Everyone knows how to taste wine. They swirl it in their glasses a la Mr. Burns, shove their proboscises toward the vino, take a sip and proudly announce that they’ve discovered notes of citrus, hints of oak and possibly Strawberry Fruit by the Foot. How do you taste beer? No one has a clue. Mainly because most people think beer is for chugging until you fall over.
Guinness is one of the rare mass-produced beers that people actually like to taste. I asked Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray, who is in the United States promoting the new Guinness Black Lager, to give Made Man some beer-tasting tips. OK, first he gave me several of his fine black lagers; then he gave me these tips, which we edited slightly, because Fergal Murray talks exactly like you would expect someone named Fergal Murray to talk.
There are two ways to taste
You can taste for particular flavors or you can taste for enjoyment. Brewers taste for particular flavors. In the brewery you taste for the particular components. You are trained to understand sweetness or bitterness or whatever is there. As a consumer you need to allow two things to happen on your palate. There is the taste and the sensation. Everything is about the texture of the liquid on your mouth.
Tasting for texture
The texture can be very carbonated or effervescent, very, sort of, tingling, like the lighter beers are, because they’ve got CO2 in them. Then there’s hydrogenated beer like Guinness, which does not have a tingle, but a smoothness, and a different texture. That balances out the flavors. It shouldn’t be as hoppy because the texture is smoother.
Down the hatch
You need to get enough liquid in, to absorb. You always get sweetness in the front of the mouth, sour in the side of the mouth and the dry and the bitter in the back. Guinness Draft works because it gets the three to balance together. Lager beers tend to just be two: the sweet and the back of the throat tingle. They just look for the effervescence.
A lager is about giving you a sensation of refreshing, which does not need too much flavor. The flavor does not come out. People who want flavor can add good steak, good fish. When you understand where the flavor comes through, you get the reward. It’s not just the texture. It’s also about the flavor. Understanding the balance you get is critical.
Why cheap lager has no taste
Not to dis anyone’s lagers, but sometimes they’ve taken the flavor out because they want it to be consumed faster and quicker, rather than full-flavored, slow it down and take it easy.
After being test-marketed in Chicago and San Diego, Guinness Black Lager will hit the U.S. in September. I’m not a lager man, but as lagers go, I found it tastier than its rival, Heineken, and the other lesser lights on most store shelves. The black lager is an upscale, easy-drinking beer with classic Guinness coloring. Unlike the stout, it’s meant to be drunk from the bottle, not from a glass. You can swirl it around your glass if you like, but you’ll look like a damned fool.