How to taste beer like a pro
I had a great time chatting with renowned beer judge Mike Moore, known to many in craft beer circles as “Big Mike.” Yes, the dude is large. He’s also immensely passionate about beer, and he makes the whole thing about tasting and judging seem like fun.
But he’s having fun in a serious way – like a golfer trying to split the fairway on a long par 5 or a basketball player working on a smoother stroke from the foul line.
When Moore drinks beer – and here’s where you might want to pay attention – he sloshes it around in his mouth as he tastes. Before that, he sticks his nose into the glass and inhales. Deeply. Then he thinks for a moment, and if his vast aroma vocabulary doesn’t immediately conjure up something precise to describe what his olfactory senses have encountered, he sniffs again. And before all that, he looks – at the color, the clarity, the head retention, the lacing the beer might leave on the glass.
I’m sitting with Moore at the Track 7 tasting room in Natomas, peppering him with questions because I want to pass on his incredible knowledge to you, the aspiring craft beer aficionado.
To be a better taster, you must embrace the most important element of what Moore told me: conscious tasting. Focus on the beer, what you are doing and why you are doing it.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Wow! I thought craft beer was supposed to be fun.” That’s something Moore hears all the time. Sure, beer, wine and spirits are social beverages. But if you want to be a taster who can tell good beer from bad, it becomes more like a pursuit.
“Most people drink for pleasure and they drink unconsciously,” Moore said. “Now, if you paid $70 for this beer, would you still drink it unconsciously? I bet not.”
Yes, you can get serious and analytical about beer without being too self-serious. Moore pulls it off perfectly. He’s an internationally respected beer judge, but he’s not a showboat. He doesn’t bloviate.
Moore swirled his glass of beer and smiled, then added, “The second question I get, ‘Is it fun for you to drink beer because you’re always judging it?’ I go, ‘Absolutely, it makes more of an experience.’ When I slosh it around in my mouth, every part of my sensory stuff, for lack of a better word, is getting excited and it brings a smile to my face.”
To be able to judge beer on your own terms, have a sense of the styles so you can approach each beer with an understanding. Those styles continue to evolve. Moore brought to the interview style guidelines from 1997 (a single page), 2004 (several pages), and 2015 (as thick as a magazine). A great reference book for learning about beer, its history and the evolution of beer styles is “The Beer Bible” by Jeff Alworth.
Then there’s describing beer. Moore often hears from folks who seem stumped by what they are smelling and tasting. To improve that, you need to have a vocabulary rooted in food and drink. Moore urges would-be judges to smell and taste a wide variety of foods. Understand how the various citrus fruits taste so you can appreciate many of the key flavor notes in hops. What does a “piney” India pale ale smell like? Go out to your yard or walk in the woods and just inhale. Open the jars at your spice rack and learn to tell the difference between thyme, rosemary, coriander, cumin and sage. What do cloves smell like? Inhale and remember. Can you tell the difference between nutmeg and allspice? Try it blindfolded.
With the Sacramento regional beer scene topping 64 breweries in 2017, now is a great time to be more judgmental. An educated consumer (and taster) holds brewers accountable, and recognizing great beer shines the spotlight on brewers who can take our maturing beer scene to new heights.