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Peter LaFrance

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beer Taster's Vocabulary (Part Two)


Today I'm going to stay on the subject of aromas. I find it amusing that the subject is called beer “tasting” or for that matter wine "tasting" when so much is involved in the olfactory sense. It has been agreed for a long time, in the culinary sense as well as a scientific sense that the actual things we taste consist mainly of variations on four themes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. There are some of us who can taste more variations on these themes and there are some of us who can taste fewer variations on the same basic themes, but nevertheless, these are the basic “flavors”. It is our sense of smell that adds the incredible range of nuance to what we call "taste".

And so, it is almost impossible to begin to taste the beer without first smelling it. Most beers, as soon as you open the bottle, give you an idea of the type of beer that they are by the aromas that give off. (Should the beer be in a green glass bottle, there is a good chance you might experience the particularly memorable aroma of "skunk".) This initial aroma explosion is particularly true of ales. The reason for this is that the volatile oils in the hops used in making ales are particularly pungent. There are also a great deal more hops used in the production of ales than there are in the production of lagers. It is also noteworthy, that the actual fermentation of lager takes approximately 31 days, while the production of ale takes approximately 7 days. Logically, there should be more volatile oils in the ale than they would be in the lager. Once again I digress...

Appreciating the aroma of beer begins with the understanding of the theory of “three”. You have three times to appreciate all of the different aromas that there are in a particular beer. After that, you will have already thought about what you are experiencing and the chance to find a new flavor or a new aroma becomes remote. You also have become familiar with some of the flavors and aromas from that particular beer and familiarity breeds less appreciation.

I would like to speak for a moment on the appreciation of aromas. If you are lucky, or if you decide to pay attention, you should be able to ascertain the difference between the aromas of a slate sidewalk, and asphalt roadway, and the concrete sidewalk after a summer rain For those of you who are not urban creatures, you should be able to tell by smell alone when you've crossed over from pasture or grassy area onto the plowed or bare earth. The particular mix of petroleum and petroleum products that hover in the atmosphere when you are working on the engine of the automobile is a unique mixture of aromas. You can say that these aromas are metallic, or oily, perhaps there is a hint of rubber, or asphalt. All of these of the words are words that you would use to describe the atmosphere in an automobile garage. By naming particular things you call to mind, not only what they look like but what they smell like. It is this ability that is helpful to bring into mind when you are tasting and appreciating the aromatics of a beer. In fact, I find it and interesting exercise to put words to any of aroma or flavor, of what I might experience at any particular time of the day or place I might be. That sort of exercise doesn't help with long-term thought processes and they can send them into quite interesting directions. But once again I digress...

And so you have three chances to appreciate all of the aromas of the beer that you are about to "taste". How you go about executing these three chances will be the topic of the next blog. Stay tuned...

Peter LaFrance.
( Peter.LaFrance@beerbasics.com )

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