Brewing with the Aurochs: Tasting Beer (Part 2)

In our post last week, we introduced the topic of taste, and how this relates to beer. Now we’ll continue the discussion, and dive a bit deeper

So Where’s this “Taste Party”?

Your mouth.

Ok, there is a bit more to it than that. To experience flavor your body and brain combine signals from your mouth, your nose and the dark corners of your brain to complete the process, but we will focus more on that in a moment.

The receptors in your mouth and on your tongue help you identify the five elements of taste–salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami (savory). But these are not the only things your mouth can sense. It can also help you identify sensations like the temperature of food, carbonation, numbness, cooling or burning, viscosity or oiliness and astringency.

For example, try pouring yourself a sample of tap water, followed by carbonated water and feel the difference in carbonation. Or try samples of skim milk, 2% milk, and heavy cream in succession and notice the difference in body.* The same goes for beer. You are able to notice difference in taste and other sensation that enhance that experience as you sample them and weigh them against other beers.

*When downing milk shots, be sure to do so under the supervision of adults or trained professionals.

How Does Taste Work?

As we noted above, flavor is a combination of gustation (taste) and olfactory (smell) systems. During gustation, when you eat or drink something, your saliva breaks down that food or beverage to its most basic chemical form. Those chemicals are picked up by the receptors in your mouth and sent to your brain. Along the way, the elements and sensations are identified and classified.

A similar process takes place in the nose. Your olfactory system picks up molecules, which are identified by one of two sets of receptors located high up in your nose or at the back of your mouth. Signals are then sent to your brain, which often draw out powerful memories or feelings from the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a key role in creating and recalling memories. When gustation and olfactory senses are combined and reinforced with memory, it makes for one impactful experience.

Try It Yourself

So when is a good time to exercise your right to taste?

Right now.

Grab a glass and pour yourself a beer–can, bottle, draft–doesn’t matter.

Use this quick and easy guide from Beer Advocate.com and follow the steps before enjoying your beer. Try it in the company of friends and see what you come up with. Personal tastes differ from person to person; although many tastes are universal, some are acquired, and some are a result of environmental or cultural factors and they will like evolve and change over time.

Let your beer warm up and notice how it changes the taste experience. Taste and aroma have staying power and will evolve after initial impressions of sight and sound have faded. Certain ingredients can increase taste profiles, change flavors or create the illusion of something that isn’t even there when added, subtracted or used in unison with other ingredients. You can learn more about what to look for by researching the taste profiles of certain beers, learning about ingredient characteristics–all of which we’ll be covering in future posts!

For now, find out what you like. Try new and different beers. Take notes and see if your tastes and interests change over time.  Most importantly, drink up!