A serious beer tasting isn’t as easy as it seems. If the intent is to find and describe the flavors of a particular fermented malt beverage to the best of your ability there are a number of things that must be taken into consideration.
First of all, the memories that the taster brings to the event will determine what flavors the taster finds. Someone who has tasted many styles of beer, in many places and from various drinking vessels will have a vast selection of flavor memories to draw from. Someone who has less experience and no experience tasting malts and hops will have less of a beer-specific vocabulary to work with. These tasters will draw their findings on a vast selection of non-beer specific flavors. These observations are often more accurate and descriptive than the information found in the notes kept by a more experienced taster. Particularly if the taster is able to literally describe what flavors they do experience with a special wealth of vocabulary to draw from.
The time of day is also important. If it is in the morning… what flavored food did the taster have for breakfast? If it is later in the morning was there any coffee or pastry consumed after breakfast? If it is later in the afternoon… that brings the flavors of lunch into play. Later in the day involves flavor receptor fatigue.
The venue where the tasting takes place is also influential. The appreciation of a sample of fermented malt beverage consumed in a laboratory, office or living room environment will be influenced by the atmosphere.
Then there is the attitude of the tasters. Those with a strict style appreciation will come armed with their biases. Those who appreciate the adventurous brewer will bring a more open mind but a less structured flavor catalogue. Someone unfamiliar with fermented malt beverage will have little to work with and will depend on others to provide leadership. This can be unfortunate. Someone without the use of a familiar jargon is often the individual who presents an unbiased assessment that highlights impressions almost ignored by those seeking familiar impressions.
Next is the type/style of “score card” used at the tasting. The Brewers Association, American Homebrewers Association and the Beer Judge Certification Program and Cicerone Program all have their own particular score cards.
Finally there is the question of allowing the judges to share their fresh observations while the sample is tasted. My belief is that it should be a silent affair because one person with a particularly strong personality can have a bit more influence in the discovering of a flavor or on the reactions of the other judges.
Make sure that the fermented malt beverages are all at the proper temperature and are served in “beer-clean” glasses in a truly blind tasting format and you have the basics of a serious beer tasting.
Sound like a lot of fun?