A good friend of mine is married to one of the most wonderful women in the world… and I hate her. I’ll come back to her later.
Over the last few years of tastings (for pleasure and competition) it has been made painfully obvious to me that when it comes to tasting we are not all equal. Personally I am working to improve past my faults, but it is no easy process. Indeed, my genes have not made me the ideal tasting machine that I would like to be.
From wine and beer tastings, to food pairing dinners to simply making supper I try to understand what I am tasting. I try to write/verbalize/conceptualize the smells, tastes experiences and memories. Sadly, the more that I do these things the more I realize my shortcomings.
There is somewhat of a silver lining though. It turns out that I can blame my parents. Our genes in part determine what we can perceive. Over the years I have learned about several of my taste blindspots and my taste aversions and I am sure to encounter more.
I have a hard time discerning the smell of strawberries (yet I love the fruit) for example. I once made a beer that I thought smelled nice and fruity, but a few friends told me that it smelled almost solely of strawberries.
When it comes to beer then, some fruit beer and some English beer are difficult for me to judge and take me more time.
On the other hand though, I am incredibly sensitive to some beer flavours. Lights truck beer I pick out much more easily than many other folks, as well as the aroma of DMS which can be described as vegetal and like canned corn.
Knowing that many articles have been written about tasting and smelling beer I have put together some tips from a variety of sources and personal experience. Hopefully these will point you in the right direction.
Taste everything – the bigger catalog of items that you have tasted, the more comparative terms you will have
Try everything, repeatedly – even things you dislike should be tried often
Vary temperature – things taste differently as temperature changes
Swirl, Slurp but don’t spit! – the wine people have it wrong. Swallowing aids in tasting
Try the unusual – I’ve tasted leather, dog treats, and dried hop pellets. While not all items are digestible, they do have taste. Thankfully my dignity and sanity are non-existent
Talk – as you describe what you taste and share with others, you can all share your understanding which helps play to everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
Repeat – some studies have shown that successfully identifying flavours just a few times greatly improves future accuracy
Go blind – just for fun, have people present you with beer and identify what you taste and smell. Can you determine the style?
Eat your beer – try the various components of beer on their own. Describe the differences between them and what they contribute to flavour
These are just a few of the tips that I recommend to folks at tasting nights. Anecdotal evidence seems to show that people will improve given repeated experiences.
So back to Julie. Why the hatred? It’s simple really. Of all the people I have tasted with over the years , never have I seen a better palate. When her husband and I get stumped on flavours, be they in wine, food or beer, she can usually pick out what is needed in mere seconds. Worse yet – I’ve never seen her stumped. She is simply the best taster I have ever seen.
I may never be as good as her, but I sure can try. One beer at a time.