Sensory Basics – Understanding Flavor

Sensory PanelHave you ever swallowed a sip of your favorite beer and struggled to find the right words to describe its delicious flavor? It’s not always easy. Beers come in an array of styles, colors, and flavors.  That’s the best part about craft beer, right? There’s a lot that goes  into tasting a beer: sight, taste, smell, and touch (mouthfeel); although, you may not realize it when  you’re sipping beers with your friends. Here’s a simple guide to really tasting beer:


First, start by covering the beer with your (clean) hand and swirl it around in the glass.  Then, take two or three short sniffs followed by one long sniff.  Finally, pinch your nose while drinking a small amount and breathe out of your nose after you have finished for additional flavors and aromas.  When you take a sip of beer, you might first taste citrus or floral characters.  But, after you swallow, you may think to yourself, “I taste pineapple, mango, or herbs”.  This happens when odorant molecules bind with sensory receptors – or an easier way to think of it  is a lock and key; which when the two connect, it sends a signal to your brain.  Your senses and taste buds connect flavors in the beer to past experiences with similar flavors.  Five basic flavors most people recognize are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. The beer flavor wheel can help explain some of these characteristics and and the flavors you may be sensing.

(image courtesy of
(image courtesy of

Each time you enjoy a beer, consider the basic sensory steps.  Not only will you learn a thing or two about the beer in your hand, you might even impress your neighbor with your newfound knowledge. They say “practice makes perfect”… so drink up!



Categories: Beer & Food, Brewing, Quality