the beer using your hands – this will release more of the aromatics.

It’s always a good idea to write down what you are experiencing. Remember, what we smell in the beer will be as individual as our taste in fashion and music. It is influenced by both our experiences and memory – so if you’re picking up different scents to your pals, there’s no need to worry!

Assessing the beers’ appearance

Time to get your wire-framed glasses on.

Because we’re going to look at the colour of the beer and the characteristics of the head. Assessing the beers appearance should be done in ambient lighting. Try not to hold it up to intense light as it can dilute the colour.

  • Bring the beer up to eye level.
  • Ask, is the beer:
    1. Light or dark?
    2. Cloudy or clear?
    3. What colours are coming through? It can help to look at the very edge of the glass to pick up subtleties in colour.
  • Look at the head:
    1. Is it dense or airy?
    2. What colour is it?
    3. Does it retain its structure or quickly collapse?

Good head retention can be a sign of a well-crafted beer made with quality ingredients. It can also give us information on the strength of the beer, with weaker beers retaining their heads for longer.

Taste and mouthfeel (the good bit)

This is what we’ve all been waiting for…

Don’t worry, there’s no need for a spittoon!

  • Take a reasonable sip of beer, not too small and not too large. It should be enough to coat your entire mouth.
  • Let the beer sit in your mouth for a couple of seconds and then slowly swallow with your mouth closed.
  • Exhale gently through your nose. This is called retro-olfaction and releases further aromatics at a higher temperature.
  • Ask yourself:
    1. What was the initial sensation of drinking the beer?
    2. What is the mouthfeel and weight of the beer?
      – Is it fizzy, flat, light, heavy, dry or warming?
    3. What was the balance of flavours before and after swallowing the beer?
      – Think sweet, salty, acidic or bitter.

In the tasting journey you will start to notice a few constants. When you first take a mouthful of beer you will begin to taste the hops. As the beer warms in your mouth the malty flavours will then start to build. As you swallow the beer any bitter notes will get amplified.

Overall impression

Take a couple of seconds to consider the experience as a whole.

Take any notes then sit back, relax and chat about the beer with friends.

Scoring your beers

How you score your beers is up to you. But here’s some tips from the pros and how we do it here at hoppist.

How to pros score their beers

In taste competitions, experienced judges will score beer based on the expectations of each individual style. There are set scoring methods which are used to remove subjectivity from the scoring process. Brewers don’t want the fact that one of the judges woke up in their neighbour’s front garden after a heavy night on 9% Russian stout to ruin their chances of winning a tasting.

Rating your hoppist beers

At hoppist we take our beers seriously but we’re all about having fun. So, we suggest you keep the scoring simple.

Score the beers between 1 and 5.


  • Aroma
  • Appearance
  • Taste
  • Overall experience (Did you like it?)

This simple but effective system will help to remember what you liked and what you didn’t. In fact, we like it so much, we use it ourselves! If you join our monthly beer subscription, you can send us your scores every month and as we get to know you better, we’ll start sending you beers matching your taste.

hoppist loves beer, and we want you to love it too! Follow as many of our tips as you want or none. We won’t be offended.

Want to get your hands on craft beer fresh from the brewery? Try our monthly craft beer subscription with beers from some of London’s best independent breweries.

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