A Beginners Guide to Describing Beer

February 18, 2015

An expert sommelier will explain that every wine has a distinct flavor profile. Grape varietals create the symphony of flavor, but aromatics and the fermenting process create the subtle melodies that makes people choose one merlot over the next. The same can be said for beer, and just like wine enthusiasts have their own vocabulary to describe flavors, so does the beer fanatic.

Now, no one is saying that these terms are the only way to describe beer. More often than not, your gut instinct is the best way to explain the characteristics of your beer. Most people will understand what you’re trying to say. However, if you’re interested in using some of the more frequent terminology, read on!

Hoppy is all the rage right now, particularly with the popularity of IPAs (India Pale Ales). Of course, many of us haven’t been around hops so we have no clue what their profile is like. Oftentimes, hoppy beers are described as bitter, pungent, grassy, aromatic, sharp, earthy or even citrusy.

Malty beers are typically darker, due in part to the malt cereal grain. Most people who enjoy malty beers like Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre use words like rich, deep, roasted, sweet, molasses-like, grainy or bread-like.

While most beers have some kind of carbonation to preserve their flavor, certain beers have more carbonation than others. The carbonation changes both the texture and flavor of the beer, giving the beverage a spritzy, bubbly, or effervescent quality.

Finally, beers are often further described by their texture: some beers might be considered rich, heavy, or thick while others taste lighter, thin, or velvety as they go down.

Bonus! If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between an ale and a lager, here you go: an ale is derived from the “top” part of whatever the beer is fermented in. The “top” is typically at a higher temperature than the larger yeast, which means the beer does not need to ferment longer. Ales often produce esters, which can range in a variety of floral and fruity flavors and aromas. Lagers on the other hand are created using the bottom of fermenting yeast, leading to much more earthy flavors derived from the hops.

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