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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Keeping score on your beer

So you know your ale from your lager? Learn to review all different kinds of beer and earn some brownie points with your beer buddies
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - May 21, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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Keeping score on your beer

Drinking beer is simple. Rating beer, however, is a tad more complex. You’ll need to train your taste buds to be discerning, and your brain to analyse sensations. I’ll assume that we’ve all got functional palates and some grey matter up there, so let’s get the tutorial going!

The different aspects of beer

Beer can be assessed in terms of: appearance, aroma, mouth feel, flavour, and overall impression.

While taste is very subjective, you can inject a good dose of objectivity into your review. To strike an analogy, some musicologists may have no truck with Bach, Handel and the ornate intricacies of baroque music. But the objective reviewer puts his personal biases aside to appreciate the composer’s technical mastery of form, his ability to discern the different capabilities of different instruments and the possibilities they offer, and then – with artistry and talent – combine disparate components into a coherent whole.

The same can be done for beer reviews, but an important prerequisite is that you should have a decent grasp of the major beer styles and their primary characteristics. Broadly, beers can be classified as lagers or ales. Within each class is a variety of subtypes, but by and large, ales tend to have fruity flavours and are relatively sweet, while lagers are characterised by a cleaner, smoother and crisper taste.

You ought to have a rudimentary grasp of beer styles so that, while reviewing a beer, you can better appreciate what it is trying to be, rather than what you would like it to be. For example, if the coffee flavour in your Irish stout puts you off, that’s because you don’t like coffee, and not because of a flaw in the brewing process; Irish stouts are meant to have such a flavour.


When assessing the appearance of a beer, pay attention to its head (after it has been poured into a mug), its colour and body (opaque, transparent or cloudy).

The head slows down the oxidisation process and deterioration of taste. Therefore, an important criterion used in assessing a beer’s quality is its ability to retain a nice, foamy head for a long time. As for colour and body, assess these in relation to the beer’s style. Lagers, for example, ought to be bright and clear, whereas ales or wheat beers are expected to have a relatively murky appearance.


To effectively assess a beer’s aroma, take a sip, swish it around your mouth and inhale at the same time. Find out whether the beverage is predominantly malty (with scents of coffee, roast and caramel, for example) or hoppy (with aromas of citrus fruits, flowers or pine, for instance). Keep a lookout for defects like the odours of rotten eggs, skunk, medication or sour milk.

Mouth feel

Note how the beer feels – is it light, heavy, thin, or viscous? A Pilsner, for example, ought to be light, somewhat spritely, whereas a wheat beer should be full and creamy. By way of comparison, think of the difference between drinking a light soda and full-cream milk.


Take a deep sip, but don’t swallow too quickly. Let the beer linger in your mouth, and take time to discover its flavours – bitter, sweet or mainly sweet followed by a bitter finish? The flavours you taste should be similar to what you have smelt.

Overall impression

This is about your overall impression of the beer. The litmus test is to ask yourself: would you have another pint of the same beer?


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