GABF Skillz: How to Taste Beer

Here we go… the last Skilz Post before Dr. B and I head off to the GABF, “How to Taste Beer (and not look like a (enter negative slur word here).” 

Thanks to, here are a few tips to keep in mind when going to a beer tasting. My personal comments are in (parentheses). Here we go!


Note whether the beer’s head is dense or thin. Heads are sometimes described as rocky if they are especially dense with dips and peaks forming as some of the bubbles pop. The color of the head is also worth noting and can range from pure white on Pilsners to light or medium brown on some stouts and porters.

Examine the appearance of the beer itself. Hold the glass up to the light and note the color and whether it is cloudy or clear.


Note whether it smells primarily of hops or malt. Generally speaking light colored beers will smell more of hops while darker beers tend to have a pronounced malt, roasted, chocolate or coffee aroma. Many ales have a hard to pin down spiciness or fruitiness from their yeasts.

Take your time with the aroma. Try to take three (yes, three… one is not enough for your brain to register) good sniffs before your first sip. If you’re taking notes, stop to write your impressions before the first sip distracts you.

First Sip

When taking your first sip, try to note the initial sensation as the beer enters your mouth. Think about whether it is sweet, bitter or something else. Beer, especially ale, can be very complex. There can be quite a difference between the first taste and the finish.

(Make sure to take at least THREE sips before making other judgements about the beer your tasting… There should be no, “I’m not drinking that,” unless you’ve had at least three sips.)


This is the texture of the beer or how it physically feels in your mouth. Beer ranges from silky dry stouts, to thick and chewy Scotch ales (man, that sounds nasty, but it’s a true thick mouthfeel!) to thin and fizzy Berliner weisses. This is an important characteristic of a beer.


Note the lingering flavors after you swallow the drink. Often it can be bitter from the hops or a lingering malty sweetness.

Stop before your next drink and try to write down everything that you just detected. Try to confirm it all with your second drink or see if you need to rethink your conclusions.


  1. Do not taste new beers with food (unless it’s bland) or soon after eating. The lingering flavors from food can greatly affect your impression of the brew.
  2. Cleanse your palate with water. Crackers or cheese are fine but you should remember that even these foods can affect the apparent flavors of the beer. (Fuck it, just choose mild cheese and crackers… and plenty of them).
  3. If you’re tasting a number of different beers, let the color be your guide. It is best to taste from light to dark. (unless! you’re drinking really hoppy beers… then try those last.)

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