A beginner’s guide to becoming a beer connoisseur

There’s no denying South Africa’s love affair with beer and its rich brewing history. 

Beer lovers indulging in this legendary beverage are spoiled for choice, with more than 100 styles on offer. 

But there is more to this beverage than cracking open an ice cold can at the end of a long day.  

Just like wine, different beers have distinctive flavour profiles, which makes it great for pairing too. 

South African Breweries (SAB) and AB InBev Africa beer culture manager, Tshepo Tloubatla has a step by step guide on how to taste beer like a pro

"While the professional beer taster undergoes rigorous training to help them identify distinctive flavour profiles in the beer, you can imagine how this myriad of beers might be overwhelming for the beginner beer lover,” Tloubatla says.

Here are Tloubatla’s tips o n how to taste your beer like a pro to help any rookie become a beer connoisseur.

Cleanse your palate

Anything you consume prior to tasting your beer can influence the taste so cleanse or refresh your mouth. 

Cheese or crackers can affect your palates sensitivity to the flavours of certain beers, so keep it simple and use water.

Observe the colour

The colour will represent what type of brew it is – pilsners are a pale straw while American and English Ales have a golden hue, porters and stouts are amber brown and black.

If you are tasting several different beers, it is better to taste from light to dark. 

This will help you focus on the developing flavour intensity and characteristics of the beer style. 

alcohol alcoholic beverages bar 126942 - A beginner's guide to becoming a beer connoisseur
The colour will represent what type of brew it is. Photo: Elevate from Pexels
Get a quick whiff of the aroma

After observing your beer, move the glass past your nose once or twice – this is known as ‘the drive by’.  

Your nostrils and taste buds work together, so your sense of smell will give you vital clues about the type of beer you are tasting.

You should be able to pick up roast notes typical of malts; or pine, citrus, pepper, and fresh cut grass from the hops; or perhaps even hints of yeast.

Always sniff before you take the first sip – once you swallow a sip of beer, your ability to smell it will be slightly diminished.

Give it a swirl

Swirl the glass gently. 

Swirling knocks some of the CO2 out of the solution, causing it to foam slightly. 

Allowing the beer to mix with the air provides the drinker with a stronger scent of the various aromatic components such as hops and malt.

Take a deep sniff this time

Take another deep sniff. 

This whiff should differ from the previous one, as now you’ll be able to get hints of the aroma:
  • Malts: should smell honey, biscuit, caramel, or baked bread flavours, but can contain hints of roasted coffee or in the case of stouts, a hint of dark chocolate.

  • Hop aromas: these are generally citrusy, floral, or perhaps grassy in nature.
  • Yeast aromas: these will be fruity or sulphurous in nature.
The long-awaited sip

Take a small sip, enough for it to run across your entire tongue, then let it slowly roll over your tongue for a few seconds before you swallow and breathe out gently. 

At this point you’ll taste both broad and subtle flavours, the former being what you mainly taste while the latter will be a hint of a flavour. 

Broad flavours range from sweet, salty, acidy, or simply bitter, while subtler flavours can range from cloves, fruit, caramel, coffee, nuts, chocolate, oak, and many more. 

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