So you’re thinking about switching to beer as your tipple of choice? As luck would have it, beer lovers in South Africa are spoiled for choice with more than 100 different types to sip and enjoy! Of course, with so much choice on hand, figuring out which beers will tickle your taste buds can be tough. This step-by-step guide from SAB on how to taste your beer like a pro and fully appreciate its deliciousness, should help to make your beer discovery journey just a little bit easier.

Cleanse your palate

Don’t let snacks cloud your judgement. Certain foods like cheese or crackers can affect the sensitivity of your palate to the flavours of certain beers. If you’re trying a beer for the first time, simply drink water to cleanse your mouth before taking a sip of your cold brewski.

beer tasting how to

Observe the colour

The colour of the liquid will represent what type of brew it is. Pilsners are pale straw in colour, American and English ales have a golden hue, while porters and stouts are dark amber brown and black in colour. If you’re tasting a range of different beers, it’s always better to taste from light to dark as this helps you focus on the developing intensity of flavours.

Catch a whiff of the aroma

After observing the colour, move the glass past your nose a couple of times — this is called ‘the drive by’. Your taste buds and nostrils work together so smelling the beer with give you clues about the type of beer you’re tasting. You’ll be able to pick up roast notes that are reminiscent of things like malts, pine, citrus, pepper, fresh cut grass and yeast. You will also be able to detect undesirable aromas which are called ‘off flavours’, the most common being a sulphur-like one which can happen when beers have been exposed to too much light. Off flavours can be reminiscent of strange smells like percolating coffee, tinned tuna, vinegar or butterscotch toffee.

Beer tasting

Swirl it

Swirl the glass gently, which releases the volatiles trapped and concentrated inside the glass. Swirling the liquid knocks out some of the CO2, causing it to foam and mix with the air to provide a stronger scent of aromatics like hops and malt.

Take a deeper whiff

Take another deep sniff to set the stage for the long-awaited taste. You’ll now be able to get hints of the aroma. Malts should smell of honey, biscuit, caramel or freshly baked bread. They can contain hints of coffee or dark chocolate. Hop aromas are typically citrusy, floral or grassy in nature and yeast aromas are fruity and/or somewhat sulphurous.

drink beer

The sip

After all that, it’s time to take a small sip — just enough for the liquid to run across your entire tongue. Let it slowly roll over your tongue for a few seconds before you swallow and exhale. You’ll taste broad and subtle flavours — broad flavours that are sweet, salty, acidic, or bitter and subtle flavours that can taste of cloves, fruit, caramel, coffee, nuts, chocolate and oak.

Food pairings

There is a wide selection of beer styles to cater for a variety of palates. It’s recommended to eat something in between your beer tasting. For a great pairing experience, try these food and SAB beer combinations.

beer tasting how to

  • A soft and creamy pilsner like Stella Artois goes well with creamy dishes like a lightly curried butternut soup and seafood.
  • Hansa Pilsner is a crisp flavour which pairs stunningly with light meals like green salad, steamed broccoli and fillet of hake.
  • Carling Black Label is a full-bodied lager that pairs amazingly with strong flavours like peppery fillet of springbok or beef with creamy mash.
  • Lastly, Castle Milk Stout has toffee, coffee and mocha flavours, which goes beautifully with chocolate and caramel desserts, and rich meat like oxtail and lamb shank.

Want more food and wine news? Check out our Food section for restaurant reviews, recipes, foodie features, and news to make you salivate.