There are currently around 56,000 different beers in the world, almost as many varieties as there are wines, so becoming a well-seasoned beer taster is no easy feat. But with this simple guide, even a Joe Sixpack can sound like an expert.

Ryan McVay

Types of Beer

The most common beers can be most basically divided between ales, which are heavier and typically more powerfully flavored due to the yeast fermenting at warmer temperatures, and lagers, which are usually crisp and light because the yeast ferments at cool temperatures. The easiest way to tell an ale from a lager, aside from looking at the label, is to taste the difference.

Before Tasting

Consider the temperature of the beer before you take that first gulp. Most people know that beer is more enjoyable when cold, but it shouldn’t be so cold that you can’t register the unique flavor profiles, so let it sit for a moment if it’s been refrigerating for a while.

It’s also better to drink from glassware than straight from the bottle, so tilt a glass or mug at a 45 degree angle, begin pouring beer down the side until you’ve emptied half the bottle, then raise the glass back up and pour the remaining beer straight in.

After pouring, register the quality and color of the head, and the color of the beer. Gently swirl the beer in the glass to “open” it, as you would with a glass of wine, then enjoy the smell.

Drink Up

Begin with a small sip, and let it linger in your mouth. Take deep breaths through your nose, consider how it feels in your mouth, and make note of what you taste from the moment you sip it to after you swallow it.

The process is enormously subjective, so don’t worry about being “wrong” about what you taste. You might taste bitterness, creaminess or sourness, and another person might have an entirely different experience with the same beer. Take notes, try lots of different varieties of both ales and lagers, and before you know it you’ll be offering advice to your friends at bars about what to order.

Janet Koelling